Thursday, 27 December 2007

Xbox 360 - unpacking & first impressions

Heading to the checkout with the 360 Pro Bundle through a heavy Boxing Day crowd I found out that this is no lightweight console! I didn't weigh the pack but it's pretty hefty and by the time I made it back to my car in a nearby multi-story car park I was glad for a rest (I'd made a short diversion to an Apple Centre to check out the new iMac for the first time as well). I later went to another store and picked up a dirt cheap new copy of the 360 Tomb Raider Legend, as you do...

Once home (after going via a friend's place for a little show-and-tell ;) I opened it up and started the setup. Unpacking it showed where a fair chunk of the weight was - the power pack is ginormous! By itself it seems bigger than the combined slimline PS2 and its power pack, although it's probably not. Well maybe it is... Apart from the console and power pack, the 360 Pro pack contained a combined composite/component cable, ethernet cable, controller, media remote, SCART adaptor, four AA batteries for the two gadgets, and a disappointingly small manual (which is actually fairly thorough). The build quality of all the components looks very good and one gets the impression that it's a very solid piece of equipment. I hope that impression holds up over time... (It's a pity it's beige, but it's a nice shade of beige ;) There was also the two-game bundle in a single case tucked in a narrow space on one side of the box. Internal packing material was kept at a minimum, with only folded cardboard around the console, and a couple of narrow foam strips under it, as well as a lot of mostly green plastic bags of course.

At this point I should say that a few months ago my 60cm Panasonic CRT TV lost its picture and I've yet to decide whether to get it repaired or just hang out until I can upgrade to an LCD. In the meantime I've been using my old 1986 National 34cm colour portable, which is 50Hz only, mono audio, and only has RF input (meaning the only way to get a signal into it is using the co-axial aerial connection). This means that I have to stage all my gear through a VCR, then into the TV via the aerial connection, thus requiring an AV switcher and standard composite cables, and some loss of quality even for standard PAL 480i. The TV does have a good picture though, which has deteriorated little over time apart from a slight decrease in contrast (not enough to really notice), and despite its size (or maybe because of it) it looks pretty damn good! On the audio side I have my big late-90's Aiwa Dolby Surround stereo, which is in its element with gear like the 360 which defaults to 5.1 audio (even though the Aiwa's Dolby Surround is only 4 channel, it translates 5.1 well).

Once I'd completed the simple assembly, the only complication being to add yet another! AV switcher to handle both the 360 and PlayStation 2, I fired it up. I positioned the console horizontally as I've seen advice on the internets that this puts less strain on the optical drive, and on top of my cabinet so it was well ventilated. Turning it on is most easily done using the cordless controller, which is able to switch both itself and the console independently (meaning that you can turn the controller off to save batteries but leave the console on, or save yourself that exhausting walk to the console to turn it on or off ;) After a very short and quite intuitive setup procedure, there followed a short intro video which was light-hearted and showed off the surround audio nicely.

One thing here - with the slimline PlayStation 2 sitting next to the 360, the difference of one generation in gaming consoles is highlighted by the fact that the PS2 is tiny in comparison, and virtually soundless at normal viewing distances. Close up you can just hear the PS2 optical drive working, but as there are no fans it's very quiet. Of course the main difference is in the games themselves, and the differences are massive there, as I mention a little later.

After browsing through the various blades (menu items) it was time for a game. The two bundled games are unfortunately 60 Hz only, so I can't play them until I either switch to a spare computer monitor (and lose the surround sound as it would have to go in a different room), get the Panasonic TV repaired, or upgrade to an LCD TV. But Tomb Raider Legend is PAL 50/60Hz (I already knew this from the PS2 game) so it found its way into the optical drive without further delay. Which happens to be the noisiest part of the revised hardware - the cooling fan is barely audible at normal viewing distance if you place the console near the TV, but there is the constant moderate optical drive noise. Fortunately with normal game audio it's not intrusive though, and it has to be quieter than my MDD Power Mac wind tunnel!

Tomb Raider Legend was quite a surprise! I've played the PlayStation game four times now and I'd got quite used to the fuzzy result of the graphic aliasing needed for the low power console, so to see it in DVD quality was quite an eye-opener, and I can only imagine how it would look in 720p or higher! The colour and contrast is fantastic, the graphic detail is everything I hoped it would be, shadows are mostly quite realistic (including the shadows cast by Lara's rechargeable light) and in the early stages the video is beautifully smooth. I don't expect every moment of the game to be as smooth but I'm very impressed so far. And the surround audio is also superb - even switching to the binoculars changes Lara's voice to closeup, as if you're right there with her!

The 360 controller is solid and robust (meaning that it's quite heavy) but as long as you can handle the extra weight it's nice to use, and the lack of a cable means you can get a more comfortable position than with a corded controller. I'm long accustomed to the PS2 controller, or more accurately the compact Logitech version, so the larger size and weight, and the difference in the position of the D-pad and left stick (they're reversed compared to the PS2 so I found myself going for one when I wanted the other) all took some getting used to. And the default shooting controls are also flipped vertically, with the weapons draw on the bottom left (trigger) button, and Fire the right trigger button. But it works well and I only need a bit more experience to settle in.

I have reservations about cordless controllers but I have to say that the lack of a cord does make it more convenient to use despite the extra weight, and I'll get a 'play and charge' kit which makes rechargeable batteries more convenient to use. I may also get a 'Sun' faceplate sometime so I'm not looking at beige but that's low priority. And if I decide to switch to a spare VGA monitor I'll need to buy the VGA adaptor as it's not included. But out of the box the 360 Pro pack has everything most people would need, it's easy to set up, and the performance of both video and audio is great. And as the Pro console has a hard drive it can also play many Xbox games, so the game catalogue is quite comprehensive if you don't mind a drop in graphic detail with the older games. If you do this though, you need to download or order a backwards compatibility update - I have to wonder why they didn't just have that installed from the start, it's not that big..? Oh, and don't forget to check the online listing of compatible Xbox games before you jump in and buy one.

The hard drive (Australia/New Zealand release) comes with a bunch of arcade games included such as Uno and Pac-Man, but they're mostly trial versions. There's also a Lego Star Wars II demo, and some promo movies for games like Bioshock & Halo. The 20GB hard drive has about 6GB taken up by the formatting & system and nearly 4GB by other content, so there's not as much room as you'd think until you trash some of the extra content. But unless you're downloading games or adding music or movies, there's plenty of room for any amount of DVD-based game's saves with about 10GB free. I don't think I'd use it as a music library as it's a lot easier just to plug my MP3 player into the stereo, or run an MP3 disc in my CD player - the 360 console uses a fair bit of power and for me it's a game machine, not a media centre...

