Zmonk’s Game Cage
Dysfunctional family: Apple’s relationship with its game developers
By Zmonk (firstname.lastname@example.org), 14 July 2000
Apple and games. The two go together like ... dirt and cake, right? While an iMac may invoke snickers from the hardcore gamer cadre, the situation is improving. Despite the gloom of the recent de facto defection of Bungie from the ranks of Mac game developers, there are still plenty of games out there for the Mac gamer to look forward to, such as the imminent release of Diablo II and the long-awaited Baldur’s Gate. Other games are in the pipeline as well, and nVidia’s recent and vocal interest in the Mac shows the health of the market. The situation is improving, and that’s good news.
The bad news is that the Mac game development situation has really had nowhere to go but up. Apple’s insistence in the late 90s of pushing their own game APIs and even a failed attempt at their own console (remember Pippin? Anyone?) pushed developers away. Shrinking market share on the Mac side and a booming game market on the PC side sucked game programmers into world of DOS, and later, Windows. Combine that with Apple’s slow adoption of 3D hardware technology, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Apple’s corporate policy wasn’t helping much back then, either. I saw firsthand how difficult it was to get support from Cupertino during the mid- to late 90s during my stint in the industry. Intel would give companies machines to test with, while Apple barely gave game startups a discount on systems, and then shipped things late and incomplete. We literally had thousands of dollars of donated joysticks, video cards, and test development machines from PC vendors – but Apple was being stingy about a ten-percent discount on a single 9600? It was difficult to take, especially when the dedicated Mac programmers were going to great lengths to persuade management that a Mac version of the title was a good idea at all.
But those are past mistakes, you say? Steve Jobs has made games a top priority at the New Apple, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, Apple has embraced OpenGL as a standard 3D API, and Steve has stood on stage with John Carmack from ID Software. They even showed off Halo at Macworld last year in New York.
But whither Game Sprockets? Dead, or at least unsupported. Carmack is known for his lukewarm support of the Mac. Yes, Quake 3 Arena does run on the latest hardware, but ID’s cross-platform development efforts are done more for the sake of geek chic and the benefits gained in developing a code base for multiple platforms, such as easier debugging, than out of any real dedication to the Mac. And Halo? Don’t get me started. Despite debuting Halo at Macworld last year, and announcing on every page of the Halo Web site for a solid year that the title is “coming soon for Mac OS and Windows”, Bungie has shamefully backpedaled since the Microsoft sell – er, buyout. “Doing a Mac version is up to the development teams,” claims Bungie CEO Alex Seropian. And it wasn’t before? Why the big change? Did they push for it with Microsoft? These questions leap to mind. But remember, until Bungie gives a final word on this matter, the Zmonk Game Cage is giving the Big B the benefit of the doubt. For now. The Halo Web site now reads “Coming soon to a platform near you.” How near would that be, exactly?
In the spirit of second chances, we should really be a little more forgiving to Apple, as well. Developing OS X is a huge task, and one that is surely sucking up a lot of resources within Apple that could otherwise go to things like promoting the Mac to game developers. Make no mistake, Apple will have trouble convincing early adopters that a new, untested OS will be good for game developers and gamers. It will likely be at least a year before we start to see substantial movement on that front. Still, games are being touted as a priority for Apple, and in light of recent events, we hope they’re heeding the feedback from the game development community.