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!


Gabh said...

Good to hear that you'll be sticking around. I can't see Windows games catching on Macs, given the cost of buying a copy of Windows, but I can see how the possibility might deter potential investors. Time to buy a Wii (which, I have read, can play Gamecube games).

The DoorKeeper said...

I just thought I'd reaquaint myself having been pestered by my son to resurrect Chronicles on my G4 iMac ... wait ... this is fun .. no no it's my turn ..

MacRaider said...

Yes, it can be quite infectious! I hope you manage to get a chance to play ;-)

GrandGizmo said...

Tomb Raider: Anniversary for the Macintosh is a MUST HAVE game. Can I make one suggest though to better your gaming experience? Buy Logitech's Dual Action joystick, whereas Tomb Raider: Anniversary is pre-configured for this joystick. It was only $19 at the Apple store. It's the bomb! I'm already in the Qualapec tombs and have two more keys to find. You have full control - just like Wii - with the latter joystick. What a pleasure! Totally out of this world game. I played the first one in the early 90s when there were jaggies and pixels galore. This brings back old memories. I finally get to play the original in jamming, advanced graphics! What a relief! :)