I've never used an early model 360 with the overheating problems, but after about 30 minute's use, roughly evenly split between setting up and playing TR Legend, the case was still cool except for a small area around the rear vents which were blowing moderately warm air (a later session of about 30 minutes in Legend made the case slightly warmer, but not by much, although these sessions were on cool days). I've read that the new hardware configuration with better cooling, the 65nm CPU, and possibly a smaller die GPU, does run a lot cooler. One possible cause of the earlier three red ring failures could have been overheating, and if that's the case then I doubt it will be a problem with the new model with the Falcon board.

So was it worth it for me? Well as I managed to get a great deal that put the price of the Pro pack hardware around the price of a sale-priced Wii (allowing for a value of the two included 360 games at around $AU100) then it's a resounding yes, at least so far! It not only gives me high res TR Legend and Anniversary, but it future-proofs me for a few more Tomb Raiders to come, as well as complementing my PlayStation 2 game catalogue with a whole extra bunch to choose from. Heaps more games than a Mac, better graphics, and way lower cost (even with the cost of a moderately sized LCD monitor added on) make it compelling. Add to that the Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive add-on for maybe half the cost of a free-standing HD-DVD player, and it has a lot going for it in anyone's language, although the addition of the HD-DVD drive does put it up around the base PS3 price range. Time will tell if the reliability problems have been solved, but it's sounding good from what I've heard! I'm glad I waited all this time for the 65nm CPU, not to mention the much lower price :)

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

My gaming future is now decided!

I've been giving a lot of thought to my gaming future in recent months. Due to cost considerations, and the fact that Apple still aren't serious about gaming, I'd come to the conclusion that there was no future for me gaming on a Mac. My current MDD Power Mac dual G4/1.25 is fantastic for everything but future gaming, and it does well for all those TR's that exist on Mac to this time (end 2007). It's also possible that it will just scrape through with the forthcoming Universal Mac TR Anniversary from Feral Interactive (but at very low settings), and if a Mac version of TR Legend appears in the future then I could get similar results as it's the same game engine. But the next TR - Tomb Raider Underworld, sometime late 2008 or even 2009 - will be more demanding, and if it gets a Mac port is sure to be beyond my Mac. Hence I had to start planning.

None of this affects MacRaider, except for any possible future Mac TR's some way down the track that I can't run - I'm still a Mac Raider, still ready to support as many Mac TR's as I can, and I'll still be going forward with my walkthroughs. So MacRaider lives on!

Although I'm also a long term PlayStation gamer (I have an original PS, an original PS2, and a slimline PS2) the cheapest of the PS3 models in Australia is close to $700, a cost I can't justify. I was considering a Wii (just under $AU400) but as Anniversary on the Wii isn't as good as it should have been, and the future of TR on the Wii is uncertain, buying one would be a risk. And a PC (shock, horror!) would also be unjustifiably expensive as it would only be for games. Which leaves me with only one real choice - an Xbox 360, which is what I've been tending towards for some time now.

Today I went out for price comparisons, which was a good time to do it for several reasons:
1) The latest 360 hardware update with the 65nm CPU, and revised board and cooling, is now on the street. This was my major trigger for buying a 360 - it makes for much improved reliability as it runs a lot cooler.
2) There is a good value 360 Pro Bundle (Viva Piñata + Forza 2) on limited offer at the moment.
3) Both those games were on my radar, especially Forza 2 as I need to replace my long term Gran Turismo passion (GT is PlayStation-only).
4) JB HiFi have a killer deal on that bundle just for this week that neither EB Games nor GAME can match, and which at $AU449 is way below the true value of the pack (the RRP nearly $AU580, and EB and GAME can only go down to $AU499!) That's the Pro console with 20 GB hard drive, component cable, & remote, and the games are worth around $AU100 by themselves. Compare that with the normal 360 Pro street pricing at around $AU550+ without the games, and you can see that it's difficult to resist!
5) The Xbox 360 uses a development of the PowerPC G5 CPU, with triple cores running at 3.2GHz. So even though it wouldn't be gaming on a Mac, for a Mac traditionalist like myself the simple fact that I'd be gaming on a triple core 3.2GHz PowerPC (albeit running a Microsoft OS) gives me a sense of continuity (of course the PS3 and Wii are also PowerPC developments, so any console would have filled the same gap...)

So now that all the barriers to buying a 360 have gone down, I finally gave into temptation and I now have an Xbox 360 :-) In my next post I'll give you my setting up experiences, and first impressions with the 360 TR Legend!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Blade Runner - I has it!

(Updated 29 May 2008)

Today (19 December 2007) was the Australian release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut! I was intending to pick up the 5 disc Ultimate Collector's Edition box set (with 5 versions of the movie and heaps of extras), but when I went into my local Sanity store they had a numbered, limited edition, briefcase pack containing the 5 disc release, so once I saw it I couldn't resist ;) The number on it is one of 4,400 but exactly what that means I don't know - are there only 4,400 worldwide? That sounds more likely than the same number in Australia, which would make them quite common, so I'm very happy to have been able to pick one up.

The Ultimate Collector's Edition is stuffed full of goodies, and for more info on it you could do worse than check out The Digital Bits review, which focuses on that release, and lists all the limited edition goodies as well. It's a 4 page review and covers all the video extras in detail.

This is what it looks like - it's a replica of Deckard's briefcase. The extras it contains are a set of 8 prints of concept art, storyboards etc., a motion clip, miniature unicorn, and a model of the Police Spinner vehicle in the movie.

The Australian release slips into a light cardboard sleeve with the numbered sticker on the sleeve (the sleeve is the black part with the angled sides). More durable than the bare briefcase, especially as I carefully slit the shrink-wrap and folded it into the sleeve to protect the edge around the opening, thus leaving it on to protect the whole outside of the packaging as well.

(This image was taken from the Australian EzyDVD online catalogue...)

Once I've checked out all 5 versions of the movie (rare pre-release workprint, both original 1982 theatrical releases, the 1992 'Director's Cut', and the 2007 'Final Cut', in that order) I'll post a short comment here. For now though the limited edition extras are very cool, and the whole package looks like one of the best limited editions I've ever seen and puts many other wannabe LE's to shame!

UPDATE 29 May 2008
Sorry for the delay, I forgot to update this, but at least it gave me the opportunity to see the Final Cut on a good HD LCD TV and comment on that experience...

Having watched all the different releases of Blade Runner, I'm impressed! If you are a big fan, then you could do a lot worse than to buy the 5-disc release with all versions of the movie, but you should at least get the 2-disc Final Cut release!

So what about the 5-disc set? The first, workprint version, of the movie is fascinating as it was the original vision, but due to a poor test audience reaction there were dramatic alterations for the theatre release. The three subsequent theatrical and Director's Cut releases are interesting if only to see how the movie evolved, but most of us would be fairly familiar with those versions by now.

