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The History of Mac Gaming (unbound.co.uk)
58 points by WoodenChair on June 1, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

Fun fact: Bungie was planning on releasing Halo (one of the genre-defining FPS games) for Mac, and even demoed it first on a Mac at MacWorld Expo in 1999... then Microsoft bought them out[1].

I remember a while back (in the G3/G4 era), there were a lot of fun and creative games that were either Mac-only or Mac/Windows... once consoles started taking over more serious gaming, and once DirectX started taking a stranglehold on game dev in the early 2000s, it seems the 'blockbuster' or 'hardcore' Mac gaming market really dried up.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bungie#Halo_and_buyout

Two things killed Mac gaming in my mind: the almost extinction of Apple itself in the mid-to-late 90s, as well as the rise of 3D accelerated games on PC in the late 90s. Macintosh couldn't keep up in both price or performance.

I grew up on Mac gaming, being a cult-of-Mac evangelist, and most of the greats were cross-ported from PC (Blizzard, Maxis, id Software), or it had many gems of its own (Marathon, Bungie, Ambrosia). Once Half-Life came out however in 1998, I had to beg my parents for a gaming-capable PC. There just was no competition at that point.

I remember Half-Life as the demarcation point. Before that, we didn't have as many games and the scene wasn't as vibrant as it was on the PC, but we had high-quality stuff, often Mac-exclusive. When the Half-Life port was killed, it felt like we were definitively left behind. Stuff still showed up, but it felt like we were getting the dregs, late or poorly done or just not very many of them. Around this time, classic Mac game development houses like Ambrosia, Bungie, and Graphic Simulations folded, jumped ship, or just went into long decline.

The Mac has seen a lot more games in recent years, and a big part of that is Valve's presence on the platform with Steam and, after all these years, Half-Life.

I think cross-platform development is a lot easier as well, especially with mature tools available for developers. (Unity, UE4, MonoGame, etc)

I use Linux, Windows, and Mac regularly in my everyday life, and most of the games I play are available on Steam and cross-platform.

I remember playing Marathon[1] on a Mac, still one of my favorite games, lightyears ahead of any other game I had played at that time.


My freshman dorm had a computer lab. One third of the computers were macs, and two thirds were PCs. The macs were for Marathon, and the PCs were for people doing homework. Except for the month when all of the computers were for watching "The Spirit of Christmas" over and over.

While I'm dating myself, let me add that we could print for free on the dot matrix printer, but the laser charged against our print quotas.

For you young folk:

"The Spirit of Christmas" was an animated short that led to "South Park". Was commissioned by an advertising executive as a holiday gift to industry pals, distributed on video tape. Friend of mine transcoded it to QuickTime MOV format -- a technical challenge at the time -- and once digital, it spread like wildfire.

QuickTime was a Mac-only video format at the time.

That friend of yours -- he's a hero to my entire generation.

Our lab had free printing from the macs because they didn't have software available to track and charge people. Using a PC came with a printing tax. Good reason to use Macs back then.

This was not fact was not fun if, like me, you were a Mac fanatic and gamer back in the 90s. Bungie getting bought out by MS and Halo becoming a PC game was a cruel stab in the back.

Well, didn't it become an Xbox game long before it became a PC game? Don't get me wrong, I had my own fanboy tendencies back then and considered it grossly oversimplified compared to the oh-so-cool first person shooters I'd been enjoying on my cheap homebuilt PC at the time.

Looking back, I think a big part of it was that I didn't want to shell out for yet another box (that only played games) and I sucked at using a gamepad for first person shooters. Still do, actually.

> Well, didn't it become an Xbox game long before it became a PC game?

No, Bungie started working on Halo, and announced it at Macworld before the Xbox even existed.

This was such a joy to read. Also, slightly more factual: http://kotaku.com/5796019/when-halo-was-on-the-mac-and-was-a...

I actually devoted way too much time playing (what was dubbed) "Halo PC" and spent a lot of time in the community.

If any of you played at a semi-frequent level, I'd love to connect. We probably have some mutual friends. I know there's one of us (" ") who played at a very competitive high-level who now runs an thriving eCommerce startup!

I'm not trying to argue your points, but there was a lot of "serious gaming" in the 80s and 90s, too. I highly recommend Infocom's Trinity, Lurking Horror, most SSI titles, etc. The list is vast.

Also the original X-Box had the same processor as the Macs did at the time, PowerPC if I'm not mistaken. There were X-Box developers with Macbooks, or so I've heard from someone I knew who worked for Lionhead and Microsoft.

