Game Over for Mac Gaming?

"To be a Mac gamer right now is to be hunted, cold, wet, and unsure of where your next fix is coming from." These are the words of a local Mac salesman, a former Mac zealot, and a would-be PC defector. He is tired of waiting for last year's popular PC games to be translated for next year's Macintosh software lineup. He is tired of defending his chosen platform, having run out of defenses long ago. He is tired of settling for a second-rate gaming scene. And sadly, he is by no means alone in his weariness. With the advent of the user-friendly iMac, Apple promised a gaming renaissance. The rebirth was to be heralded in by a lineup of visually stunning games designed to show off Apple's superior off-the-shelf hardware. Somewhere along the way, things went wrong. Many of the marquee games, like Total Annihilation, were delayed time and again. Those games that did see the light of day were either crippled by poor gameplay (Dark Vengeance) or appealed primarily to a niche market. Ever since, the Macintosh market has been limited to late translations of PC titles, and, in clement circumstances, a simultaneous release for both PC and Macintosh versions of a game. The original draft of this preview featured a Macintosh port of last year's best PC game, Half-Life. Mere weeks from completion, Macintosh Half-Life was canceled. Though not by any means a critical game for Apple, it was a harsh blow dealt to Mac fans everywhere. Within hours of the cancellation announcement, the Web site http://www.demandmac.com had started an online petition to revive the project. Once 10,000 people had signed the petition (which happened within a week), it was submitted to the developers of Half-Life in hopes of changing their minds. The outcome is still pending, but DemandMac Webmaster Paul Wharff is optimistic about the chances for Half-Life and future Mac games. "Makers of popular games are thinking of their own best interests," he says, "their pocketbooks. Why would they only release one version of the game when they could sell much more by writing for both platforms? As you may know, recently Apple has been doing phenomenal in sales, better than most other major computer companies. With the increase in the number of Mac users, they are looking to make a better profit, and that works for Mac game users." Similarly optimistic is Corey Tamas, senior news editor at MacGamer.com. "The identity of the Mac gaming community is still in its infancy, and I think that may be due to the long years that Apple turned its back on game developers. Luckily for us, new management at Apple is taking a completely different approach ... We have to remember," Tamas continues, "we've gone from virtually nothing to where we're at in a little over two years. If you put it on a timeline, you'd not only see that the Mac has developed at a pace which is much faster than the PC, but the logical indicators would point to a lot more growth in the near future."

In the relatively short history of gaming, it is difficult to find a game format that has survived any length of time, much less thrived, without something to call its own. Nintendo, Sony, and Sega have always had their brand names and mascots. The original Atari and the PC have so much to call their own they can't be banded under a single mascot. The Mac, well, back in the days of Doom, the Mac had a game called Marathon, developed by a company named Bungie. It may not have been as stylistically engaging as Doom, but it advanced the genre a good deal, and more importantly, it was something PC gamers couldn't play. Now Bungie develops their games for both the PC and the Mac, and Mac fans are left clutching to the well-worn memory of Marathon's exclusivity. The odds of Bungie making more Mac-exclusive games are slim, but perhaps there is a new Bungie on the horizon.

Ambrosia Software (http://www.ambrosiasw.com) is the subject of a good deal of buzz for Mac gamers right now. As a leading distributor of quality shareware (that's when they give you a good chunk of a game to try before you actually pay for the rest), Ambrosia is already a premier publisher of Mac-exclusive games. And as a popular shareware-oriented operation, Ambrosia is in the same position now that Id, makers of Quake and Doom, was in just a few years ago. Commander Keen, anyone?

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