A Guide To Mac Gaming

In the not too distant past, Mac’s were widely regarded as useless for playing games. Though this is something of an overstatement, Apple’s computers were indeed lacking capability and choice for playing games, when compared to their PC counterparts.

All this began to change with the introduction of Steam for Mac, which brought a huge repository of titles and the credibility to make developers stand up and take notice. This was then followed by the Mac App Store and subsequent porting of iOS favourites like Angry Birds and Flight Control.

Read on to take a closer look at the current options for gaming on a Mac…

With Apple’s efforts to keep their product line simple, it can be unclear whether your Mac is powerful enough to meet various games system requirements. Though your Mac may be perfectly suitable for most other tasks, many of the early Intel Mac’s were shipped with underpowered and obsolete graphics cards. In order to find out your system’s specs, navigate to your “Menu -> About This Mac -> More Info -> System Report (OS X Lion only) and take a look next to Graphics/Displays to see which graphics card your Mac contains.

Though there are certainly exceptions, to put it very broadly; if you’ve got a recent Intel-powered Mac running Snow Leopard, 2GB RAM and enough hard drive space to spare, you should find a selection of modern games which run natively on your Mac.

If your Mac is lacking specs-wise, an alternative option to gaming within OS X is to partition your hard drive and install Windows just for gaming. As most games are optimized for Windows, even a modestly powered Mac can produce surprising results. OS X’s Boot Camp Assistant makes the process easier, but it can still be a daunting task to setup, so here’s a brief guide to getting your Mac running Windows alongside your OS X install:

Before beginning, make sure your Mac is fully updated and backed up and you have a copy of Windows XP, 7 or Vista at hand.

Gaming-On-Mac-prepare-bootcamp

Using Spotlight, launch “Boot Camp Assistant” located in your Utilities folder. This will bring up the introduction window. Once you’ve read the text, hit “Continue” and, depending on which version of OS X you’re running, you may have to install some additional software via download.

Now you need to choose how much space to allot Windows and it’s important to pick the right amount of space as Windows will not allow later resizing. The default amount is 5GB but that isn’t really going to cut it for gaming, so I chose to give Windows 80GB from my 500GB hard drive.

How much space you give to Windows is up to you but a good baseline amount for none-serious gaming is probably around 80GB, though you can get by with a lot less in a pinch and I have previously ran such partitions at just 10GB without issues for the occasional older game.

Once these steps are completed, your Mac will restart and begin to install Windows normally, just complete the installation process as you always would. Once Windows is installed and you’re booted into the operating system, it is very important to insert your OS X installation disc so that the correct drivers can be installed.

With this done, your Mac is ready for Windows gaming!

It’s hardly an exaggeration to state that Steam changed the state of Mac gaming overnight. Long a staple of PC games, developers Valve come with a large catalogue of games which can be bought on one computer, then shared via your unique Steam account on other computers you own, syncing data such as saves along the way too. This obviously means a big win for customers, but also for developers too as Steam’s fair pricing method and quick delivery ensures that piracy is kept to a minimum.

Gaming-On-Mac-steam

To get started with Steam, head over to the website here and click on the green button titled “Install Steam Now” to download the small installer file. This done, mount the Steam disc image and drag into your Mac’s Applications folder. Steam will then download approximately 37MB of additional data.

Gaming-On-Mac-steam-register-account

The next step is to create a free Steam account, the sign-up process is simple and does not require a credit card, just an email address and user name. Once Steam is installed, you can browse the store for the latest titles, free games and demos – make sure to keep an eye out for the great deals which come up regularly.

Gaming-On-Mac-steam-store

Gaming-On-Mac-app-store

Though the Mac App Store will probably need little introduction by now to most Make Tech Easier readers, it is still worth taking a moment to remark upon the excellent games which can be found within. iOS favorites such as Angry Birds, Flight Control, World Of Goo – all relatively lightweight games which should run on most Macs running Snow Leopard and all available to Mac users. The Mac App Store is not limited to such lightweight puzzle games though and also features more immersive titles, such as; Rome Total War, Civilization V, Bioshock and Call Of Duty.

I hope that the above guide has helped to highlight just how far Mac’s have come for playing games. While a standard Mac notebook may not outperform a custom-spec PC gaming machine, it does at least offer much choice and value for money, with a minimum effort and time spent setting up. Though Leopard is the minimum required OS for Steam and Snow Leopard for the Mac App Store, even older Macs still have some great old games available to them by employing Boot Camp and Windows.