Gaming is coming back to the Mac. Actually we could say that gaming is coming back to Apple. With the recent release of the iPad, Apple is starting to weed into Nintendo's handheld-gaming market. Last week, Valve Software released Steam for the Mac, a very popular online game service for Windows PC users. This move will hopefully bring serious gaming to Macs.
Steam is both a platform and a service. Steam is part iTunes Store, part Social Networking, and part programming service. A game maker can create their titles to work on Steam, giving it more power by using Steam's online services, plus an easy way to sell it in the Steam Store.
For users, Steam is an online service where you create a library of game titles. From the Steam application you can play any of your compatible games on either Mac or PC platforms. You get automatic updates, social networking and playing with friends, game demos, watch trailers, and a store to purchase more games. If you have purchased a game for a PC and there is now a Mac version, you can download that version at no additional cost. If you somehow lose a copy of a Steam game you can download it again at no additional cost.
Another very cool part of Steam is something called Steam Cloud. It's where you store your saved games. Think of it as offline backup for your games. This feature also allows you to play a Steam-based game on one computer and then pick right up where you left off on another computer. If you're playing a game that is both Mac and PC, Steam Cloud allows you to play the 'Saves' on either platform.
Since I have several Steam-based Windows PC games, I decided to install the Mac OS X version of Steam. The download went fairly fast and after I logged in I was greeted with my library. Of course the games that were in my library were not available for the Mac.
I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered the popular, and very cool looking, game called Portal as a free download. While not a new game, it will be new to most Mac gamers. This is a special deal that Valve is offering for the OS X launch. Portal is free for both Macs and PCs through May 24. Make sure you have a good high-speed connection to the Internet since the download is over 4GB.
Portal is a 3-D first-person action/puzzle game. It is not a shoot-em-up type game. It does take a bit of finger work but mostly some brainwork. You move about the complex by passing through "portals" that are either created for you or those you create yourself with the Portal gun. You move from room to room or level to level through these portals. You need to move objects to special locations to help you open doors and such and advance to the next level. Puzzles are a big part of the game.
Of course, Valve has all of its own titles on Steam, Portal being the first Mac-compatible title. Over the next weeks we can expect other titles to trickle out. Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, and other new Valve titles should be available soon for OS X Steam.
A very interesting title from Runic Games is called Torchlight. Created by some of the minds behind the Diablo series, Torchlight is a third-person type top-down action adventure role playing game (RPG). A unique feature of the game is a randomizer. This means that each adventure is different, they are not set in stone like most goal-based RPGs. This allows for much more playability throughout the life of the game.
There are several titles from other companies, one major title being Sid Meier's Civilization IV. This is another old title, but one that has sold over 6 million copies, so you know it must be compelling. If you have been gaming for a while you may remember games like Sim City and Populous. This is in that same genre of strategy games where you build up a world from very basic beginnings. You essentially try to create your own civilization by creating or discovering fire, metals, paper, libraries, etc.
Although most of the Mac games on Steam (that are available now) are ones that have been available as stand-alone packages, from the likes of LucasArts and others. The benefit is that with Steam you only have to buy it once and it's yours forever. Plus, your games can be moved and played on multiple computers at no additional cost.
Steam is definitely big news for Mac gamers. While the iPad/iPhone/Touch may have brought handheld gaming to Apple, Steam brings serious gaming to the Mac. Steam is a free download, and Portal is too for the next week. In the past, Valve has had great deals on games from time to time, usually weekend specials, so make sure you check your account from time to time. Mac and Steam, a powerful combination.