Macworld Expo: Apple goes after gamers

Apple Computer Inc. is recommitting itself to a community it has neglected in recent years -- the gamer.

At Macworld Expo 99 in the US yesterday, Apple said it's taking a series of steps to lure game makers and players back to the Mac -- including committing to Silicon Graphics Inc.'s OpenGL 3-D graphics standard and incorporating faster graphics accelerators into its machines. And partner Connectix Corp. is even demonstrating $49 (£30) software that in effect turns the iMac into a Sony PlayStation.

Analysts have long said Apple must woo game makers if it wants to continue making inroads into the consumer market. Although most consumers these days buy computers to get on the Internet -- and many say they purchase them to perform such tasks as tracking finances and word processing -- almost every family has someone who loves games.

And the number of games available on a certain platform can make or break the buying decision for some customers. John Carmack, co-founder of popular game maker Id Software, joined Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his keynote to declare that the Macintosh has evolved into "an absolutely perfect gaming platform."

"I'm here today because Apple finally has gotten their act together," Carmack said, giving a preview of the upcoming Quake Arena adventure game. Getting that act together has included a commitment to the popular OpenGL 3-D standard, which will mean that PC game developers will not have to completely rewrite the code if they want to make a Mac version of a game. Apple executives said they polled game developers, and support for OpenGL was the No. 1 request.

In addition, the company also will include the Rage 128 graphics accelerator card in all upcoming PowerMacs. Jobs said the card is 20 percent faster than the quickest such card for the PC.

On Tuesday, Jobs also promised that 12 major gaming titles -- along the lines of Quake and Tomb Raider -- would appear on the Mac within the next four months. Just last month, Jobs predicted that all of the top 10 most popular gaming titles would be back on the Mac by Christmas of 1999, up from only two such games a year ago.

Jobs credited gamers such as Carmack with getting the company back on the consumer-entertainment track. "He's helped us a lot. He's beat us up a lot to do the right thing," Jobs said. In a move to boost the game-playing prowess of the Macintosh, Connectix soon will introduce software that emulates the Sony PlayStation.

The Connectix Virtual Game Station will let people play popular PlayStation titles on Apple's G3 machines. Right now, about 70 games will work with the software, and details are on Connectix's virtualgamestation.com Web site.

Out on the show floor, developers applauded Apple's renewed commitment to gaming. Connectix engineer Aaron Giles said Apple's game push is a lot more solid than a few years ago, when he worked in the gaming division of Lucas Arts. "It made it really hard on the evangelists, who had a job to court the Mac game developers, but weren't seeing a lot of support from the top," Giles said. He called Apple's new interest in games "a reflection of Apple's push into the consumer level."

But the engineer still sees room for growth. For example, none of the titles Jobs mentioned included sports games. "That's still a big hole," he said. Giles and other developers just hope Apple's interest in games remains solid. Two years ago, the company -- under the helm of then-CEO Gil Amelio -- announced strong support for games, but the products failed to materialise.

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