But I was floored by the Final Cut release - it's simply one of the finest sci-fi movies I've ever seen! I watched the DVD version, via YPbPr (composite) 576p output, upscaled to 720p on my 26"/66cm Panasonic HD LCD TV, and with Dolby Surround audio through my 5-speaker Aiwa stereo (made before the Sony buyout, when Aiwa were still a good product.) The quality is awesome! It's right up there with the best new release DVDs (like Ratatouille), and although I've not seen the Blu-ray release, there's very little room for improvement over the DVD on a smaller HD LCD TV, at least in the sub-40" range, as upscaling these days is almost flawless.

Highly recommended! Either of the Final Cut release formats (2 or 5 disc) is a must-buy for Blade Runner fans, and the only decision you need to make is which one you can afford, and find!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Feral Interactive Universal Patches

Since Feral Interactive's recent announcement that they would be publishing the Mac Tomb Raider Anniversary, I've been keeping an eye on their site. (As you do if you're a mad Mac TR fan like me and have been hanging out for nearly 4 years for a new Mac release ;-)

Feral have just announced that they will be releasing Universal versions of most of their back catalogue, starting with Worms 3D, Ford Racing 2, and Bionicle. Stay tuned to Feral for news about which other games in their back catalogue will get the Universal treatment!

Feral Interactive

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The True 'Blade Runner Director's Cut'

Not game news, but geek news :)

The Australian release of the only true Director's Cut of Blade Runner is due for around 19 December 2007, with the title 'Blade Runner: The Final Cut'! The 1992 so-called 'Director's Cut' was not under the complete control of Ridley Scott so isn't definitive, but he had complete artistic control of the upcoming remastered 'Final Cut'. Blade Runner is one of my favourite sci-fi movies of all time (along with Alien, Contact, & Terminator) so I'm definitely hanging out for this one! It looks like it will be released around the same time in many countries with a date of 18 December mentioned on the Wikipedia page.

This will be the third version of the film I have. I already have the original (International?) version on VHS and the 1992 Director's Cut on DVD. Of those two the Director's Cut is better as it does away with the voiceovers which were a bit distracting, but the addition of the Unicorn scene doesn't necessarily help (it was intended to clarify Deckard's origins but you had to be aware of the possibility or it made no sense). On the other hand, the voiceovers did give the original release more of a link to the classic Film Noir genre to which it owes so much, so are not totally without merit. So I'm very interested to see how this new version stands up against the others..! Which means I'll have to subject myself to all 3 versions over a few days so they're fresh in my mind. I think I can cope with that ;-)

My favourite character? It has to be Pris, and not just because she's played by the almost unrecognisable Daryl Hannah (who I also like). To me Pris is a very complex and interesting character, played with finesse by Hannah, and a character you always sense is capable of extreme behaviour so is very menacing before she actually does anything. Her capacity for being so seductive one moment, and so violent the next, means you can never take her for granted!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Last Classic Mac OS - A Tribute

Officially deceased but won't lie down yet!

The release of OS X 10.5 Leopard on 26 October 2007 marks the end of Apple's support of the classic Mac OS. Leopard no longer supports PPC Mac Classic mode, so anyone who still relies on a classic Mac app is out of luck with Leopard. So here's my modest tribute to a legend.

Although Classic has been less and less useful as time goes on, there are sure to be some PPC Mac users out there like myself who still need to run classic apps, either because an update or replacement doesn't exist, or because they can't find a suitable replacement for a much loved classic app. I'm likely to upgrade to Leopard sometime, but it will be on a separate internal hard drive alongside Panther, for dual-booting. I can't bear to be parted from Panther, just yet, for reasons such as these classic apps:

- all the Mac Tomb Raiders up to The Last Revelation (TR 4). None of these (7) games have been confirmed yet for Carbonising by Aspyr, but although I'm not hopeful I've not yet ruled it out. These alone lock me into Panther for some time yet!

- Claris Home Page, which was discontinued in 2001 with v3. There may be better WYSIWYG website design packages these days, but I'm happy with the utility and ease of use of Home Page. It may be very basic by today's standards but what it does it does well and has been running this site since day one. Anyway, who needs templates or rollovers :)

- SoundApp PPC, which was a very useful freeware audio converter, capable of handling one of the widest range of formats at the time. The developer, Norman Franke, moved on to other things and the last release was v2.7.3 in late 2000. Although there are other audio utilities for OS X, none to this day have the simplicity or practicality of SoundApp PPC.

- The older F/A-18 Hornet flightsims, of which only F/A-18 Korea can be run in Classic with the help of MacGLide. The later F/A-18 OIF may be OS X native but for sheer flightsim fun on a Mac nothing can beat Hornet Korea. Well, except for Hornet 3 which won't run in Classic...

- I also have occasional use for a few odd things like my old GME97 Encyclopaedia (and some other references) and my faithful old Agfa scanner. Unfortunately the Agfa scanner will only work by booting into OS 9 as the SCSI connection doesn't work properly in Panther.

So the end of Classic support by Apple is, for myself and many other long term Mac users, an event to rank up there with the last PPC Mac. Hence my modest tribute to an operating system family that may not have always been cutting edge, but will always be fondly remembered.

RIP Classic Mac OS
24 January 1984 - 26 October 2007

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Valve's Gabe Newell on Apple & Gaming

Updated 5 October 2007
Updated 6 October 2007

In a recent interview between Kikizo and Gabe Newell, the MD of Valve (developers of Half Life), there are some interesting comments about Apple's attitude to gaming and why Half Life isn't on the Mac.

Valve have approached Apple on a number of occasions in recent years, and although the Apple people they've spoken to have expressed interest in helping make the Mac better for gaming, nothing has ever happened. As Gabe Newell says "I just don't think they've ever taken gaming seriously." He goes on to say "If I were a Macintosh product manager, it [gaming support] would be pretty high on my list, and a problem to get taken care of, as probably the number one thing holding them back with consumers."

Read the interview - the Apple comments are on the first page and paint a bleak picture of Mac gaming any time soon.

This reinforces my long held belief that by ignoring gaming Apple have missed the bus when it comes to getting hardware into homes and giving Microsoft some serious competition (as I've said more than once in this blog, right from the start). Mac gaming may not technically be dead yet, but outside of casual games it's looking more ordinary every day. And comments like those from Gabe Newell certainly don't do anything to make me think that things will change...

Update 5 October

Inside Mac Games' Tuncer Deniz, in his blog, has commented on Gabe Newell's remarks about why Half Life 2 isn't on the Mac. While accepting that some of his comments are valid, Tuncer points out that part of the reason at least is "because of Valve's insistence that anyone who wanted to port Half-Life 2 to the Mac had to advance $1 million to Valve." Now to those who have some idea what the market is for Mac games, that amount of money up front is quite unrealistic!

That aside though, Tuncer, a long term Mac gaming advocate, does accept that "the Mac is NOT a great gaming platform", that competition from consoles in particular isn't helping, and nor is Apple's attitude. But he remains optimistic about the future of gaming on the Mac given that the Mac's market share is rising and there is still strong support from developers and gamers. I hope he's right...

