Steam on the Mac

While I think it’s great that Steam is finally available for mac users, I’ve still yet to benefit from it. I first bought Portal about two years ago and played it via Boot Camp on my iMac. It was just as wonderful as everyone said it was and I had a great time. Some time later, Parallels 4 allowed me to play it on a virtual machine. No longer needing to reboot was nice but the video was still a bit choppy. I would have never made it past some of the later levels if it had been that way in Boot Camp. Fortunately, Parallels has only gotten better with gaming and Portal looks and plays great on my iMac.

Portal On My mac

Ironically, a year and a half later, Valve releases Steam for the mac and gives Portal away for free to everyone. Okay, that’s not the ironic part; that’s actually really awesome of them. The irony is in that I can’t play Portal on Steam for the mac because my video card doesn’t meet some as-yet-unknown system requirements.

The Cake *IS* a Lie

It’s pretty clear this dialog box hasn’t been updated for the Mac port. Yes, there is a link there for “Show Minimum Requirements …” and no, it doesn’t do anything.

That’s right. Valve doesn’t know what the system requirements are and I can’t find them anywhere on their store/site/steam/labyrinth. But they know that my mac can’t handle it. Except that it has been playing this same game for over two years.

Let’s face it: my iMac isn’t that new. It’s over four years old now and is on it’s second video adapter. But, it still works fine and the video adapter is far from being a poor one1. So I can understand that it might not be able to play every game; especially not the latest. But Portal isn’t a new game. Portal is was released three-and-a-half years ago and it didn’t really push the limits of PC gaming hardware then.

The real issue in all this actually has little to do with Portal. I’ve already played it through three times over2. My issue lies in the fact that I have no way of known what the system requirements are for a game. I wouldn’t even know if I could play it at all until after I’d bought it. Even then, the message is so cryptic as to be useless. Is this something that is a true limitation or is it as arbitrary as having a “white list” of hardware? I don’t know, but I’m not going to spend a penny on a game until I know for sure I can play it.

Not that I have any time for gaming anyway, mind you.

Update: I did find some system requirements at the bottom of the Portal product page. I suspect I just didn’t look there (despite it being the obvious place). As you can see, I did find some mixed messages. The clearly state that Mac requires a GeForce 8 card or better, which is both unfortunate and still confusing. In the meantime, I downloaded the demo for Torchlight, which plays just fine on my mac (if a bit sluggish when a lot of enemies are on screen). I’m hooked and will cease to complain about Portal.

Update 2: I just downloaded an update for Portal. I now get an error message with data for my OS and graphics card. The link to minimum system requirements for the game also now takes me to the product page system requirements section.

There have also been a number of reviews and news pieces for Steam on the mac which have pointed out that a lot of my issues are due to the fact that Mac OS doesn’t take full advantage of the graphics hardware (poorly written or older drivers) when compared to a Windows machine. This partially explains my issue. However, the virtual machine doesn’t have native access to the graphics card (as evidenced by the fact that the graphics card is displayed as a “Parallels Graphics Adapter” and not the actual card. Still, Parallels does taught better graphics support and I have no doubt they have squeezed every ounce of performance they could get out of Windows for VM gaming purposes.

On a somewhat related note, Steam for mac seems to not play very well with Spaces on my iMac running OS X 10.6.3. It seemed to leave pop-ups, tool tips, or something on other Spaces when it wasn’t in focus, and would then try to jump back to those at odd times. I finally had to turn Spaces off just to prevent me from screaming at my computer any more.

  1. It’s an NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT []
  2. That 6 hour figure you see above doesn’t really seem correct to me; I’m not that fast of a gamer. []

Designing User-Focused Context Sensitive Help

This presentation by Matthew Ellison [Goog docs] given at last year’s Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference (AODC 2009) has some excellent points on how to craft online help for context sensitive calls. This is something Bentley uses (a lot) and I’m trying to catch up on. There are really a lot of excellent points in these slides. I believe that even if you aren’t employing context-sensitive help, structuring your help as though you were is just as likely to get your users to their answers faster.

Also, the slide in this photo (from the same conference) made me laugh out loud (literally, not in a LOL sort of way).

Tax and Spend Conservatives

USA Today‘s Dennis Cauchon:

Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

“The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts,” says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

Who was in charge when the country had its last budget surplus? Bill Clinton (D). Who was in charge when it (quickly) ended and we reached the highest deficit in history? George W. Bush (R). Who is in charge now that we have the lowest taxes in six decades? Barack Obama (D).

Who nearly bankrupt the Commonwealth of Virginia with spending? A long line of Republican governors. Who slashed spending and got the state back in the black? Mark Warner (D).

So do we all understand the notion of ‘tax and spend liberal’ is a boogeyman? I sure hope so. (via Gruber)