Saturday, March 20, 2010

Steam For Mac Beta Testers Needed

Several readers tipped us off yesterday that Valve has put the call out to Mac beta testers. To be considered for the Steam for Mac beta you simply need to go to the Mac beta page and log in using your Steam account user name and password. If you don't have one, you can quickly register. Once logged in, you'll be shown a questionnaire form detailing what kind and how many Macs you own, if you own a PC or gaming console, and how many games you've purchased in the last twelve months. After that, you'll need to upload a text file of your System Profile information so they can get a complete idea of your Mac setup.

"We are going to conduct a closed beta for testing of the Mac client and Mac versions of Valve games," Valve wrote on its website. "Participants will be selected to provide broad coverage of testing criteria. Please be honest in your answers as we need to test all types of users, systems, and software configurations."

Valve first teased about Mac games coming to Steam in a series of Apple ad-inspired images at the beginning of March with the official announcement just days later. Steam for Mac is a huge win for the Apple platform as gaming on the Mac has always been seen as one of the Mac's weakest links. Steam for Mac will be released in April.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Steam on Mac Gaming

A lot of gamers have been waiting for this. It has definitely become one of the most talked about things of the Mac since the debut of the iPhone back in ’07 and the only thing talked about the Mac nowadays. A software that has gotten plenty of praise from the press, users of the software and hard-nosed critics. Finally, on May 12th, 2010, Valve Corporation’s venture onto the Mac platform will take another step forward with the Steam for Mac public release.

Valve over the past few months has hinted and teased the masses with some screenshots of development of the software for the Mac. Later, the company officially revealed that they were working on a version of the software for the Mac that would be released within this year’s time. The group even decided to tickle people’s fancy who have been waiting for the software to come on Apple branded machines by giving them several of games that would be ported to the Mac OS X platform on launch. Several reports of the product have already been reported from testers who have been using a beta version of the software, including Brad Nicholson of MacRumors who states that people who have used the software on Windows via a Windows or an Apple logo machine with Boot Camp will “feel at home” with its Mac counterpart. Currently on the beta there are two games: Portal and Team Fortress 2.

The interface of software has been distinguished as recognizable from the Windows version. At the top of the software’s window, Steam for Mac provides menus for some of the applications main functions such as the “Store” for buying digital content, the “Library” selection that categorizes all of the games in your catalog, “News” for information on software updates that include patches to the software and new features being added and the “Community” option of interacting with other users on the app. Invitations from friends on the product still appear snappy with the format of the Growl notification feature. Advertisement for new games and content appear to exhibit that same performance as well. The entire Steam software performance is fluid and fast, presenting no hiccups in the experience, most importantly.

The application even presents cross-platform features. Through the ability of “Steam Play,” users can access content they have already purchased from the Windows version of the software that has been ported to the Mac and re-obtain them for free. As of right now, the only games that present this feature is the two games that is available on the beta, Portal and Team Fortress 2. However, more games are more than likely to incorporate this feature.

Based on the observation for individuals who are testing the software, Valve seems to be taking the cross-platform functionality very serious as users of the Mac version thats currently in testing have been playing Portal and Team Fortress 2 with users who are playing from Windows, indicating that games and users on both platforms can interact with one another on the same server. Steam can also keep information in order amongst the different software versions. Elements such as the Library, Friends and profile of a subject are all shared between both forms of Steam. However, it has been brought to attention that some features will be displayed on the Mac issue of the software specifically, such as a function to help Mac OS users know what content can be played on the platform. This features is not in the beta, though.

OpenGL is what both of the games on the beta are running on right now. They are still experienced like their Windows builds, but they might not look the same as they do on the Windows version. For instance, Brad of MacRumors had to alter the rendering of the game a little to achieve a smoother gameplay, However, he does not forget to mention to his readers that he is running a MacBook that is using a NVIDIA 9400M integrated graphics hardware, with no dedicated graphic chip whatsoever, which most users on the software have and use discrete GPUs where integrated graphics are not built to utilized gaming of the stature. In spite of that, he also doesn’t fail to mention that in the other game, Team Fortress 2, even though he had to turn down the graphics volume to almost it’s lowest value, the integrated graphics of his MacBook still rendered the content surprisingly good.
The games on the beta are older titles and wouldn’t necessarily be the best indicator of what Valve has up their sleeve. The group is speculated to bring some of its bigger titles including Left 4 Dead 2, Half-Life and Counter-Strike, games in which will really show how good the work Valve has done in committing to the platform.

Some things are missing and expecting to be supported soon after the launch. One in particular would be Gamepad support. Valve has mentioned that this is something that’s on their to-do list.