Read Tuncer's blog post for more.

Update 6 October

Macworld have commented on Gabe Newell's remarks in the above interview. They also note that much of what Gabe Newell says has merit, but they agree with Inside Mac Games that money is the main reason Half Life hasn't made it to Mac. In the article comparisons are drawn between Valve, and other publishers who have been successful and profitable with cross platform releases.

But one point was mentioned that has a wider significance. Whatever Valve's reasons for avoiding the Mac, they have game technology that they license out to other developers, and if Valve isn't developing for the Mac then neither are any of the developers using their technology. So Valve's attitude does have other ramifications for Mac gaming!

On the intensive use of DirectX with many new games on the PC, and whether it's another factor impacting on Mac conversions, they comment "
It’s a technical problem, sure, but it’s not insurmountable", pointing out that this hasn't stopped other developers porting PC games to the Mac.

Read the Macworld article for more details.

But I still have reservations about the future of Mac gaming after Valve's comments. If developers like Valve, for whatever reason, aren't pursuing Mac gaming, then something will have to change before we see Macs taken seriously by the wider game development community. Eidos is a good example, with Tomb Raider Legend being released by them on almost every conceivable platform, even a version for mobile phones, but not for Mac or Linux. If they're not prepared to put that extra effort into at least one more version of the game (given all those that have been released), then what hope is there..?

Sunday, 12 August 2007

New iMacs - Graphics Update 2 (Benchmarks)

Updated 16 August

Benchmarks for the new iMacs are starting to appear. I'll update this post as I see new reviews that include graphics benchmarks, so check back periodically! (NOTE - due to problems with my ISP's server that's blocking some sites I've not been able to access Inside Mac Games for some weeks now, so I won't be able to include any IMG articles until that's fixed. If it's fixed... UPDATE 13 August - I now have access to IMG! It wasn't my ISP, rather IMG's server was blocking an IP range that included my ISP, but it took a long time to get sorted...)

Macworld's first look at benchmarks.
This one is very interesting. They don't yet have the 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme to test, but Macworld included one game benchmark on the other three new iMacs - Unreal Tournament 2004. These were using the new ATI HD 2400XT/2600PRO graphics with 128MB and 256MB memory respectively, compared to the previous 24" 2.16GHz with GeForce 7300GT 128MB graphics.

NONE of the three new iMacs tested could match the 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo with the GeForce 7300GT - even though the 7300GT was only using 128MB memory compared to the HD 2600's 256MB! And don't forget that the GeForce 7300GT/128MB was the lower graphics option in the previous model iMac - the 24" could be upgraded to the GeForce 7600GT/256MB graphics which were significantly better! So at first glance it seems that the previous model white iMac with either the GeForce 7300GT or 7600GT graphics is a better gaming machine than the new aluminium iMacs! And I don't expect much improvement with the 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme in the new 24" as it uses the same graphics as the standard 24".

Mac gamers, now might be the time to think about getting the previous white iMac 24" with the GeForce 7600GT graphics and 2.33GHz CPU, before stocks run out! There should still be some available on special order from Apple or Apple retailers at this date (12 August), but it won't last long. I wish I could afford one because I'd buy it in a flash now I know more about the new models!

14 August Update

There were a couple of reviews posted for the new iMacs yesterday:

Macworld Review
AppleInsider Review

Both these reviews have reservations about the new ATI graphics and the glossy screen. Although not comprehensive graphics reviews they both voice disappointment at the lack of improvement to the graphics over the previous GeForce 7300GT/7600GT options. Note that the AppleInsider review shows benchmarks for the old G5 iMac against the new aluminium Intel model, so the gains are NOT over the previous Core 2 Duo iMac and are somewhat misleading!

16 August Update

There is now benchmarking comparing the new top end aluminium iMac 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme/Radeon HD 2600 Pro 256MB with the old top end white 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo/GeForce 7600 GT 256MB:

Bare Feats Benchmarks

I've been hanging out to see these top end models compared, and I have to say I'm not surprised to see that the old white iMac absolutely FLOGS the new aluminium iMac in most games! In fact the only way to beat the old top end iMac is with a Mac Pro with Radeon X1900 XT graphics!

So serious Mac gamers who want the best Mac game box but can't afford a Mac Pro, should seriously consider trying to get a white iMac 24" 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo with the GeForce 7600 GT 256MB graphics before stocks at Apple run out. If you already have one, then congratulate yourself for not waiting for the 2007 iMac revision, although you would have payed more ;-)

The old white iMac pricing has now been discounted so there is a big saving over its price before the new model was released, making them around the same price as the roughly equivalent aluminium iMac.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

New iMacs - Graphics Update

In my previous post I originally suggested that the new 256MB ATI graphics were more powerful than the previous top end iMac's GeForce 7600 GT 256MB graphics. But I've since seen comments that this may not be the case, and that the ATI graphics could actually be less powerful!

Much of this depends on Apple's implementation and whether they've limited the clock speed, but it is a fact that in PC gaming ATI are lagging behind nVidia with Vista drivers so the ATI's DirectX 10 support could well be limited at this time for those who want to dual boot into Vista for gaming (DirectX 10 is Vista-only).

The 2600 Pro is also a poor brother to the 2600 XT which has 512MB memory, but Apple's decision to slim down the iMac case may have made the 2600 XT non-viable due to space and cooling issues. But I would have thought that if Apple are throwing a 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme at the iMac, then couldn't they at least have given it high end graphics as well, even just as an option..?

Is this yet another case of 'form over function' with Apple..? And even though we know Apple don't take gaming seriously, when are they going acknowledge that there are some serious Mac gamers out here and give us decent graphics in the consumer model Macs..?

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

New iMacs - 7 August 2007

As expected, Apple has announced the new iMac range. They are now cased in aluminium (also as expected), offset with a black screen surround and back. I have to say they look rather nice! But I'm not so sure about the keyboard which is a very thin laptop style with low flat keys (which was leaked some days ago so has also been expected). I've yet to check out the new glossy screen - similar products I've seen have looked all right at a casual glance, but it's a very personal preference that won't suit everyone. The 17" model has been dropped (widely predicted) to concentrate on the 20" and 24" models. One thing that didn't transpire was a model with a larger screen than the 24" but you can't have everything.

I was a little surprised to see the new CPUs - the top 24" model now has a 2.8GHz Core 2 Extreme! The other three models keep the Core 2 Duo now at 2.0GHz and 2.4GHz. All models now have dedicated ATI Radeon graphics, and all but the base model now have as standard the Radeon HD 2600 Pro with 256MB memory (512MB would have been nice though...) The top 24" now comes standard with 2GB RAM, with 1GB for the other three models. And the top 24" now has a 500GB hard drive standard, with options for up to 1TB! The full range now comes with an 8x dual layer Superdrive.