The original Xbox was x86. The Xbox 360 was PPC though (some of the early 360 demos were actually running on Powermac G5s - http://www.anandtech.com/show/1686/5 )

In addition: Every 7th generation console had a PPC CPU but only Wii had one similar to Mac's [1]. X360 and PS3 had PPE cores from Cell, which had a PPC ISA but not the performance of the "real" PPC that were used in Macs. E.g. there was no OOE and the memory coherency was enforced by just locking a cache line after a write so if you tried to read something from an address you just wrote you'd stall for 50 clocks, the famous "load hit store" stall. Luckily, we had SPEs on PS3 and the GPU on the 360 to do heavy computation.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadway_(microprocessor)

Oh that's what it was. The 360. My memory is a bit faded.

It was the GameCube that used PowerPC. The original Xbox used a Pentium III.

As someone else pointed out, it was the X-Box 360 that had PowerPC, I guess I forgot which one it was.


Yes. I didn't know that! It looks like it was a PowerPC that wasn't used in any macs though.

One of my favorite games appeared on Apple before the Mac, Wizardry. I even got it on the PC; complete with ASCII 3D hallways that worked just fine. I remember days of Norton Disk Doctor and similar all trying to hack out character data and writing basic programs to do it. I later became even more fascinated with the games after finding out it was written in Pascal (what fun it would be to have that source)

back on track, Mac games never entered my reality after the PC came about for many reasons. One was I had ready access to PCs because my parents were in IBM, but mostly because it just wasn't on anyone's local RADAR. Plus by then the PC clones brought pricing to the point that a Mac looked like a luxury.

and finally the games market on the PC was just so rich with great variety with early BBS providing easy access to many free games or the like

The (unofficial) Wizardry source is available. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/comp.sys.apple2/w...

Thank you! I spent sometime reading that link and blundered into a book I haven't seen in thirty years, Randall Hyde's P-Source (Apple Pascal). Followed the rest into Wizardry 1 and just reading Tommy's work in reconstructing it was amazing

I'm pretty interested in this, but it seems the ftp links might be broken? Does anyone have a backup of this?

Whoops, never mind, the link does work:


wow, wizardry. it was my favourite game with the dark castle series coming in second. Proving grounds of the mad overlord. I still have it on my SE/30 and on disks. Never did play any of the follow ups.

Random fun fact: Naughty Dog co-founders Andy Gavin & Jason Rubin started out making Apple II games, and later Mac games. If they hadn't both had Apple IIs (and later Macs), they might never have started making games in high school. Goodbye, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, The Last of Us, and so on.

Came to Mac gaming in the early 2000s. It wasn't the high-end overcommercialized hardcore market of twitchy games on the PC; it was a small community of indie developers, who made some fun games (Escape Velocity: Nova &c.). The big titles I was interested in (Sid Meier's Civilization) usually came to Mac within a year.

EV Nova was such a great game. I'm not ashamed to admit I've played it several times over, once even just a couple months ago.

It's unfortunate that smaller indie games like that aren't as big a deal anymore.

Really? With Steam these days it seems indies are more popular (and generally cross-platform) than ever.

I think I mean in terms of scale, from what I've seen games get kickstarted or green-lit on Steam and the idea is to gain lots of traction by the community if possible.

I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, but on the other hand it causes games sometimes to lose what they were originally meant to be. Sort of speaking from experience backing a Kickstarter game last year and many people who did are complaining that the game has changed too much since the initial build/kickstarter version.

It's interesting to me that while id games always had good Mac support, Half-Life etc. and Counter-Strike (based on the Quake engine) were not added to Steam until 2013.

Oh StuntCopter was awesome! Still playable on OSX! [1]

[1] http://antell.com/software/games.html

Would this be a good time to plug the Macintosh Garden?


The Mac Garden is an archive of old Mac games and abandonware. Most run on one of the pre-OSX emulators. Not all games are there, as many commercial games have been taken down, but there is plenty of nostalgia to be had.

Off topic, but I remember playing Spin Doctor growing up on Mac OS 7. Fun game. Looks like someone made a version for iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spin-doctor/id335523121?mt=8

I loved that game, it's been so long since I last played it yet I can still remember the sounds.

Time to dig out an OS7 emulator!

Spin Doctor, Power Pete, and Slick Willie were the games that got me setting up an OS 7 emulator myself a couple of years ago. I have very fond memories of playing them in the mid '90s, and it felt so good to experience them again.

Well, except Slick Willie. That game just doesn't emulate well for some reason. But the other two played perfectly!

What emulator did you use?

Basilisk II.

I remember playing Bolo in 92'ish. It was a pretty mind opening experience for me at the time.

Was Bolo the first networked-multiplayer shooter for personal computers? I know that "Maze War" and "XTrek" predate Bolo by quite a bit, but they required $20,000 workstations.