There hasn’t been anything drool-worthy per se with the beta, but from the looks of it, it definitely seems like it is turning out to be a great job done by Valve. We here at MacApper viewed the beta from a acquaintance who has obtained it on their 13-inch MacBook and we must say, even with the detail of graphics turned down to a minimum, the integrated graphics of NVIDIA delivered eyebrow-raising results. This only indicated to use how powerful the Mac’s hardware configuration is and, more importantly, how optimized Mac OS X is. Steam is gearing up to be available for the public on May 12th

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Steam For Mac OS X With Free Syncing

Valve has stopped with the teasing and has officially announced that its online gaming service Steam is coming to the Mac. As a bonus, the company also plans to make the Mac a "tier-1" platform, promising simultaneous release of games on Mac OS X, Windows, and Xbox 360.

Valve has developed a Mac-native version of its Source engine, using the cross-platform OpenGL. "We looked at a variety of methods to get our games onto the Mac and in the end decided to go with native versions rather than emulation," John Cook, Director of Steam Development, said in a statement. "The inclusion of WebKit into Steam, and of OpenGL into Source gives us a lot of flexibility in how we move these technologies forward."

Beginning in April, Mac users will be able to access games via Steam, including Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, Portal, and the Half-Life series. The Mac Steam client is based on the latest version for Windows that is currently in beta, which is where the first hints of Mac OS X compatibility were discovered.

That version includes a new Steam Play API that will allow users to access and play games from either a Windows PC or a Mac. Progress on one platform is automatically updated and synced when using the other, meaning all the fragging you do on your work PC (on your lunch break, of course) will be reflected when you log in from your Mac at home. Playing games on either platform won't cost extra.

The Mac compatibility extends beyond Steam Play, however. All future games, beginning with Portal 2, will be available for the Mac the same day as the Windows version. "We are treating the Mac as a tier-1 platform so all of our future games will release simultaneously on Windows, Mac, and the Xbox 360," Cook said. Players on all platforms will be able to play each other in online multiplayer setups, as well. "We fully support a heterogeneous mix of servers and clients."

These announcements are surely music to Mac gamers' ears. Besides Steam and Valve's own titles, making Source cross-platform also means other developers using Valve's engine can easily create Mac-compatible versions of games without much additional effort.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mac Gaming Evolution: Steam For Mac

The easiest jab that PC fanatics have had to make at Mac fanatics has been the relative dearth of games for Macs compared to Windows machines. It's a trend that's been slowly changing over the past few years, with companies such as EA dipping its toes into the Mac world with simultaneous releases of titles such as Spore, but progress towards heavy duty Mac gaming has been slow, to put it kindly. It's possible a tipping point's just been reached, however, with Valve software officially announcing that Steam, its online gaming service and Source, the gaming engine behind most of its titles is coming to the Mac platform in April.

Titles that Valve will launch for the Mac via Steam include the Half-Life series ,Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike, Portal, and Left 4 Dead 2. In the latter case, presumably in its cut-down-where-did-those-vanishing-zombies-go-no-gore-for-you-Australia version.From the sounds of the official release, it won't just be Valve's own titles coming to Steam, but potentially titles from other publishers. "Our Steam partners, who are delivering over a thousand games to 25 million Steam clients, are very excited about adding support for the Mac," said Jason Holtman, Director of Business Development at Valve.

Steam's a massively successful client platform for Valve on the PC, and this news might seem a little drab if you're primarily on the PC side of the fence, but even there Valve's promising quite big things. For a start, cross-platform play is promised via Steam (which makes a certain amount of sense), as well as a single point of purchase. Own a PC game on Steam? You can download it free of charge for the Mac as well. The release quotes Holtman stating that "we have added a new feature, called Steam Play, which allows customers who purchase the product for the Mac or Windows to play on the other platform free of charge. For example, Steam Play, in combination with the Steam Cloud, allows a gamer playing on their work PC to go home and pick up playing the same game at the same point on their home Mac. We expect most developers and publishers to take advantage of Steam Play."

Unlike Mac gaming efforts of the past, this isn't a matter of a slow emulation layer, but instead native code running on Mac OS itself. "We looked at a variety of methods to get our games onto the Mac and in the end decided to go with native versions rather than emulation," said John Cook, Director of Steam Development. "The inclusion of WebKit into Steam, and of OpenGL into Source gives us a lot of flexibility in how we move these technologies forward. We are treating the Mac as a tier-1 platform so all of our future games will release simultaneously on Windows, Mac, and the Xbox 360."

The first title that Valve will release for the Mac will be Portal 2, a sequel hinted at last week via a complex online AR game that confirmed the existence of the sequel to the popular first person puzzler.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Steam Service For Mac Users

It’s officially official: Valve will bring its Steam online distribution service and titles from its massive library of hit games to the Mac this April, the company confirmed Monday.