As a comparison, the previous model top end 24" upgraded to the faster processor, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and 256MB graphics memory, is broadly the same specs as the now standard top end 24", except the CPU has been significantly boosted with the new model, going from the Core 2 Duo to the much faster Core 2 Extreme. And all that comes with a price drop of about $800 Australian for the significantly more powerful machine!

I suspect some of the price drop is due to the lower manufacturing costs of LCD screens these days, but the new top end 24" is priced around 20% lower than its predecessor, which makes it a very attractive option!

It shouldn't be too long before the new models start getting tested against the old, and I'd guess that they will compare very favourably.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Future of Mac Gaming..?

Is this the future of Mac Gaming?

I don't think I need to say anything more about this, except to point you back to this post from March...

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

'Is MacRaider still relevant?' Poll result!

I let this poll run for 5 weeks until I finished my TR Anniversary walkthroughs. Apart from the poll comments I had a few emails as well, and I want to thank everyone who responded!

The total responses weren't overwhelming at 11, but with human nature being what it is there is likely to be a silent majority out there who feel the same way. The most surprising things to me were that there was not a single negative comment, and there are several people who would like me to continue even though they may not be playing on a Mac in the future! And I'm particularly pleased that there are some who prefer my writing style - I always write as though I'm talking to the reader and that's not something I've cultivated, it's just the way I am. In fact I doubt I could write any other way...

So I've decided that I'll continue supporting the site for some time to come! There may not be a lot of news between games, and there's no guarantee that the next TR will be released on a platform I can use (there won't be another PlayStation 2 TR after Anniversary so if I jump the wrong way I'll be left out in the cold) but if I can find a way to continue my coverage I'll be doing it. And you'll be pleased to know that my email support will also continue!

Thanks again everyone, and keep on MacRaiding!

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Poll - is MacRaider still relevant?

Update 3 July: This poll is now closed and I've made my decision - go to the Poll result post for more!

The last Mac Tomb Raider, Angel of Darkness, was released nearly 3.5 years ago in December 2003. With the release of Anniversary in a week or so there will be two new Tomb Raiders since the last Mac TR game hit the shelves, with no word from Aspyr, or anyone else, that there will be a future TR release on Mac. This may or may not be Aspyr's decision - it could be a decision by Eidos to deny a Mac license, or they may be asking too much for licensing. But considering that TR Legend is available for almost every conceivable platform except Mac and Linux, it seems unlikely that the decision is purely Eidos'...

MacRaider is, by definition, a Mac Tomb Raider site, so the absence of any new Mac TR in 3.5 years seems to make MacRaider largely irrelevant, especially if there won't ever be another TR on the Mac. So I am now left with a decision - do I continue publishing Tomb Raider information and walks from other platform versions, or do I tidy up MacRaider and leave it as an online archive for the few Mac gamers who still play the old Mac Tomb Raider games? And do you still want me to provide email support for the Mac Tomb Raider games? (I get very few emails these days for Mac help...)

As for my future gaming, it's likely that I'll be moving more and more to consoles and away from the Mac. Mac gaming seems to be getting more marginalised every year, largely as a result of Apple not supporting serious gaming - OpenGL isn't a patch on DirectX and Apple are unlikely to do anything about it. I've been gaming on PlayStation for some years now for games that never came to Mac, and sometime in the future I intend to include an Xbox 360 in my lineup. The Mac will still be my computer of choice for general use, but not an Intel Mac - I'm very happy with my MDD Power Mac for everything other than games and I can see no reason to spend a small fortune on a game-ready MacIntel when consoles are far cheaper and have a far larger game catalogue to choose from. I've been a Mac Advocate for a long time now and I still am, but no longer for gaming...

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Why don't I use Linux?

Increasingly these days on the web this question is being asked, with a wide variety of suggestions as to why more people haven't switched to Linux. So here are my reasons.

As I run the Mac OS I'm not subject to all the problems with Windows, and I don't just mean malware. Yes, I don't currently have a problem with malware but I acknowledge that Mac OS X isn't totally safe, it's just not targeted by malware writers - it is much more secure than Windows but it is still vulnerable. But the best thing about the Mac OS is that we don't have all the Digital Rights Management restrictions built into Windows - we can reinstall OS X whenever, wherever, and how ever many times we like without breaching any useage restrictions. Try doing that with Vista... One exception to this is a user's iTunes library where they can run foul of DRM restrictions with their existing iTunes library if they need to reinstall the system or change computers. I get around this by not using the iTunes store at all - in fact I still run iTunes 4.2 which suits me fine and is probably the best iTunes of all for just playing music! So the main reason to switch - usability - just doesn't apply to me.

Now, the real reason.

I do like the idea of Linux, and some time ago I decided to at least evaluate it on my MDD G4 as Linux has supposedly evolved into a good solution for people like me. So I did my research, and finally settled with Ubuntu, which at the time was at version 6.06 and was the most popular general Linux release. I read all the release notes on the site prior to downloading, then downloaded the required ISOs and burnt the discs exactly as per the instructions. But I was unable to even begin the install to any disk, let alone the external Firewire drive I wanted it on. Why? Well I'm not a computer newbie so it wasn't a lack of familiarity with computer concepts. I went to the Ubuntu support site and after a lot of burrowing around I found the answer, by accident - Ubuntu 6 was incompatible with my dual G4 Power Mac! Why wasn't this stated in the release notes? Well I have no idea why a known problem wasn't clearly stated up front, and this leaves me wary of any future Ubuntu release - how can I know that any Ubuntu release is compatible with my Mac before downloading it and trying it..?

OS X 1, Linux 0.

Not totally discouraged, I did more research and settled this time on Yellow Dog Linux, which is considered the best PowerPC Mac Linux release. I downloaded all 4 ISOs, burnt all 4 discs, and this time I was able to commence an install on my MDD Power Mac. Commence being the operative word... I wanted to install YDL on my Firewire drive, and leave the Mac's firmware untouched as for evaluation purposes I wanted to select YDL to boot rather than have it boot automatically. Now this wasn't a big problem as although YDL does update the firmware it can be reset within OS X using the Startup Disk panel. But then a second problem arose - YDL couldn't install on my Firewire drive due to a known formatting issue that is seen in some circumstances. I could get around this by completely reformatting the Firewire drive but then I'd lose all the stuff I keep on it. I could back it up, but why should I have to do this at all? I declined to proceed...

OS X 2, Linux 0.

Then there are the known Linux issues of hardware compatibility for things like graphics cards, printers etc. Some of these require downloading even more installers, others require editing system files! Despite being an experienced computer user I'm not about to start learning how to modify Unix system files just to get the thing running - as a long term Mac user I'm used to having the Mac OS 'just work' through every update I've ever done (well, 99% of the time, and the other 1% just requires a minor updater download). I can only recall one instance in 15+ years where I needed to mess with a Mac system file, and that was renaming an OS 8.5 extension (Sound Manager) to force it to load earlier in the startup process to fix an audio problem, a process that had no risks at all and could be done safely by almost anyone with little instruction.

