Low End Mac Gaming

Looking Back at Macworld

The Cube for Gaming, New Mac Games

Brian Rumsey - August 8, 2000

Today I interrupt my regular gaming coverage to bring you up to date on the major Mac event of the summer: Macworld Expo. Of course, you may have heard plenty about the Macworld Expo in the last few days and weeks.

This article is not meant to give general coverage, but rather to look at how the recent events will affect the Mac gaming community.

Around the Mac gaming community, some people have been calling this "the best Macworld expo ever." Whether or not this is true is a matter of opinion, but few would argue that, in general, the Mac gaming scene looks better now than it did before the Expo.

Probably the biggest announcement was Apple's new G4 Cube. Some people claim that the G4 Cube is aimed at gamers. In my opinion, the G4 Cube has the potential to be a great gaming computer, but there are some things which need to be changed before it is a truly worthwhile gaming computer: its price and its video card. The entry level Cube goes for $1,800. While not outrageously high, $1,800 is a little steep for the budget-conscious consumer who sees that the G4/400 minitower can be had for a $200 less, and the iMac can be had for as little as $800.

The ATI Rage 128 Pro is one of the weaker links of the G4 Cube. Currently, it offers sufficient, but not top-of-the line, game performance. While it is sufficient for now, it will probably struggle within a year or less to run the newest 3D games well. If and when the ATI Radeon chip becomes an option in the Cube, the video card issue will no longer be such a problem. The video card in the Cube's AGP slot is removable, and thus upgradable, but due to the small size of the cube, some video cards such as 3Dfx's Voodoo5 will probably not fit.

That said, the Cube has one thing going very strongly for it: its size. An eight inch cube would be very easy to transport for those gamers who like to take computers to LAN parties and hook up with a bunch of others, as well as simply taking less desk space. Even without any PCI slots, graphics would not be a problem if the Radeon was available as an option.

My assessment of the Cube is that if it cost $1,400 and had the option of including a powerful 3D card such as the ATI Radeon, I would line up to buy one. I would also appreciate if its standard RAM was 128 MB, since some new games want upwards of 100 MB for themselves. I would not even mind if the lowest Cube was G3 instead of G4 powered, since the G4 does not currently offer major advantages to gamers. I also believe that this price would be possible, based on the cost of other Macs. However, at its current configuration and price, the Cube is interesting, but probably not the Mac to buy if gaming is your main intent.

Apple also refreshed their iMac and Power Mac G4 lines at the Expo. None of the changes will make a significant gaming difference, although the iMac has dropped to $799 for the base model, which will make it an option for more people. It was hoped that Apple would introduce the Radeon and/or cards from other manufacturers as an option in the Power Mac G4 - and maybe even the iMac - but this did not happen. A recent conflict between ATI and Apple over leaked information seems to be the reason for the lack of the Radeon option. More about this conflict is available on MacCentral.

Two other new Apple products were announced at the Expo: a new keyboard and a new mouse. The keyboard returns to the size that users were used to before the iMac, which is a big improvement, not only for gamers but for just about everyone. The new mouse is optical and has a more traditional shape than Apple's round "hockey-puck" mouse, but it still has only one button. Actually it has no "button" - the whole mouse functions as a button. Hard-core gamers may still want to buy a multiple-button mouse. On the other hand, I am still surviving with a single button mouse after all these years, although I expect that once I get a multi-button mouse, I will never want to go back.

Apple was not the only company showing off new hardware. In the graphics card market, ATI and 3dfx had the Radeon and Voodoo5, respectively. Both cards will sell for around $300 and be major improvements over current offerings. The Radeon is supposedly the faster of the two, but real benchmarks will have to wait until the products are shipping. Both cards will be available in PCI versions, while ATI has also announced an AGP version of the Radeon. Both products will hopefully be available by early fall.

One other newcomer to the Mac hardware market is Creative Labs. They announced progress on their Sound Blaster Live sound card to the Mac, hopefully releasing it by the end of the year, at an approximate cost of $100. Most Mac users have never felt the need to buy separate audio hardware (except maybe speakers) since the Mac has built in sound. However, this new card offers 3D sound as well as other enhancements which reportedly can make a major difference in sound effects. Also, having a separate sound card can take the sound burden off of the main processor, potentially enhancing performance. The Sound Blaster Live is a PCI card. Visit <http://www.americas.creative.com/mac/learn/welcome.html#Live> for info on Creative Labs' Mac offerings.

And now for the games.

More games were announced or released during the week of the Expo than any other week in recent memory. Bungie pleased Mac users by announcing that Halo is still coming to the Mac. In fact, the whole Bungie/Microsoft deal may be a little better for Mac gamers than many, including myself, suspected. Peter Tamte, formerly of Bungie, is forming a new company which will bring games, especially Microsoft games, to the Mac. Games which have been announced include Age of Empires II, Links LS 2002, and the newest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It is not currently known how Halo's release will be handled: by Bungie or by Tamte's new company.

Bungie and Microsoft were not the only ones busy on the gaming scene at the Expo. Blizzard, as hoped, formally announced WarCraft III for the Mac, which is expected to ship in 2001, possibly at the same time as the Windows version. Blizzard's Diablo II for the Mac is also now available for purchase.

Another group called United Developers announced plans for several Mac ports. These include Majesty, SiN, and Fighter Squadron, AKA Screamin' Demons over Europe. United Developers has several other games in the works. Their website should provide plenty of information, once it is complete. In the meantime, information about United Developers and their projects can be found at <http://www.macgamer.com/wphp/news/item.php?id1&eventid=1>.

Perennial powerhouse MacSoft also had some new announcements to make. Among their upcoming games are Beachhead 2000, Vampire: The Masquerade Redemption, and Rogue Spear, the expansion pack to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. MacSoft also announced a host of new games aimed at casual gamers, such as Breakout and Risk II. Their full line-up can be found at their website.

I think that covers most of the major announcements. In case I have missed something, or if you just want more information than one column can provide, check out MacLedge or MacGaming, as they have done a good job of covering Macworld Expo news.

In addition to new announcements, several new games have been released recently, including Baldur's Gate from Graphic Simulations, and The Sims and Deus Ex from Aspyr. While these announcements and releases should occupy owners of newer Macs for a while, unfortunately most of the products mentioned here are not very low-end friendly.

I will soon return to the familiar low end focus as I prepare to look at games for first generation Power Macs in my next column (at very latest, the one after that).

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