The successful content-delivery service will bring Valve titles like Left 4 Dead and the upcoming Portal 2, as well as games from other publishers, to Apple computers for the first time.

The move was telegraphed last week in a series of teaser posters that mashed characters from Valve games into retro Apple ads. Dan Connors, CEO of Telltale Games, called Apple and Steam a natural fit.

“If there’s anything like iTunes on the PC right now for games, it’s Steam,” Connors said. “So you’ve got two great leaders in digital distribution coming together.”

Steam is the pre-eminent digital distribution platform for PCs. With more than 1,000 games and 25 million user accounts, Steam is by one estimate responsible for more than 70 percent of digital game purchases. Bringing the service to Macs means wider selection, quicker updates and more episodic content for Apple’s traditionally game-deprived computers.

Valve wants to position its games not as static products but as part of an ongoing, constantly updated, ubiquitous service, company co-founder Gabe Newell told in advance of Monday’s announcement.

“The traditional model has always been that you have these really extended development times … where you do nothing for customers for several years and then you try to drive everybody into the theaters or into the stores on a given date,” Newell said. “It makes it hard to steer your decisions based on customer feedback, and customers don’t particularly like that. They would like to have the experience of being part of an entertainment community where they’re getting something on a daily or more frequent basis.

“The Mac represents a great opportunity to deliver these things.”

Bringing Steam to Mac will give gamers several cross-platform benefits, Newell said.

* If players already own the PC versions of Valve games, they’ll get Mac versions at no extra charge through a feature called Steam Play.
* By using the Steam Cloud feature that the company introduced in 2008, players can save in-progress games online, then call up those saved games no matter which version they’re playing. If you’re playing Half-Life 2 on your home PC but then head out on the road with your MacBook, you can continue your game-in-progress.

“We looked at a variety of methods to get our games onto the Mac and in the end decided to go with native versions rather than emulation,” said John Cook, director of Steam development, in Monday’s press release.

“We are treating the Mac as a tier-1 platform so all of our future games will release simultaneously on Windows, Mac and the Xbox 360,” Cook said. “Updates for the Mac will be available simultaneously with the Windows updates. Furthermore, Mac and Windows players will be part of the same multiplayer universe, sharing servers, lobbies and so forth. We fully support a heterogeneous mix of servers and clients. The first Mac Steam client will be the new generation currently in beta testing on Windows.”

Portal 2 will be Valve’s first simultaneous release for Mac and Windows, the company said.

“Checking in code produces a PC build and Mac build at the same time, automatically, so the two platforms are perfectly in lock-step,” said Josh Weier, said Portal 2 project lead in the press release. “We’re always playing a native version on the Mac right alongside the PC. This makes it very easy for us and for anyone using Source to do game development for the Mac.”

Bringing Valve’s gaming engine Source, and the company’s Steamworks development and publishing suite, to the Mac will make it easier for developers to bring games to OS X.

“Steamworks for the Mac supports all of the Steamworks APIs,” said Jason Holtman, Valve’s director of business development, in the press release. “We expect most developers and publishers to take advantage of Steam Play.”
Easy updates

Steam lets the company take full advantage of the freedom that the PC and Mac platforms give it to constantly update and tweak its games. For instance, the developer has updated its 2007 game Team Fortress 2 more than 100 times, Newell said.

This wouldn’t be possible on a closed system like Microsoft’s Xbox Live, he said: “Microsoft’s QA fees … would be several hundred thousand dollars to do the updates that we did to Team Fortress 2. And that ignores the fact that the cycle on these closed platforms would have taken years to get all these updates through.”

Most recently, Valve leveraged its ability to push updates through Steam and engage its fan base by dropping hints into its 2007 cult hit Portal about the game’s upcoming sequel, letting the fans be an active part of the game’s announcement.

“We want to bring content creators and consumers closer together to minimize the latency between what somebody on the team does versus a fan’s ability to participate in that experience, not put more barriers between them,” Newell said.

Valve isn’t the only PC developer with a strong, engaged fan base looking to Mac. Telltale Games, creator of the episodic Sam and Max games, announced last month that it would be moving to Mac, even inviting fans to vote on which of its games should be ported over first.

While Telltale has not confirmed any of its games will be on the Mac version of Steam, Connors called getting his companies titles on Valve’s digital-distribution platform “a no-brainer.”

“We have games that run on the Mac and we have games that run on Steam, so our goal is to be there,” Connors said. “We think they’re going to do a great job with getting the Steam client over there and we want to continue to be a part of it.”

Asked to name other developers that we’d see on Steam, Valve’s Newell demurred. But Steam’s popularity means that as Valve goes, so go other gamemakers. Steam on Mac means many more games on Mac.

“(Mac) has all of the right pieces, and we know other developers see that as well,” Newell said.