OS X 3, Linux 0.

I currently run OS X Panther, which is somewhat out of date now so limits what I can do, but is rock solid and does everything I really need it to at this time. I intend to skip Tiger and go directly to Leopard sometime after it's released, but I'll wait until it gets updated to maybe .3 or .4 so the major bugs are sorted. When I do install Leopard it will be on a separate internal drive (which I've already installed for other reasons), and I won't be running it as my primary system as I have a continuing need for the solid Classic support I currently have in Panther, which will probably be lost with Leopard (if it even supports Classic at all...)

It comes down to user-friendliness, pure and simple. The Mac OS 'just works', but Linux requires a lot of messing around to reach the same point, and I'd still be left with some software that couldn't be replaced so I'd still need the Mac OS. End of story...

Thursday, 22 March 2007

More on the future of Mac gaming...

In the last couple of days there have been two Mac game announcements that are a bit ominous for those of us who still rely on PowerPC Macs (G5, G4, G3 etc.)

Firstly there was the GameTap announcement of the Mac release of Myst Online: Uru Live, for Intel Macs only. Then Aspyr announced a demo of Star Wars: Empire At War, again for Intel Macs only.

Is this a portent of Mac gaming's future, and will many future ports of PC games to Mac be Intel Mac only? Time will tell, but it's beginning to look a little like the end of gaming on the PowerPC Mac may be in sight, at least as far as PC game ports are concerned!

If gaming is important to you, then now could be a good time to start saving for a MacIntel, or to reconsider your commitment to Macs for gaming. For less serious gamers there should still be a few years left in the casual PowerPC Mac game market, but the time will eventually come when the PowerPC Mac will no longer be viable so it might be a good time to start thinking about your future direction...

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Intel Macs and gaming

If you're considering buying an Intel Mac, I thought I'd post a few comments about the suitability of the various models for gaming. These are my personal opinions, so don't take them as gospel - do your own research as to which MacIntel would be the most suitable in your situation! But these guidelines might help you focus a little better as it can be quite confusing if you're not very familiar with computers and gaming. And I do know of people who've bought the wrong Mac because they made some false assumptions - Apple love to tell you how great their computers are, but don't emphasise the limitations...

Bear in mind that no Intel Mac can play a classic Mac game, which means any game that only runs in Mac OS 9 or earlier (or in the PPC OS X Classic Mode) - this rules out every Tomb Raider up to Last Revelation (TR4)! The only software you're able to run in OS X on an Intel Mac (apart from software designed to run on it) is PPC OS X software, which is software designed to run in the PowerPC version of OS X (Cocoa or Carbon software). But this runs in the Rosetta translator and takes a big speed hit so don't expect too much. For games, look for software and updates labelled 'Universal', which is written to run in OS X in both PPC and Intel Macs. Most Mac game companies are working on Universal updaters for some of their older games, so check them out (an American McGee's Alice Universal patch has just been released by Aspyr - see my previous post!)

A further consideration is that all Intel Macs are able to be booted into Windows XP. To do this requires you to buy a copy of Windows XP Service Pack 2 and download Apple's Boot Camp software to run the install. Boot Camp updates the Mac's BootROM to allow the Windows boot, and also updates the Windows hardware drivers to be compatible with Mac hardware. This allows you to boot into XP and run Windows games on your Mac utilising the graphics hardware and DirectX - generally you'll experience much the same compatibility and performance as you would running a standard Win XP PC with similar specifications! Note that virtualisation software such as Parallels is yet to support gaming, but they intend to include support in a future update. Parallels already supports running a virtual machine from a Boot Camp partition though, so you can install Boot Camp for PC gaming use first, then use Parallels with the same Win XP install for other Windows software!

The addition of an Elgato EyeTV Hybrid video input device would allow an Intel Mac to be used as a display for a games console instead of a TV, as well as doubling as a TV and digital video recorder. The EyeTV Hybrid contains an analogue TV receiver, as well as an SD and HD digital TV receiver (depending on your regional compatibility) so could conceivably replace your TV and digital set top box, thus turning a Mac into a digital TV and a hard drive DVD recorder as well! None of the other EyeTV models are suitable for games consoles due to input lags so be sure to choose the Hybrid for this purpose.

The following comments on individual models refer to the currently available models at March 2007!

Mac mini - A capable little Mac for general use, but suitable only for lightweight gaming use due to its Intel integrated graphics (which shares its RAM with the system). I've heard that it's just possible to play some of the more intensive games on it, but only with all the game graphics options turned off. Undemanding casual gaming only, and max out the RAM for best performance.

MacBook - Again, a capable general purpose computer but as it has Intel integrated graphics this is also only recommended for undemanding casual gaming, best with maxed out RAM.

MacBook Pro - More powerful than the MacBook, and with a dedicated graphics chip, so capable of running more demanding games. If you're serious, choose a model with the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo processor and Radeon X1600 256MB graphics! A top end MacBook Pro has gaming potential for most but the more demanding games today.

iMac - Varies a lot depending on the model, from very ordinary to very good. The base model 17" has integrated graphics so my comments on the Mac mini and MacBook apply here as well. All the others have dedicated graphics chips, and gaming performance improves as you go up the list. The top end 24" iMac optioned with the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo, GeForce 7600 GT 256MB graphics, and 2-3GB of RAM, is a quite capable gaming machine for anything except the most intensive games. The 20" when optioned up to the 2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo, Radeon X1600 256MB graphics, and 2-3GB RAM is also a capable gaming machine for most purposes, the most significant difference being the screen size. The only limitation with these is the fairly slow response times of the monitors (around 14ms) so if possible take a DVD movie into an Apple Store or Apple Centre and run it in your iMac of choice to see whether motion blur may be a problem for you. But for most of us either an optioned 20" or 24" is a good choice as a general purpose Mac with decent gaming capabilities. One of these iMacs would also make a nice PC game machine for the average gamer! If you want to use it as an entertainment centre in your living area then the 24" (61cm) 16:10 screen is a quite decent size for longer distance viewing, but be sure to check it out in an Apple Store if possible before deciding.

