Gaming with OS X: Initial Reports
9:30 AM | Michael Eilers | Comment on this story
Our first experiences playing games under Apple's just-launched Mac OS X were a mixture of elation and deepest depression, as expected. As with Apple's transition from 68k machines to PPC chips, the bumps in the road were well-defined and expected long in advance. There were definitely a few surprises, however, in areas you might not expect. This reporter soon learned that Carbon doesn't mean "native" every time, and Classic is not the death sentence we assumed.
One of the most painful initial shocks I experienced was with "Carbonized" games that I had played under Mac OS X Public Beta. With the exception of Oni, all of these games are now totally broken under OS X. While this is a testament to how much Apple has changed the OS X code base since Mac OS X PB was released, it is very disappointing. Even the Cocoa-ized version of Quake 3 Arena developed by OmniGroup no longer functions, quitting with an error of not being able to initialize OpenGL. 4x4 Evolution is by far the worst -- double-clicking the Carbon version of this game earned me my first dreaded Kernel Panic. Checking the date it seems to have been carbonized back in July of 2000, so the Carbon specs may have changed radically since then.
The only Carbon game (besides one 2D tile game) I could get to function under OS X was Oni; sadly this game never really worked in the first place, as the same mouse control and mouse button issues apply. 3D speed was very nice on my Radeon/G4 setup, but was of course limited to 640x480 in a window, and the Dock was still present.
Classic games were also a mixed bag, but overall much more playable than I expected. Many 2D games such as Burning Monkey Puzzle Lab, Heroes of Might and Magic III and even Diablo II ran full-speed as windowed apps running under Classic. Sound and keyboard/mouse controls work perfectly, even in the demanding Diablo II. However running Classic games full-screen often resulted in odd problems and buggy redraw.
3D titles of course are far worse, as expected. Classic is running as an application, and of course under a Unix-like OS such as Mac OS X no one application is allowed to steal all of the processor cycles to run the game -- a feat which is allowed to happen regularly under Mac OS 9 and below. Furthermore, RAVE is not one of the endorsed APIs for Mac OS X, and--as expected--several of my RAVE-based games failed to work. Unfortunately I was unable to get several OpenGL-based Classic games to run either, such as Quake 3 Arena or 4x4 Evolution in their OS 9 form. Some tweaking of INI files may solve this. However OpenGL-based screen savers and etc. run perfectly and at terrific speed, so the potential for fast 3D gaming with OpenGL does exist; Apple just hasn't tapped it yet.
This is just an initial report, so we aren't going to make any recommendations on whether Mac OS X is a good gaming OS or not; frankly, we may not know until July, when Apple ships Mac OS X as a standard install on their machines and Carbon software becomes more widespread, whether OS X will ever be a gaming OS. It may all come down to one event: at the World Wide Developers Conference next month, Apple must convince developers that Cocoa and Carbon are the only way to go in the future, and that it is worth the time, effort and money to make their apps (and hopefully games) native for the next-generation OS. We've got a suspicion that many "hardcore" gamers will be dual-booting with 9.1 and OS X far into the future, to run their favorites at optimal speed. But we can't wait to see what Omni cooks up with Cocoa-ized versions of their games -- if Q3A for Public Beta was any indication, we're in for a wild ride.
Gaming and Mac OS X Problems/Solutions
We'll bring you more detailed reports as they come in. Be sure to post your own gaming experiences with Mac OS X in our General forum, and your trouble reports in our Troubleshooting forum; many gamers already have creative solutions to some problems they have encountered. Visit the WWDC link below to learn more about what that conference has to offer.
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