Steam; it was always the one thing that made me stick to my Windows computer. The online service effectively tied me down to the Windows platform. Before you had to either attempt to run Steam via WINE if Linux or use a virtual machine or proprietary WINE-based Macintosh Windows library programs in order to get your dose of Steam, even then the operation of it was often flawed. Earlier this month we all saw the release of Steam for the Macintosh earlier last week coinciding with the conclusion of my school tests. I rushed home and downloaded the program for my Macintosh. To my dismay, Steam for Mac seemed to really underwhelm my expectations.
It’s not ready yet
Well, in opening Steam for the first time, I noticed how experimental it felt. There was only one skin to choose from and the options for Mac users seemed very limited, like as if the entirety of the software was in beta. I was constantly disconnected for no discernible reason and Steam Mac. Even if an internet connection is present, Steam Mac seems to have some difficulty in connecting to Steam, particularly at start-up, where Steam simply refuses to detect my internet connection until several retries.
It’s been about a week since it’s release and I’ve been bombarded by nothing but constant updates before launch. It’s not a bad thing for software to require updates, but the sheer frequency of update is infuriating at the best of times. It’s annoying to have to sit there staring at a program that updates so frequently. Although this problem will be lessened in the foreseeable future, it remains as one of my most hated issues about Steam.
Contrary to popular belief, Macs actually have a fair amount of games released to them. Earlier last year EA announced plans to release Macintosh games in tandem with their Windows counterparts instead of encountering the usual delay for a Macintosh version of popular Windows games ports. Looking to the Steam store on launch I was expecting a huge range of titles for the Macintosh, after all, there a significant amount of games for the Macintosh. Instead, I was greeted with a very barren looking games page in the Macintosh games store consisting of only a few indie games and Portal.
I don’t know if Valve has had licensing issues with developers or not. What really concerns me is the possibility of Mac gamers being forced into buying dual copies of identical games for them both to work on Windows and Macintosh platforms. Most Macintosh games are not ported to the Macintosh by the original developer, but rather by a 3rd party such as Aspyr. Games already purchased in Steam for Windows have had their royalties paid to the developer already, but since the Mac version likely has a 3rd party developer, the 3rd party will most likely like their own share of pie. Given the currently high markup on Macintosh compatible games, I wouldn’t been surprised if 3rd party developers refuse to allow Mac users the ability to play their games they have previously paid for in the Windows format. Users of Macs and Windows boxes on Mac Steam may be forced to either buy a ‘universal’ copy of the game, available on both Macintosh’s and Windows boxes as a separate purchase or be forced to buy discretely Macintosh versions of the game if a deal cannot be reached between the developer and the 3rd party.
The OpenGL question
As we saw with Anandtech’s Windows/Macintosh Portal performance analysis, Macintosh computers tend to have a lower performance value than identical machines. Macs are simply less effective than their Windows counterparts at gaming whether that be because of the lacking of Apple’s drivers, the inefficiently of the port or simply issues with OpenGL, whatever it is, it turns potential customers away from gaming on the Macintosh platform.
Now, you see, Red Alert 3 runs on my Macbook, not in Macintosh mode, but rather Windows mode. Could they be one of the limitations of OpenGL and Mac OS X gaming like in Portal? I have not a clue, but from the general consensus online, it seems Mac OS X is unable to address more than 64mb of shared ram to the IGP. In Windows my GMA 950 is able to address a full 244mb of shared video ram. Although this might not just be the reason that Macintosh systems are out performed by identical systems, it will still cause confusion between more mainstream consumers who have not our technical knowledge.
Given these three factors, the lower performance of Macintosh’s against Windows boxes, the inability to address comparable amounts of video memory and the use of OpenGL, Mac games may either be diluted in visual quality further to combat the performance disparity between the platforms with the Intel integrated or in the case of Red Alert 3, might simply abandon the prospect of even using Macs with Intel integrated graphics.
Given the fact Macintosh computers have all traditionally been mediocre at gaming graphics (mostly non-upgradeable) thanks to their integrated Intel graphics chipsets being the mainstay of their older mainstream product range, many Macintosh users will not be able to game very well on their computers. If the ported OpenGL versions of popular games all perform worse than their Direct X counterparts, we might have quite a big problem from the mainstream gamers. Many older Macintosh’s are built around such a graphics chipset, so either including them or excluding them would have dive consequences on the success of games on the Macintosh. Facing the truth and reality. almost all Mac users belong to the group using integrated graphics. Games will either have to drop in quality or raise requirements (in comparison to Windows versions) in order to have a decent flowing game or wait indefinitely for Apple or Khronos Group to improve their OpenGL drivers.
Well, it’s not all bad. At least another developer is taking interest in the Macintosh platform. This might be good for Valve should they ever decide to port Steam to Linux. The code-base between Mac OS X and Linux is close enough so that converting applications should be far more simple than Well it sure beats trying to run Steam with dodgy WINE fonts and paying for Cedgar or losing a huge hunk of battery life to running a VM. Cross-platform calling is no longer limited to Skype and you can still use Steam chat, which is nice ~ I sort of use Steam a as an instant messenger too, having a Mac, back in the day was not very inconvenient.
With the advent of Steam Mac, publishers have just gotten renewed incentive to create games for the Macintosh. That in itself is excellent for any Mac gamer. It’s not a perfect start to making the Mac a premier gaming platform, but it certainly is a start to the arduous journey ahead.