Mac Pro - Option this up and you're in gamer's heaven, Mac or PC! At a cost... (Unless you're one of those gamers who overclocks everything, uses liquid nitrogen to cool it, and can't do with less than twin high end graphics cards, in which case build your own PC...) For the rest of us, don't bother with the insanely expensive nVidia Quadro FX 4500 graphics option, rather go for the ATI X1900 XT 512MB graphics which is almost as good for gaming but far, far cheaper. The multiple GeForce 7300 GT options are intended for general multiple screen use, not games, so don't bother. The twin 3GHz dual core Intel Xeon processor option is also expensive and 4 processor cores won't be much use in games yet, so the 2.66GHz option could be quite adequate and a lot cheaper. There's room for 2 Superdrives, up to 4x 750GB hard drives, and 16GB RAM, so if you love upgrading and have a very generous bank manager, this gives you plenty of scope ;)

LCD Monitors - if you're running a Mac Pro you'll need a good monitor. Apple monitors have good colour and contrast but a fairly slow response time of around 14ms. That is, the time for the screen elements to respond to colour changes, which very roughly equates to refresh rates in the old CRT monitors. Apple monitors would be fine for the average person (albeit a little expensive), but serious gamers will want to buy something a lot faster, down around 2ms response time or less, to reduce motion blur as much as possible (this is also relevant when playing movies). There are some good fast LCD monitors around now which deliver high performance with good colour and contrast, so check them out in a store which displays them running to see if they'd suit you!

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

What to do when there's no Mac TR?

You could always go outside and do the gardening, but what about games? If you're reading this then you're probably a fan of Tomb Raider on the Mac, but as there's been no Mac TR release for over 3 years, and no Mac TR game is readily available any more, new or used, how do you get your action-adventure fix? Apart from TRLE custom levels of course... So here are some games that I like, some on console, and some on Mac (don't forget, console games must match your video format, NTSC or PAL, so it's risky buying in from overseas!) Links are to the Wikipedia pages...

American McGee's Alice (Mac, PC) - this is a similar game to Tomb Raider, but with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a theme. You play as Alice, but in a future where she's comatose after a fire that claimed her family and sent her insane. She's institutionalised in an asylum and has nightmares that Wonderland has turned really evil. The object of the game is to visit the Wonderland worlds, right the wrongs, and restore Alice's sanity. Note that it's her sanity, not her life, that you're playing for - you're actually playing in a world within Alice's mind, a world in her nightmares, and restoring her sanity will also mean she will rejoin the real world. Fail and she will be consigned to the asylum for life. Alice is a very dark game, more in line with the underlying dark theme of the book, and a good game with some very atmospheric music and graphics. Alice was released on Mac and although it is now difficult to find it may be possible to pick it up at places like Interestingly, Aspyr have just released a Universal patch for Alice so it's now playable on Intel Macs - go to Aspyr Support and look for the Alice 1.1.2 patch (Universal).

Beyond Good & Evil (PS2, Xbox, GC, PC) - this game was never released on Mac, but should have been! Dating from 2003 it's a bit of a 'sleeper', and is now considered to be one of the most under-rated games of its type and one of the games most worthy of a sequel. Like Tomb Raider, it's a 3rd person action adventure with a female lead, but the setting is an alien world - Hillys - inhabited by humans, human hybrids, and weird and wonderful creatures. Lots of them! You play as Jade, a freelance photo-journalist, and your goal is to use your camera to expose a conspiracy and save your world! Of course ;) The game isn't totally serious, and there are MANY other characters you're able to interact with if you wish, with sometimes quite funny results. Jade also has a couple of helpers at various points in the game. In fact the whole BG&E world is busy, something we've not seen in any TR, and moving around the city can be an eye-opening experience. It does include some fighting but Jade's only weapons are a staff which has 'powers' to increase its effectiveness, a disk projector which can damage some items or trigger switches at a distance, and a cannon on her hovercraft. Controlling Jade is somewhat easier than Lara as some of her moves (like jumps and vaults) are automatic and only require the player to move Jade in the desired direction. It has an unusual save function - Jade carries a savegame memory disk and you save by inserting it into one of the many readers scattered around Hillys. This game, although possibly difficult to find now, sometimes turns up in the used game bins in game stores. It is also plentiful at Amazon. I picked up a cheap used PS2 copy in near new condition from my local EB Games recently and it was so much fun that I'll be keeping it for future replays!

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Xbox, PC) - I've not played this game, but it has been getting some good press and when I get an Xbox 360 it's on my 'wanted' list. It's the second in the series, the first was The Longest Journey on PC only. It's an adventure game with, yet again, a female lead (Zoë Castillo), and was released on PC and Xbox (Aspyr published the Xbox version last year). It's played in a sci-fi setting, and has an engrossing story and wonderful graphics. It does contain some action but the action doesn't take over the game which remains primarily an adventure, and an adventure with one of the best stories ever in a video game. The Xbox version of the game is apparently compatible with the Xbox 360, but do your own checking on this. Dreamfall: The Longest Journey Xbox version should be easy to find at the usual places, but the Xbox game may be less available in some PAL countries.

MediEvil/MediEvil2 (PS, PSP) - these are old PlayStation games (yes, PlayStation, not PS2). There were two episodes on PS, with a third release (MediEvil Resurrection, a remake of the original) on PSP only. MediEvil is a 3rd person action adventure game where you play as a skeleton. You read me right, a skeleton! Always VERY tongue in cheek, this is a game that definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. You play as Sir Daniel Fortesque, or at least his remains, in the fantasy country of Gallowmere. Sir Daniel wasn't a very successful knight but hopefully under your control he'll be a little more successful at ridding his world of evil this time. One of the more under-rated PlayStation games, MediEvil is a lot of fun and even the starting video is hilarious! Probably very difficult to find now outside Amazon, but worth looking for if you have a PS or PS2 and should be very cheap so what do you have to lose!

Myst IV Revelation (Mac/PC hybrid, Xbox) - a pure adventure game, as are all the Myst games, and as for all the Myst games (except Uru) it's available for Mac. Myst is a puzzle game where you don't fight and can't die (it's fun to be in a world where it's completely safe) and Myst IV has the best environment and gameplay of all the Mysts! This has been achieved with a combination of pre-rendered backgrounds, realtime 3D foreground objects, and 360 degree node-based play. Which means that you 'point and click' to move from node to node, and have full 360 degree vision at every node, with a 'living' world around you, including, where appropriate, insects, birds, animals, breezes, water, trees, and even leaves falling. You are also able to interact with many items in the environment, with the appropriate reactions and audio feedback. For example there are some places where you can stick a finger in a tub of water, which results in ripples and a splashing sound. Or tap a saucepan hanging in the kitchen, which gives an appropriate hollow metal sound and starts the pan swinging. And many more, so don't be afraid to touch the environment! These are not gameplay elements, just diversions, but give the player a sense of really being there! You'll often come across creatures in the environment, many in realtime 3D. One of the creatures you come across (the Mangree in Haven) is one of the cutest I've ever seen in a video game, resembling a large Lemur but with bigger ears, and which sometimes comes up to you to have a look. Myst IV draws you into its world like no other Myst game, and few games at all for that matter, and is one of my all time favourites, but as with all the Myst games the puzzles can sometimes be almost incomprehensible so it's good to keep a walkthrough handy! If you play this be prepared to spend more time just looking around than you would have thought possible, it can be that immersive :)

Myst 10th Anniversary DVD Edition (Mac/PC hybrid) - if you like Myst IV Revelation then you may want to try the earlier games. If so then try to get hold of the Myst 10th Anniversary Edition with the first 3 games (Myst, Riven, Myst III Exile) on a single DVD each, as opposed to the original multiple CD sets for Riven and Myst III. None of them run in OS X (even Myst III, which is supposedly compatible, doesn't run properly in Panther due to audio problems), but in my experience they all ran fine in Panther Classic mode. This release includes the Myst Masterpiece Edition, which is the original Myst with upgraded graphics. Of course the puzzles you come across in the first 3 Mysts aren't easy, especially in Riven, so play with a walkthrough at hand (there are plenty of good walkthroughs on the web still). Myst Masterpiece and Riven don't have full 360 degree views, but you will occasionally see life in the environment around you. Myst III does have 360 degree views, with only a little more activity in the environment, but nothing like Revelation. Myst 10th Anniversary is probably still available at Amazon.

