Mac Gaming Thrives: Part 1

Walking to the Javits Center from Penn Station on the second day of MacWorld Expo, I felt saucy. I had gone to the keynote the day before, and despite its almost 2-hour length, I was shown some incredibly cool stuff. The new G4 Cube and the new iMacs looked even more beautiful than I had imagined they could. El Steve had performed his wizardry once again, and I was impressed.

Popping a complimentary red-hot candy in my mouth, I strode in through the main doors to make my rounds for the second day. I had already accomplished the mission of gathering cool giveaway swag from the booths, including wearable apparel, and it was time to game.

For starters, ATI needed to be looked into, especially since their new Radeon 256 chip was now shipping and being shown in a room away from the main exhibit hall, giving me the feeling of knowing the secret password as I entered the cramped room. What I saw was worth every bit of hype available. Running on one machine was the soon-to-become-a-classic Unreal Tournament in stunning speed and color, the Radeon having been hooked into a G4 500mhz machine. The effect was nothing short of stunning, as I attempted to pick my jaw up from the floor and mop up my own drool at the same time. On a second machine, the Radeon 256 was being used to animate a Mech Warrior model, continuing to impress me. The third machine contained the tasty porridge of the display: ATI running a full-screen, flicker-free demo of the Radeon 256’s video abilities via a DVD copy of “Gattaca” in a resolution I never would have thought possible on a computer.

The overall result was nothing short of amazing, and gaming on the Unreal Tournament display only added to my joy. As I tried to convince the ATI employees that I could be the companion of the Radeon until it was sold to a happy home, I heard a single complaint: the chip was only rendering 30 frames per second at 1600 x 1200 resolution, which one audience member found intolerable. Given the overall speed and beauty of the chip (explosions have NEVER looked this good), I was willing to let a few dropped frames slide at this obscene resolution. ATI has done its homework, found an amazing way to pipe data along two channels on the chip as opposed to a single channel in conventional 3-D accelerator hardware, and its efforts should be commended. The final product will be offered for less than $300, according to ATI’s representatives at the show.

The 3Dfx booth possessed much cool swag, including free posters and black 3Dfx balls which attach to the end of a radio antenna, and needed some looking into. Their big announcement for the show was the Voodoo 5 chip, which was nothing short of impressive, as they ran the more popular titles on it, including Unreal Tournament. And to be honest, aside from the Radeon 256 being a bit faster and shinier in its graphics performance, there really isn’t that huge a difference between the two. The Radeon may handle its data at 256 bits per second, but the Voodoo 5 is still a beautiful chip to game on, even if it doesn’t add video acceleration like the Radeon 256, thereby allowing “Gataca” and other bad quasi-sci-fi movies to look unbelievable at full-screen resolutions. Graphics acceleration has finally come to the Mac. The Voodoo 5 card will be offered for approximately $250, according to 3Dfx staff on hand for the Expo.

The games were prevalent this year, and some unknown publishers are raising their heads to compete with the big boys Aspyr, Maxis and Mac conversion masters MacSoft. Among the more impressive titles was an alpha build of Rune, by Human Head Software. In Rune, your Viking warrior character is viewed from the back, the player having to character hack and slash his way through exotic scenery reminiscent of Norse mythological lore that’s been recreated beautifully. Swords clash, shields ring from ferocious blows and limbs are severed in this amazing game which offers both incredible graphics, exotic weaponry (including realistic human and dwarven weapons), an Unreal Tournament game engine and a compelling story (your character must go through such levels as the test of Viking manhood, as well as several of the Norse mythological versions of hell). Rune will retail for under $50, and I for one have my eye on this after my ship comes in and the Labor Day emu drops a G4 tower in my lap.

Another title that caught my eye appealed more to my male hormones than anything else, but still seemed cool nonetheless. Sin, a 3-D third-person adventure title with a heroine to whom puberty was extremely kind, looked nothing short of amazing even in its early stages. Armed with guns, large swords and a wardrobe so tight only she knows she’s wearing it, the player is able to control a heroine as she leaps across lava pits and attacks her enemies using both ancient and modern weaponry. Cool mix, and if there’s a decent story mixed in there, it’s definitely worth looking into.

As far as the larger companies went, almost nothing was lacking, Blizzard proudly offering forth the incredibly addictive Diablo 2 while Maxis and Aspyr presented The Sims, much to the delight of buyers at the show.

Diablo 2 has not failed to impress by any stretch of the imagination, and the three years Blizzard Entertainment has spent on it has made it all worthwhile. I’ve become lost in this game, diving in and out of it for hours at a time. Like the original, the plot drags you in and refuses to let you go. Players will find themselves driven to reach the next level, finish their most recently assigned quest or simply get even further in the game because the enemies you just finished killing, either in solo play or in multiplayer questing on battle.net, LOOKED SO DAMN COOL! I can’t wait to reach the higher levels of this game, and even on my iBook, the resolution and gameplay is excellent.

Unfortunately, with all good things, there is a price. Blizzard recommends at least a 266 mhz G3 processor and 64 MB of actual or virtual RAM to run this, and it’s easy to see why. The graphics are a tad dated, but the gameplay and size of Diablo 2’s world is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. Diablo 2 will occupy a bare minimum of 463 MB of space on your hard drive and will load all required files (a whopping 1500 MB of space) if you have the room, so be careful. The asking price for what is currently the most popular title on earth is around $50, but to anyone with an iMac, G3 or G4 and loves RPG games, this is the one to request for Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or Festivus.