The State Of Mac Gaming: A Follow-Up

the state of mac gaming: a follow-up

So, a little while back I posted about how Mac is doing as a game platform. Now that I’m working exclusively in Game Maker For Mac (GM4MAC is the cumbersome way they’re abbreviating it), I’ve butted up against the limits of Mac development for new programmers, and learned considerably more about the setbacks I mentioned before.

First, some context.

In my last post on this topic, I mentioned how much of the “yay cross-platform releases” discussion was in response to the releases of Game Maker and Steam on the Mac. I poked holes in this excitement by pointing out that, in the months since release, Game Maker had no advertising by YoYo Games, it’s documentation was a copy-paste of an older Windows version, and the whole program was largely an overpriced Beta, and Steam had only released about 15 AAA games for Mac that don’t even include all of Valve’s canon, and was basically a casual games portal with a few famous titles thrown in.

Well, it turns out that, as far as Game Maker goes, things were actually worse.

The main line of Game Maker on Windows had updated to Game Maker 8, while the Mac port was largely an updated Game Maker 7 (Game Maker 7.5, essentially). Apparently most of the updates between GM7 and GM8 were cosmetic, meaning the interface was streamlined and the GUI had lots of new features (like better code highlighting and improved search-and-replace functions). Very little about the actual game making had changed save for better importing of PNGs with alpha channels (which can be done in GM7 with a workaround), so most of the documentation for GM8 was still usable with the older version.

But the reason there were portability issues between the Mac and Windows versions was that Game Maker is not backwards-compatible. A game made in GM8 cannot be opened in GM7, even if the code itself would be completely readable. So people thinking they could use GM4MAC to port their games to Mac found it wouldn’t build.

This causes problems when you’re trying to follow the Game Maker tutorials, because they’re all for GM8, which means you can’t open them. Digging around their wiki I found where the old tutorials for GM7 are, and they open fine. But there weren’t any road signs, I had to take a lot of, how do you say, “personal initiative.”

Using programs like LateralGM you can convert from GM8 to GM6, and then in GM4MAC convert from GM6 to GM7, so that’s one way to get from 8 to 7. And GM8 can open a game file built in GM7 no problem, so Mac devs can fairly easily port their games from Mac to PC. But the biggest problem is with extensions.

See, most extensions are shared in the form of Dynamic Libraries, little files that come with the game data that have a lot of scripts associated with them. Advanced pathfinding and whatnot can come in a Dynamic Library. The PC format for a Dynamic Library is a .dll file, while the Mac version is a .dylib. I’ve had no luck finding a way to convert from one to another, and most games made by people really using Game Maker to its fullest come with .dll’s.

The only way around this is to hope there’s a Game Maker Extension (.gex) that covers the same scripts that you can install, but even then I haven’t been able to open a GM8 game in GM4MAC. Spelunky and Indie Brawl (both open-source) throw me weird errors, claiming there’s a problem with a Key Release <no key> event on some random object, an object that usually has no events associated with it at all, and that’s where I throw my hands up.

Basically, if you want to be cross-platform, you’d better build your game simultaneously in both engines, or just build on a Mac and port to PC (and avoid Dynamic Libraries).

But worse was YoYo Games’ support.

An update for GM4MAC came out a month or so ago, with updated documentation that was actually Mac-specific, apparently written by Mark Overmars himself. It still has a few spots where it talks about your Start Menu, so it’s still a copy-paste, but it’s mostly been updated with all the different features. And the YoYo Games website has been revamped, and GM4MAC is now mentioned right on the front page, and there’s even a Game Maker appstore now where you can download Game Maker games for your iPhone. So, progress.

But what would mean more than that would be if they would goddamn support the goddamn thing. There is absolutely no way to contact YoYo Games directly. No email addresses, no names, no Help Desk (they tease you by saying they might add one someday, for money). GM4MAC has several bugs in it, and if you search around for a while, you’ll find their bug reporting website. But reporting bugs means picking a category, and the only two categories are GM8 and Website. People are getting around this by posting in GM8 and putting “ON A MAC” in caps, so I reported what bugs I’ve found, but your guess is as good as mine if they’re going to do anything about it. If Wikipedia is to be believed, making a Mac build of the engine has been the work of a single person, and there’s only so much a dev team of 1 can do.

There’s also the basic unfairness of GM4MAC: if you want to make simple games in Game Maker, you can use the Lite version for free.¬† GM4MAC has no free version. You get 10 free hours and then have to buy the full version. And for a while, right after GM8 came out, GM4MAC cost $5 more. If you go to the GM4MAC section of the YoYo Games forums, you’ll find about 4 games posted, all of them ports of Windows games. I don’t think supporting the platform is really cost-effective for YoYo Games at the moment.

How about Valve? Well, there’s not a lot of movement on that front. HL2 Deathmatch finally came out, and Left 4 Dead 2. Still no Lost Coast, which is what I’ve been waiting for all this time. A few prominent AAA games have finally come over to Steam. But most games that already have a Mac build were ported by 3rd parties, and the 3rd party still retains the license, so I think Steam probably can’t sell Mac versions of games like Braid and Aquaria. But we’re at least seeing that, with new games, the Mac version is seeing a simultaneous release.

You’ll note, if you’re listening, that all the buzz about cross-platform development has died down. No one’s really stoked on Mac anymore. Maybe Portal 2 will change all that. And maybe Half-Life 2: Episode 3, if that ever gets made. Maybe this is the beginning, and the beginning is just slow.

But for now, Mac is going to be the desert it ever was, with a few more oases than before, but still a desert. And, frankly, it’s going to change when more Mac users start making some damn games. So maybe One-Eyed Monsters will change everything!

Oh, and one other thing: I’m not looking change engines any time soon, but if I were, I might look into this. The engine is free, open-source, and is completely cross-platform. Like, Windows/Mac/Linux/iPhone cross-platform. And it’s written in their own scripting language made out of Haskell, which is apparently high-level enough to outpace Python by two order of magnitude in some areas. I seriously doubt it’s well-documented yet (as free, new, open-source projects tend to presume the programmer is, well, a programmer, and not a new designer), but by the time I’ve got a prototype, it might be viable. I’ll be keeping my eye on it.

(The game itself is a rather clunky platformer, gorgeous and charming with a lot to recommend it, but clunky nonetheless. A platformer lives and dies by how fun its controls are, and this ones controls feel sluggish and imprecise. Pity.)

In other news, the jam with John has taught me tons, and I’m making a lot of notes about how to code OEM properly based on things I’m doing wrong this time around. I can’t say I know how to do whatever I need to do in Game Maker, but I’ve figured out how to figure things out. As soon as this game is done, I’ll be starting on OEM with all my attention, and you’ll be seeing screenshots, videos, and maybe early prototypes over the next few months. There’s also a Mini Ludum Dare this coming weekend, so I intend to make something small unassisted next weekend. Outside chance of collaborating with Loren, but I think I’m ready to strike out on my own. Will post!

Happy trails, folks.

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