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. []

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