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 ®. 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)