Low End Mac Gaming

Games for Older Power Macs

Brian Rumsey - August 28, 2000

A few weeks ago, I looked at ways to upgrade early PowerPC-based Macs to make them effective gaming machines without spending an arm and a leg. Now the objective is to find good games to play on these computers.

The first PowerPC Macs marked an exciting time in Mac gaming in two ways. For one, they introduced a new line of processors which could run much more power-hungry games than ever before. As a result, many games have the PowerPC chip as a minimum requirement. Also, the newly available power enabled many older Mac games to show their true colors, especially once they had been optimized for the PowerPC chip.

To read about some games which will run on older Macs and are basically guaranteed to have near-top performance on any Power Mac, check out my articles on games for 68030s and 68040s.

The games which often show most improvement in moving from the 68K chip series to the PowerPC are action games, such as first-person shooters. Many of these games will run on 68040s and even 68030s, but they may only have smooth motion if you reduce the display to one-quarter of the screen or less. Almost all of the games that will run on the older Macs will have acceptable smoothness at full screen on nearly any Power Mac. Some good examples are Dark Forces, Duke Nukem 3D, Wolfenstein, Doom, and one of the greatest classics of all time on the Mac, the Marathon series.

While the Marathon series is no longer cutting edge, it still retains a very strong fan base. Part of this stems from Marathon's good editing tools and networking ability, as well as a good story line. In fact, recently there has been talk by a group which is apparently planning to release a MOD for Unreal Tournament which will basically make it feel like a much updated version of Marathon. Marathon was one of the first 3D games on the Mac to be popular for network gaming, both on Power Macs and the more powerful 68K Macs.

When I took an informal survey on the 1st PowerMacs email list to see what games other users of older Power Macs were into, many indicated games from one company: Ambrosia Software>. Some of Ambrosia's more popular games include the Escape Velocity series, Ferazel's Wand, Ares, Barrack, and Apeiron, as well as their original hit, Maelstrom. Many, although not all, of their games are arcade-style games. Most of them do not actually require a PowerPC, and none currently require more than the earliest PowerPC. Almost all of Ambrosia's games are distributed as shareware, which is an added benefit since it allows you to see which ones you are interested in paying to play.

There are many older games which are well-suited to use on these Macs, and I have barely touched the tip of the iceberg. However, my primary purpose is to point out some games which become options only with the PowerPC chip. These can be found in nearly any genre. In fact, even many new games will still run on any PowerPC, provided it has enough memory and hard drive space. However, a lot of them no longer list the oldest Power Macs among their supported computers, because gameplay would be too slow for most people.

One company with a long reputation for producing quality games is Blizzard Software. They currently promote three product lines: Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. Of their Mac products, only their newest, Diablo II, will not work on older Power Macs. Its predecessor, Diablo, runs well on any Power Mac. The only complaint commonly heard is that levels can take a while to load. Starcraft will also run on any Power Mac, although it may be a little jerky on the oldest models. WarCraft II is the oldest of their flagship products, and will also run well on any Power Mac. If you question how well one of their games will run on your computer, demos are available at Blizzard's site and many other sites.

One very exciting game which required a Power Mac was Descent. Descent brought a whole new dimension to 3D gaming. As one of the first games to require PowerPC, I had high expectations for Descent, and it did not fail me. While its graphics are no longer state-of-the-art, there is a patch available which will allow Descent to utilize 3D acceleration, greatly improving its looks. Although I have not tried networking the patched version with the non-patched, I expect that it would work, providing a game which could take advantage of newer hardware while still being able to be played against older computers.

Although I am sure that I have not mentioned them all, there really are not that many other good games which have the PowerPC as their cutoff. However, there are several games which will officially work on nearly any PowerPC, and will work on the slowest ones too, with some slowness but probably tolerable to most people. One of these is the classic Myth, from Bungie. Myth is somewhere between Civilization and Unreal: you command a few people but not a large nation, and not just yourself. Another is Carmageddon, whose name aptly describes it: a combination of car and armageddon. Sierra's game Caesar III also seemed to perform alright for me on a 7100/66, even though it supposedly requires 100 MHz. Generally, a good strategy in seeing which games will work well for you on your older Power Mac is to look for demos and try them. Certainly some will not work but you might be surprised how many will.

Well, that about does it for now. I have probably missed something important, so if I have, don't hesitate to email me. Other than that, enjoy these games while I finish my next project, a closer look at King of Dragon's Pass.

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