Tomb Raider Legend (PS2 etc. etc. but not Mac, yet...) - not really what I was intending to include. Check my Legend page for more information, but this game is perfectly suited to the PlayStation 2 controller, and looks remarkably good for a PS2 game, even on an old CRT TV that supports 60Hz mode (PAL only?) I've not tried it on Xbox 360, but it looks even better and should play just as well. Considering that a new PS2 can be picked up now for less than half the cost of a Wii, less even than an iPod Nano, and that the next TR, Anniversary, will also be released for PS2, then this is something to seriously consider if the Mac version doesn't appear soon!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Tomb Raider & the future of Mac gaming

Back in 1998 Aspyr was a small game company with aspirations. They made their first move into the mainstream game market by publishing a conversion of the PC game Tomb Raider II, a decision based on the topicality of the second TR game at that time (it had been released on PC in 1997 and was a major hit). Released in the last quarter of 1998, the Mac Tomb Raider II was a hit and started Aspyr on the road to success.

During 1999 this was followed by Tomb Raider Gold, which contained the original Tomb Raider I and the Unfinished Business TR I expansion, or 'Gold' game. In the next few years they released Mac conversions of Tomb Raider II Gold, Tomb Raider III and III Gold, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (TR 4) and Tomb Raider Chronicles (TR 5) and the TR Level Editor. On 18 December 2003 Tomb Raider: the Angel of Darkness (TR 6) shipped. In this time there was only one official TR game that was not ported to Mac - The Times Exclusive Level, which was a single level game produced by Core Design on commission from The Times newspaper to commemorate their sponsorship of the finding of Tutankhamun's tomb in the 1920's.

Since December 2003 there has been one new PC Tomb Raider release, Tomb Raider Legend (TR 7) in April 2006, which has been a big hit and is a major improvement on Angel of Darkness and a return to the original Tomb Raider concept. There is also the upcoming release of Tomb Raider Anniversary - a 10th anniversary tribute to the original Tomb Raider that started it all off - to be released in May 2007. However, there has been no mention from Aspyr as to whether they intend to undertake a conversion of Tomb Raider Legend, let alone TR Anniversary - the only TR activity from Aspyr that I'm aware of since December 2003 was an update to Angel of Darkness.

It seems that at least part of the reason for this is Apple's switch to Intel processors, along with the high cost of game conversions. The Intel switch was first announced in mid 2005, and the first MacIntel hit stores in early 2006. This fundamental switch in Apple hardware threw a big spanner in the works for PC-Mac conversions, and as a result 2006 was a lean year for Mac games while the developers kept their eyes on the marketplace to see how things transpired. Boot Camp (Windoze dual booting) didn't help either... Mac games from Aspyr are starting to pick up again this year and although their confidence doesn't seem to have fully recovered there is a definite improvement. But Aspyr have now widened their market by publishing PC and console games, so Mac games are no longer their staple fare.

Just whether this will translate to a Mac conversion of Tomb Raider Legend and the new TRs to come is as yet unknown, and my approaches to Aspyr for clarification of the future of TR on the Mac have met with no response at all, just a deafening silence. I suppose that could be a case of 'no news is good news', but I won't see it that way until I hear something definite.

There's also a potential for any future Mac TR to be Intel only, partly due to the complexity of the graphics in TR Legend - Legend requires a lot of grunt to run and outside top end G5 Power Macs only the Intel Macs are likely to have enough power to run it (and any future TRs for that matter). If this is the case then only recent Macs will be able to handle it, thus sidelining all of us who still use older Macs, and can't afford to upgrade. Like me...

On the other hand, the next gen console wars are now well under way, which muddies the water even more. For the cost of a top end 24" iMac optioned up to run games (fastest CPU, best graphics, extra RAM etc.) I could buy all three new consoles and a top quality 32"/81cm HD TV! That's an Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Panasonic HD TV, the combination of which should be able to play virtually every game in the marketplace today, and for years to come, the vast majority of which will never see the light of day on the Mac under any circumstances. With the exception of the Wii the consoles would be far more powerful game machines than any Mac (bar maybe the top end Mac Pro booted in Windoze XP), and certainly much better value for money than a top end optioned iMac, even if the iMac was dual booting Windoze XP and OS X, thus opening it up to a slew of PC games. And the Wii has one of the best titles in gaming history - Zelda: Twilight Princess - which is by itself almost justification for the cost of the console, and is exclusive to Wii!

So what does this mean for Mac games? Well I have to be honest here and say that I don't see much of a future for Mac games outside the casual market. There is way too much competition out there for gaming hardware, which leaves the Mac with its small market share out in the cold, especially without Apple taking gaming seriously. Tomb Raider Legend, for example, is now available on almost every platform you can name - there's even a mobile version for phones - with the only two significant exceptions being Linux and Mac OS (well, and Wii, but it is available for GameCube).

As for myself, if no Mac Legend appears, or if it does but needs me to buy a new Mac to run it, then I can see myself switching to console gaming. I already have a PlayStation 2 which actually runs Legend well and looks good, and should also handle Anniversary with no problems. I should be able, in the not too distant future, to afford an Xbox 360, maybe even a Wii (and maybe even a second PlayStation 2 as a fallback, mine's an early model), to use with my old 60cm CRT TV, but no way could I afford a game ready MacIntel which at the very least means an optioned 20" iMac or better.

If this happens then MacRaider will continue, although much in the form of my TR Legend coverage, written from the PlayStation 2 game but mostly applicable to the other versions. Despite its possible reduction in relevance I get too much enjoyment from running MacRaider to seriously contemplate terminating it in the foreseeable future, so at least my inimitable walkthroughs ;) will continue to be available, as will whatever online help I can give. So I'm here to stay for some time yet!

Monday, 5 March 2007

The MacRaider blog is here!

I thought it was about time to start a blog for those things that may be Tomb Raider or games related but don't merit a news entry on MacRaider. Stay tuned for a trickle of (probably) marginally interesting stuff. Or don't.