January 15, 2008 12:02 AM PST

Coming to the Mac in 2008: 'Spore'

In its early stages, Electronic Arts' forthcoming and much-anticipated game Spore was code-named Sim Everything, a play on its heritage as the newest game by The Sims creator Will Wright.

But now, "sim everything" has another meaning for the company: EA is set to announce Tuesday it will release Spore later this year simultaneously for PCs and Macs.

Photos: The evolution of 'Spore'

The announcement is timed to coincide with the Macworld Expo, which begins Tuesday in San Francisco. At the convention, EA will show Spore running on Macs.

In a joint announcement last year at Apple's developers conference, it was revealed that the video game giant would be bringing some of its biggest franchises to the Mac. The news that Spore will be one of those titles and that it will hit Macs at the same time as PCs is a big move for the company.

The company was not able to meet that standard with any of the games it released for the Mac last year; each Mac version ended up missing the PC launch date by weeks or months--something EA would very much like to avoid in the future.

That's why EA is fine-tuning its relationship with Toronto-based TransGaming Technologies, a company that has developed a technology that makes it relatively easy for publishers like EA to develop Mac--or Linux--versions of a game side by side the PC versions.

According to David McCombe, director of technical design for EA's strategic platforms group, TransGaming's technology effectively creates a "wrapper" that goes around a piece of software developed for the PC, allowing it to run on a Mac.

"The technology wrapper goes around (the software), and traps the (code) calls native to the Windows environment, and converts them to the correct calls for Mac," McCombe said. "It's not a complete code rewrite. It's more wrapper technology with some customer work."

That means, for example, that when a piece of software, in this case, Spore, wants to do a graphics call to DirectX, TransGaming's software translates the call so that it looks instead to the Mac graphics library.

"It serves both as traffic cop and does the conversion on the fly," McCombe said.

The upshot, he added, is that from a user's standpoint, playing Spore on a Mac should be a seamless experience, with no noticeable differences from the PC version.

Spore charges players with taking their characters through a complex growth process, beginning at the primordial cell stage and moving on up the evolutionary ladder, first colonizing small areas on a single planet and eventually heading off into space to find and conquer other societies.

EA is hardly the only game company that has had issues porting PC games to Macs.

Video game technology consultant Mark DeLoura said that Ubisoft--where he was previously a technical director--also found it difficult to make the translation, despite entreaties from Apple to do so.

"The Apple guys, they were always very encouraging," DeLoura said. "'Please bring stuff to the Mac, please bring stuff to the Mac,' but they never gave us a lot of support. They're great guys, but they don't have a lot of resources, I think."

DeLoura said that Ubisoft had also experimented with TransGaming's tools, but decided in the end not to commit to them.

Is the market big enough?
A bigger issue for bringing PC games to the Mac, DeLoura added, is that publishers often don't think that the market is big enough.

"It didn't seem like we could justify porting over a hard-core shooter (game)," DeLoura said, "because as far as we could tell, those games didn't sell on the Mac."

EA, however, has decided the cost is justified. And while it has yet to decide whether it will ship different versions of Spore for PC and Mac or whether it will release both versions on a single DVD, McCombe suggested that is more of a sales or marketing question than a technical one.

In fact, EA is hoping to simultaneously release a number of titles this year on PC and Mac, and Spore may well be among the first. However, the company has yet to announce when Spore will be released.

McCombe said he hoped that EA and TransGaming have learned from their inability to get PC and Mac versions of games out at the same time last year.

"The difference here is that we have a solid version to start off of," he said. "I think both parties have learned how to" make it happen.

As for how much lead time is required to ensure that EA is able to do simultaneous launches, McCombe said, "That's a good question. We need more than we had last time, which we are now getting" with Spore and other titles planned for release this year.

"Last year was the first time going through the process with TransGaming," McCombe said, "so hopefully we have a better feel for the process."

Of course, for a huge company like EA, making the decision to release a game like Spore on the Mac at the same time as the PC version is hardly left entirely to the technical people. It is also a marketing calculation, and in the case of Spore, the company decided that it would be a smart move to ensure that Mac users believe they matter as much as PC users.

