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Gaming: The Final Frontier
Posted on Wednesday, January 23 2008 @ 15:50:06 PST

Unless you're an Azerothian devotee, gaming on Apple computers is a lonely proposition. The switch to Intel hardware and the introduction of Boot Camp (and other virtualization software) has helped by allowing Mac users to do the unthinkable and run Windows on their PVC and aluminum prisms, but lament the lack of native support for OS X and the generally underwhelming hardware delivered as spec (try going to the Outlands on your 24" (1920x1200) iMac with 1GB of ram and an ATI 2600 Pro and tell me how that goes).  Truly, gaming is the final frontier for Apple to break into the mainstream: if they can legitimize OS X as a platform for not only ports, but innovation in games, the potential market for their computers will skyrocket well beyond their current limitations of appeal.

This has much to do with the foresight of a little underdog named Microsoft. Redmond had the bright idea a long way back to create an application programming interface (or API) that would give much better hardware access control for creating multimedia applications. Simply put, they released DirectX, a bunch of various APIs that control sound and video hardware resources, and to this day through 10 versions it has remained unchallenged. DirectX paved the way for the Xbox, and delivered in spades with the Xbox 360 and the jump from polygons to pixels (DX9, adapted for the 360 implements Microsoft's High Level Shader Language, which was instrumental in making the polygon to pixel paradigm shift a lot easier for graphics programmers), leaving Sony to play catch up in teaching its developers to program for the new hardware generation.

Apple has stuck with OpenGL, a competitor to Direct3D that lacks the complete DirectX package, which leaves little incentive for game developers to create their graphics engines for two APIs, crippling the Mac gaming market.

However unlikely bedfellows, Sony is Apple's best hope to popularize OpenGL as a gaming programming package. The Playstation 3's graphics API is based on OpenGL 2.0ES, and the leaps and bounds in development of graphics engines for the system can only help the Macintosh cause. Consider the difference between Insomniac's launch game Resistance and their recent release Ratchet and Clank Future in refinement of graphics quality and you'll see what I'm on about there being some big developments happening.

Which leaves the hardware problem. The only Mac really appealing to a self-respecting gamer is the Mac Pro, which doesn't come cheap (and the base specs definitely do not butter my parsnip....they're fairly appalling for the amount of cash) for the ability to put in a serious video card and fast ram. What about taking a page from the Dell book and creating something akin to the XPS line, Apple? How about an iMac in a slightly bigger enclosure with a built-in SLI setup? Or drop down the CPU on the Mac Pro, but throw in Crossfire support. There's money waiting on the table for you to fill in that hardware niche.
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