Hunting for Mac games

Supply: Even users of old Macintoshes can find plenty of software for fun if they look in the right place -- online shareware sites.

April 26, 1999|By Dave Zeiler | Dave Zeiler,SUN STAFF

For years, Microsoft Windows fans have pointed to the dearth of Macintosh games as a good reason to forgo a Mac.

But the pickings aren't as slim as they may seem.

True, a recent visit to the CompUSA store in Towson -- which features an Apple store-within-a-store, revealed a mere 35 Mac games, compared with about 180 for Windows PCs -- a 5-to-1 ratio.

And, while some wildly popular games such as Myst, Quake and Tomb Raider are available for the Mac, most are released for Windows only. The exception is children's "edutainment" software, which usually comes on CD-ROMs that contain Mac and Windows versions.

But Apple's interim CEO, Steve Jobs, is battling the MacGame deficit. First, the new G3 Macs -- including the colorful iMacs -- have graphics cards that can handle system-straining games.

Jobs has offered Apple's help to game developers who are willing to bring popular Windows titles to the Mac. And he encouraged Connectix to develop its $49 Virtual Game Station, which allows owners of G3 Macs to play CD games designed for the Sony PlayStation. Sony won a court injunction to stop the sale of the software last week.

While this activiity is encouraging, many Mac owners -- especially those with older models -- still think they've been left in the gaming lurch.

But here's the truth: You can find scads of Mac games if you know where to look. Just divorce yourself from the notion that all software needs to come in a shrink-wrapped box. Think shareware.

Shareware is software available on the Internet or on a CD-ROM that you get to try before you buy. If you like the program and decide to keep it, you're expected to pay the author a "shareware fee" that typically ranges from $5 to $30, depending on the complexity of the program.

There are literally hundreds of Mac shareware games, including arcade games, adventure games, strategy games, recreations of classic board games, pinball simulations -- almost anything you can think of. And many will run on older, pre-PowerPC Macs.

For example, I discovered a program last fall that delivers an old favorite -- Klondike solitaire -- in a startlingly fresh package.

Burning Monkey Solitaire ($14.95) from Freeverse Software ( takes place in a lavish theater populated by wisecracking monkeys. Better yet, each of the four monkeys in the balcony performs a unique antic when you click on him -- you can download the game yourself to see what they do.

Perhaps the most remarkable producer of Mac shareware is Ambrosia Software ( Founded in 1993, this company based in Rochester, N.Y., has an office and six full-time employees and survives entirely on the shareware fees sent by grateful customers.

While some shareware authorities estimate that fewer than 5 percent of those who use shareware pay the fee, Mac-only Ambrosia is "making money and growing every year," said Jason Whong, the company's marketing director. "So we must have millions of people using our software."

One thing Ambrosia won't do is Windows. "We think that the one thing that keeps us profitable is that we're Mac-only," Whong said, boasting that Ambrosia has just one underwhelmed tech support person. He said writing for Windows would mean hiring more tech support people, something the company could not afford.

Ambrosia has about a dozen games, which you can find on the Web, on America Online or on various CD shareware compilations. Ambrosia had its first success with Maelstrom in 1993, which was named MacUser's Best Shareware Game that year.

Last year, EV Override, a follow-up to the award-winning 1996 game Escape Velocity, made MacWorld's Game Hall of Fame. I became a huge fan of another of Ambrosia's 1998 offerings, Mars Rising, a nicely crafted variation on the classic shoot 'em-up.

But Ambrosia represents just a fraction of what awaits the Mac game enthusiast. While a lot of what you'll find is not of Ambrosia's quality, you may be pleasantly surprised at how much top-notch shareware is available.

So where can you find this fun stuff? Everywhere! On the Web, you can use a search engine such as AltaVista or Yahoo to look for specific types of games (arcade, role-playing, etc.). AOL's software search area (keyword: SOFTWARE) contains an enormous collection of Mac shareware. Several elaborate Web sites feature reviews of games as well as links to download sites (see box).

Or, you can spend $15 to $20 on a CD collection of Mac shareware like the Mac Cube (although you're still expected to pay the shareware fees for what you use). Subscribers to MacAddict magazine get a CD with each issue that includes more than a dozen shareware games.

As time goes on, you can amass an astounding collection of games (or as Ambrosia calls them, "anti-productivity tools.") Over the past six years I've squirreled away dozens of shareware games and wasted countless hours playing them. Now it's your turn.

Send e-mail to

Finding Mac games

Mac Gamer's Ledge --

Reviews and news of commercial releases as well as shareware games.

CNET's --

Select Mac as platform and type in games as search term. Descriptions and links to download sites.

Games Domain --

Hugh list of Mac games with date of last version released and links to download sites.

Inside Mac Games Magazine --

Reviews and news commercial releases as well as sharware games. Comprehensive, slick presentation

Mac 68K Games --

A site devoted to games that will run on pre-PowerPC Macs

Electric Games-Mac Attack --

Reviews and a list of games to type and lots of links to other Mac game sites.

Pub Date: 04/26/99

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