Fair play at last for Mac owners

It's no longer just work, work, work for Apple users - better games are on the way,
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Mac users could be forgiven for feeling left out as they scour the shops for games or entertainment software this Christmas.

The Apple Macintosh has long been popular in the education market, so it is well served for reference titles such as Microsoft's Encarta or the Grolier Electronic Encyclopedia. Users also have access to excellent children's software from publishers such as Dorling Kindersley and Broderbund. But when it comes to unashamed games software, the Mac has to take a back seat, not just to PC-compatibles but also to the Sega and Nintendo games consoles.

Because the Mac is so heavily outnumbered by these other systems, many developers of games software ignore it and concentrate on producing titles for PCs and games consoles.

Mac users watched jealously as last year's hit game Doom blasted its way across PC screens all over the world. A Mac version of Doom was never produced and other popular titles, such as Prince of Persia or Virgin's forthcoming Full Throttle, appear in Mac versions only months, or even years, after the PC or console versions.

Things are starting to look up, though. The demand for games such as Doom has led other developers to produce lookalikes, including the highly popular Marathon. This marked a turning point for Mac games software, as its success helped to convince other developers that it was worth including the Mac in their plans. James Beaven, of Virgin Interactive, confirms that sales of Mac games are "on the up", and that his company will be producing more Mac titles in the future. "We're going to start seeing a trend of all the big sellers on PC being ported across to the Mac," says Mr Beaven. And although the Mac still cannot compete with therange of titles produced for PCs and games consoles, other games companies such as US Gold and Electronic Arts confirm that many of their most popular games are now routinely produced for the Mac.

It is also true that many of the most innovative software titles are produced on the Mac because of its powerful sound and graphics abilities. Macs had built-in CD-Rom drives and high-quality sound and video capabilities long before these became standard in PCs. This has attracted many artists and musicians, as well as games developers, to the Mac.

Broderbund's Living Book series, interactive CD-Rom versions of popular children's books, began with the Mac version of Merce Mayer's Grandma and Me. The award-winning adventure game Myst was originally developed for the Mac, as was Peter Gabriel's XPlora CD-Rom, which created a virtual studio and enabled users to experiment with Gabriel's music.

One of the most unusual pieces of software released in the past year is also a Mac-only product. KPT Bryce is not a game, it is a graphics program that can be used to create highly realistic imaginary landscapes. You can select the type of terrain you want, move objects around the landscape, add different types of sky and clouds, and even create outer-space "starscapes". Like all the best games, it is useless but fascinating, and is only available for the Mac because of the machine's sophisticated graphics abilities.

To capitalise on those abilities and to attract more games developers to the Mac, Apple recently developed a graphics system called QuickTime VR, designed to create realistic virtual reality environments. It was used to create the Star Trek Interactive Manual, which allows you to explore the Starship Enterprise. QuickTime VR is due to be followed by QuickDraw 3D, a system for depicting three-dimensional objects on the computer screen. QuickDraw 3D will allow the Mac to display realistic "rendered" graphics that have smoothly textured surfaces instead of the crude, chunky graphics of so many computer games.

The first game to use QuickDraw 3D is Havoc, from Reality Bites. The game itself is a standard shoot-'em-up, but the quality of the 3D graphics makes it come alive.

Apple also plans to take a stab at the games console market next year. It has developed a design for a console called Pippin, which it has licensed to the Japanese company Bandai. Bandai's version, called the Power Player, will be released first in Japan and the US, but it has yet to decide if it will be sold in Europe.

Shelf space for Mac software may be scarce, but thereare plenty of good titles out there if you look hard enough. Mail-order ads in the various Mac magazines also list more titles than you are likely to find in most shops. It is quality that counts with entertainment software, not just quantity, and on that score Mac users have little to complain about.

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