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There's an odd contrdiction here at the Game Developers Conference. There's a obvious Mac presence in the form of people using Macs. It feels like about a third of the crowd here is using a Mac notebook, mostly iBooks and PowerBooks, but there are some MacBooks around. Considering the Mac's small stature in the games market, it's surprising to see this many Macs.
At the same time, several people we spoke to are both surprised and disappointed that there aren't more games for the Mac. Some people felt that the introduction of the Intel Mac would open up the Mac as a gaming platform, but the first Intel Mac was released well over a year ago, and we're still waiting for that rush of games we were hoping for. And, of course, we hear over and over again, "I use a Windows box only for work, but I have a Mac at home," or "I would buy a Mac if I didn't have to use a Windows box for work."
Get a cup of MojoPac: Developed by Ringcube, MojoPac turns your mobile USB device, whether it be an iPod, USB hard drive, or even an iPhone, into a portable computer. After installing MojoPac on any USB 2.0 compliant device, you can upload your applications and files, modify your user settings and environment preferences, and take them with you wherever you want. Plug MojoPac into another computer and your environment is immediately launched onto that computer. Your communications, music, games, applications, and files are all accessible but not cached on the local computer, so no trace is left behind when you unplug MojoPac.
The device is currently available for Windows only, but within the year the company will turn their attention to a port for the Intel Mac, with support for Transgaming's Cider. MojoPac currently also runs on an Intel Mac with Boot Camp support.
EDGE-y earphones:It's never easy to hear an enemy sneaking up behind you in a game, especially on a convention floor. That's why we challenged Etymotic Research, the originator of the in-the-ear high-fidelity earphone to show us how their new line of gaming earbuds would do the trick. Called EDGE (Enhanced Definition Gaming Earphones), Etymotic unveiled these earbuds at GDC. Placing the earbuds in our ears did not cancel out the noises around us, but it did just lessened the noise to a great degree. These sound isolation earbuds are not noise-canceling and require a good fit in the ear, which we found reasonably easy to do.
The next step was to play their demo game, a form of Marco Polo in virtual space. Simply put, the game would play a sound, and the player would have to see how fast she could find it. As the game advanced, the game plays masking sounds, and we found that we would have to pause to listen through the masking sound to locate just where the sound we wanted was coming from. The effect was remarkable, as we could truly tell exactly where the sound was coming from just based on where in the virtual space we could "hear" it; the volume would increase as we came closer. Etymotic Marketing Associate Rich Heimlich believes that these kinds of earbuds will not just revolutionize gameplay, but game development, as more and more developers start using higher quality earbuds that are geared not towards listening to different kinds of music, but to the sounds of a virtual world, and design the audio in that virtual world based on what they themselves are hearing.
iPhone buzz: The buzz at the GDC is that developers are keenly interested in developing games for the iPod or the iPhone. Some don't even have the Apple TV on their radar, not because they don't consider it a viable platform, but simply because they hadn't even conceived of the possibility. Others have spoken of rumors about when an SDK for the iPhone might be available. Some marketing types we chatted with say they understand Apple's need to keep a tight leash on the iPhone at this point. With any new technology, a company wants to control at first what is developed for it. Soem developers expect that leash to be loosened down the road.
IGF Awards: The 2007 Independent Games Festival reveals the true strength of Mac gaming. Over one half of the games in the festival either had a Mac client or were due one out in the near future. Independent games are where Mac gaming is at. Nearly 3,500 people attended this year’s awards ceremony, hosted by the Game Developers Conference at the Moscone Convention Center.
The Seamus McNally Grand Prize winner was Aquaria, developed by Bit Blot. The 2D underwater game with beautiful graphics and a dream-like storyline collected $20,000 and the admiration of its peers as the Best Independent Game of the year. There's not word on whether Aquaria will be made for the Mac, however.
The other major IGF award winners:
• Best Singleplayer FPS Mod: Weekday Warrior, a Half-Life 2 mod (Windows only) by Cut Corner Company Productions
• Best Student Game Award: Toblo (Windows only) by DigiPen Institute of Technology
• Excellence in Audio Award: Everyday Shooter (still in development) by Jonathan Mak
• Excellence in Visual Art: Castle Crashers (Xbox 360) by The Behemoth
• Design Innovation Award: Everyday Shooter
• Technical Excellence Award: Bang! Howdy (requires Mac OS 10.4 or later, Java 2Platform Standard Edition 5.0 Release 4) by Three Rings Games
• Best Web Browser Game: Samorost 2 by Amanita Design
• Audience Award: Castle Crashers
You need Java to play Bang! Howdy on your Mac.
A separate award by GameTap was given to three top indie games. The GameTap Indie Award provides the recipient with an advance after signing a five year distribution deal to be a part of the new GameTap Indies label. One recipient received a $10,000 advance, while the two others received a $5,000 advance.
The GameTap Indie Award winners are:
• $10,000 advance award: Everyday Shooter
A highlight of the awards ceremony: a member of the DigiPen Institute of Technology team proposed to his girlfriend while on stage receiving the award. And yes, she accepted. Not to be outdone, Jonathan Mak, when he won the Excellence in Audio Award, chose to propose to his friend, Colin. Colin, said no, and a dejected Jonathan walked off stage to the amusement of the crowd.
Omaha Sternberg is the producer and host of the iGame Radio podcast.