I don't think it was, but it certainly existed when the whole idea of networked games simply blew my mind.

Networked Bolo over AppleTalk blew my mind as well.

Cap'n Magneto was my favorite game growing up, along with Dark Castle. I also spent a ton of time writing World Builder games and Hypercard stacks later. I doubt I would be a programmer today, if BASIC and world builder hadn't been so easy to use. Later, I tried to write a tile based RPG in Pascal but I didn't have the attention span or help I needed to complete it. (Not to mention not having a copy of Inside Macintosh)

I'm glad the ease of use of the early macintosh has made it into every device now. Hopefully the ability to tinker, mod games, and program easily doesn't go away as systems become more sanitized and locked down. The original web browser had an editor built right in.

I logged so many hours in Starcraft and the Halo 1 tech demo back in the 'old' days, not to mention Age of Empires II and Warcraft.

It's a bit disappointing that gaming on the Mac never really took off like on Windows.

I personally am glad that gaming on the Mac never really took off like on Windows, considering Apple sells a 2k USD "PRO" laptop that doesn't even include a proper video card...

On the other hand, if it had taken off then maybe Apple would have gone forward differently in terms of hardware/included video cards.

It's not too late. It can still take off with external GPUs.

Sounds like if Apple re-releases the Thunderbolt Cinema Display it could have a built-in discrete GPU.

That could work really well, and I'd imagine it could allow even a Macbook Air to handle gaming fairly well.

There's actually a rumor about exactly that! http://www.macrumors.com/2016/06/01/5k-thunderbolt-display-i...

yeah I heard! that would be ideal, I think.

I really hope that with Metal and the possibility of external GPUs with Thunderbolt 3, Apple makes a concentrated push for Mac gaming already.

Their ecosystem in a very strong position for killer cross-device multiplayer games too; for example an MMORPG that one can play on the Mac and then seamlessly continue on their iPad, iPhone or Apple TV via Handoff/Continuity, while getting messages and auction etc. alerts on their Apple Watch. Why hasn't this happened yet?

I'm not sure Apple wants to touch PC (Mac) gaming right now. It really looks like they're going all-in on mobile gaming instead. They've stopped calling the Apple TV a "hobby", because it's now "how you play iOS games on a TV"—which is an important thing, given the size of the iOS gaming ecosystem. It makes sense to want to encourage gaming on iOS (which is really an OS for personal computers, in the sense that everyone has their own—meaning that four players use four iOS devices to play), and tvOS has fancy frameworks to couple tvOS apps to iOS apps, encouraging that thinking even more. The "Mac Mini as extensible console" ecosystem—even if pushed really hard—would just encourage people to buy controllers: not nearly as much of a money-faucet, especially given that you aren't walking around with your controller all day noticing that you could buy other apps for it. (Plus, the ATV is cheap enough to upgrade in its entirety every few years. Macs aren't—so while you'd get that GPU box upgraded, the CPU would fall behind.)

Apple is willing to bet, I think, that this "mobile devices + TV receiver" is the direction gaming is going generally, too—not right this second, but soon. Other console-makers seem to be on a similar footing. Nintendo looks to be warming up to making mobile titles for iOS, and at the same time, their NX might look a lot like the ATV+iPhone setup (their original intent with the Wii U was that each player have a gamepad with a screen in it—but they just missed the wave of commodity-SoCs that would have enabled that. This time they can!) And the gen after that might very well just drop the idea of a console—their consoles are not selling well, compared to their handhelds—and just create an ATV-like "partner box" for the 3DS++.

(Don't know what Microsoft and Sony will do. Their lunch is getting eaten as third-parties move to Steam. Maybe VR? Either way, their next consoles won't look like "consoles" in the sense they've been up to now, either.)

Agree that it doesn't seem like Apple is seriously interested in touching desktop gaming.

On one hand, thats probably not a bad idea. Look at the scaling on mobile GPUs vs desktop GPUs and the revenues in both. They are so far behind here, why play catch up, just move to where the puck is going (or make a new place for it to go).

Having said that, I'm not seeing the kind of investment I'd like to see in Mobile & Apple TV based gaming from Apple, but that may be because Apple simply doesn't care or doesn't understand that industry at its core. Guess we get to watch it unfold.

Well whaddya know, Apple's standalone 5K display might include a built-in GPU: http://www.macrumors.com/2016/06/01/5k-thunderbolt-display-i...

Man if they can just get handoff & continuity working reliably for the original intended usecases I'll be happy ...

Spent many hours playing Power Pete in the mid-90's. One of my first gaming memories. A perfect candidate for an iOS revival, if you are reading this Pangea ;)

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