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. []

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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