"With Spore in particular, we think the Macintosh user is somebody who is, typically, a creative individual," said Patrick Buechner, vice president of marketing for EA's Maxis division. "Part of the appeal of the Mac is that it allows you to do creative things very easily. And we think that lines up very closely with what you can do with Spore, and we think those audiences are very similar. So it just feels like a natural place for Spore to be, and we're thinking about it up front rather than as an afterthought. We want to give it the full attention."

See more CNET content tagged:
Spore, Electronic Arts Inc., Apple Macintosh, UbiSoft Entertainment, Apple Computer


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Oh no!
It will not play on my first generation MacBook, of that I'm pretty sure.

So, I'll have to upgrade.

But to what? The iMac's screen is just too glossy for me, since I am quite a bit of an amateur photographer. The MacBook Pro is just too damned expensive, IMHO. Mac Pro? Ditto.

Oh well. Maybe 2008 will provide me with a life rather than Spore.
Posted by jpsalvesen (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Meh - get an external monitor.
Problem solved for very little cost.

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Get an iMac and an anti-glare protection film like this one: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.photodon.com/lcdprotect-sheet.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.photodon.com/lcdprotect-sheet.htm</a>
Posted by nachurboy (114 comments )
Link Flag
Isn't it funny...
Isn't it funny that in order to port the game over to the Mac, they need a wrapper program to convert proprietary DirectX code into standards-based OpenGL code. Common sense would seem to suggest you start with the standards-based code and use a "helper" app to reach the proprietary code. Oh, how backwards the industry really is...
Posted by quadj (205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good point
The problem is, though, that when a company like EA creates a
game they usually begin with marketing first and right now,
unfortunately, Direct-X is kind of like the "next best thing" towards
game creation. I say 'unfortunately' because, although I've seen
some amazing games built with it, it creates that backwards type of
game development that you point out... pity.
Posted by balkce (32 comments )
Link Flag
I guess that's why games like Quake and Unreal Tournament have always stuck with OpenGL.

Strangely enough, most of your CG/3D apps also use OpenGL over DX as their choice of acceleration.

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Problem Is
OpenGL is a standard approved by a committee. While that does mean they will likely have well thought our specifications its also means there is a bunch of in-fighting on what technologies are implemented.

Microsoft on the other hand can go to AMD / NVidia as well as the game makers with DirectX and say "What do YOU want?" Thats why you've seen so many more version of directX than OpenGL. Because microsoft goes to their customers and asking what technologies they want, DirectX games will nearly always have features that are months if not years ahead of a comittee based process.

This is the reason they dont start with OpenGL and go to DirectX. You can take the features in DirectX and dumb them down so that they run on OpenGL, but you cant easily do the reverse.

Dont get me wrong, I wish every game would run on every platform, just being a realist here.

Posted by daver208 (26 comments )
Link Flag
stereo typing...
The old thinking that Mac's are strange computers owned by the
graphic design community is completely out dated. People are
getting board with windows, and moving to Mac in droves. Just
go hang out in an Apple store for a little while and watch all the
young kids hanging out there. Apple has somehow connected
with the Youth in a big way. That's important, because they're
the next round of major computer buyers. -
Get with the program, or take you place with the rest of the
digital dinosaurs.
Posted by skipperpma (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: stereotyping
I partially agree, but I'm still ultimately undecided. On one hand, yes, EA is mistaken if they really think Mac users "don't want 1st. person shooters", simply because they're too "creative" to enjoy that genre. Look how many Mac users play UT2004, or played the Mac version of Halo, or Quake IV, or even Doom 3.

On the flip-side, Apple themselves still seem to keep trying to market their machines towards the more "creative" set. The "Mac vs. PC" ads often highlighted the Mac's ability to work with photos and media, for example, while downplaying the usefulness of generating graphs, charts, and numerical data as "boring PC stuff".

