17 May 2010
Posted in Games
When Valve announced they will be bringing Steam to the Mac there was a cry of joy not heard since the Israelites were led out of captivity from Egypt. Not only is Steam now available they've done what companies like EA haven't... gone native. When EA announced they will be releasing their Mac titles at the same time or at a similar time as their PC versions there was a lot of speculation as to how this would be achieved. When they announced that they would be wrapping their games in Cider (a commercial variant of the Wine system that fools Windows apps into thinking they are running on Windows but are instead running on Mac or Linux) people's hopes were dashed. As good as Cider/Wine/CrossOver are they will all take a performance hit when converting DirectX based games (pretty much most of EA's titles) to OpenGL which is what Mac OS X uses.
Ease of use
Value for money
N/A - As individual games cost varying amounts
Free to install but games have costs
Intel Mac, OS X version Leopard 10.5.8+
Two-button mouse strongly recommended
1GB HD space (recommended)
Internet connection (broadband recommended)
Valve on the other hand went all out with Source Engine and actually made a native Mac version of the game engine meaning that games that use the Source Engine will run at full speed on the Mac with no performance hit at all. This is a massive benefit for Mac users and already there are those saying the Mac versions look and run better and smoother.
Steam itself is merely a front end for the Steam Store in much the same way iTunes is a front end for the App Store. In fact it works exactly the same, kind of making it an App Store for desktop games.
Download the client and setup an account. It's free and simple to do. This account creates a profile that lets people add you to their friends list and play games against you. It also allows you to see what achievements you've unlocked in each of the games you have. This is very similar to CloudCell, Plus+, and OpenFeint on the iPhone essentially bringing social media to gaming. Of course this profile also allows you to buy things from the store.
The Steam client is essentially just a WebKit browser based application and as such it has a very minimal interface. It works superbly though and there isn't really anything to fault it except maybe if you use a Magic Mouse because it can send you moving wildly up and down the page.
The "Store" page is exactly like it sounds, the front end to the store where you buy the games. Much of the site is still PC only (as games get ported over) but there is still a wide variety of Mac games available including titles like World of Goo which is a title that's been on the Mac for some time and scored many a fine review. What makes the store something wonderful is something called Steam Play. Steam Play allows you to buy the Mac version and automatically have access to the PC version as well. Two platforms for the price of one so when you think $39.99(US) might seem steep for the full Civilisation IV including the expansion packs (it's not but go with me on this) it seems dirt cheap when you realise you also get the exact same product for the PC at the same time. Two for one really is a massive deal.
The "Library" page shows you a list of the titles you have. This is split into four different pages "Games", "Media", "Tools", and "Downloads". Under Games you see a list of all the games in your collection. This makes sense and when you click on each game it gives you a rundown of the achievements you've unlocked, news on that game, and support as well. It also acts as the game launcher. Media is a list of movie files etc that you've downloaded from the site that you can play at your leisure.
The "News" page is exactly as it sounds, news of upcoming releases, updates, etc but not necessarily specific to the title you've downloaded.
"Community" allows you to configure your profile but I found something funny. When it asks for your country it then provides a list of states/provinces for that country. Unfortunately for New Zealand it only shows a list of towns and cities. Not that big of a problem until you realise there's no Wellington or Auckland and yet my hometown of Hawera is listed. Go figure. Ironically technically Hawera actually is a province because it is on paper a republic in much the same way as Whangamomona is a republic as well. Not much of an issue however as it doesn't affect purchasing or what have you.
If you get in before the 25th May 2010 you will be able to download the game Portal for free. This is a great example of the Source Engine running natively on a Mac and you can see the big difference between native OpenGL and on the fly conversion of DirectX. As far as the game goes it's a nice concept but 5 hours to complete just doesn't seem right. True there are many achievements to unlock but like most FPS games the concept could have been drawn out only to have been rushed it seems. Still it is fun for a few hours.
All in all Steam is an important milestone in Mac history. It now brings Macs in step with Windows as a gaming platform and I suspect that come 10.8 Apple will have developed an OS that makes game developers want to scramble to the Mac platform in droves. The fact that Valve has written Source to run natively on Macs instead of on-the-fly translation to OpenGL from DirectX means that Valve is serious about Macs as a gaming platform.
While there is a lot of games that need to be ported over to the Mac still the ones that are there are well worth the effort of downloading the Steam client and buying the games. Some are old to the Mac platform others are new but still others are well on the way. Porting times will be reduced for Source Engine based games as it is then only up to the developer to develop the Mac client instead of the entire engine. This is big people... very very big.