I think you're right that the "general public" is getting on-board the "Mac-wagon" these days. But much of it still seems to be on the "listen to music, make your own music, store and edit your photos, and edit your video!" angles. Then the public goes on to do the rest of the stuff they used to do with Windows PCs, and Apple kind of ignores that whole part of the picture.
Posted by twyrick (38 comments )
Link Flag
Nice... Very nice. :)
I always wondered *** took (most of) them so long.

Sure, back in 2000 I was usually the only guy at a LAN party with a Linux or Mac machine. OTOH, by the time I stopped going to them in early 2007, I certainly wasn't alone by any stretch.

There is one bit this article misses. Some games have always come out simultaneously for Windows and Mac, and have a long history of multi-platform playability (Unreal Tournament and Quake being among those). I remember playing Quake II (and MODs for it) on Linux back in 1998. With WINE, I was more than able to play Counterstrike on Linux as early as 2000 (one could probably do it earlier, but that's when I finally started getting into it).

I'm just glad to see game companies realizing that there are a lot of us out there who have taken machine performance to a level where we even question the OS itself (my framerates have always been better on Linux, and I remember watching the Windows kiddies recoil in surprise at my Mac - I had a movie playing and a CG render going on one monitor, but I was playing Unreal Tournament on the other at full speed :) ).

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I switched to Mac OS X for this same reason, I can do so many intensive tasks and not have to worry about it crashing, something that I have never been able to duplicate on windows.

Linux and OS X are great, I live and love them!
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Link Flag
Boot Camp works well with XP Pro SP2
I never owned or really even used a Mac until I got a MacBook Pro about a month ago. I had years of stuff created in Windows (plus I'm an occasional gamer), so I loaded XP Pro SP2 into a Boot Camp partition. This would allow me to continue working with my "boring business stuff."

When booting into Windows, the "boring business stuff" ran so well, I downloaded demos of UT3 and COD4, along with some other games (Q4, HL2) that my 3 year-old Windows rig was having trouble running at even lower resolutions. I was skeptical they would run at all, but it actually works surprisingly well. I see very high frame rates (90+) at lower resolutions with details set to high. Not the highest performing gaming machine, to be sure, but certainly good enough for casual gaming on the road, even on the latest FPS.

A Macbook Pro will work fine for the *right user.*
Posted by Paul Schantz (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The only problem is...
These "ports" really suck. The two games I have so far from this "new breed" of EA releases are just... horrible. Crashes all the time, huge CPU overhead, and I'm running a Quad 2.66 Mac Pro. Not to mention the support for the Mac side of things seems virtually non-existent. I most definitely won't be spending any more money on EA titles until they start writing native code and truly start supporting the Mac platform. I will not, however, be holding my breath.
Posted by hdjones (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I've had no problems...
I've used TransGamings Linux counterpart Cedega. Both Cedega and Cider (the software TansGaming is using to 'port' the games) are based off of WINE, and I have been able to play all of my games with no crashes or hangs or anything. What's actually funny is that the games played better on Linux useing Cedega then thay did on the same hardware on Windows.
Posted by jimdewhit (1 comment )
Link Flag
Get an iMac with an anti-glare screen protector like this one: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.photodon.com/lcdprotect-sheet.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.photodon.com/lcdprotect-sheet.htm</a>
Posted by nachurboy (114 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pressed wrong button. Meant to reply to jpsalvesen.
Posted by nachurboy (114 comments )
Link Flag
Blizzard's never had a problem releasing their games to the mac on a hybrid cd..
Posted by nzamparello (60 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I am a Mac user, and I hate to give ammo to the PC-faithful, but Macs are just too darned expensive to buy as game machines. What kid (kid's parents) can afford over $1k for a game machine when you can buy a PC or Xbox for about $500?
Honestly, I don't think this is where Steve Jobs/Apple is aiming it's guns. I think that is short sighted and limits the base Apple sorely needs, but it seems to be working for them.
There is the mac mini, but I don't know how good of a machine that is.
Posted by bignumone (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I have been using a mac mini for about 2 years now. I've been playing a lot of games on this one and it is a truly enjoyable experience so far. I used my machine extensively and I have yet to come across a real problem. They make computer that works period. They understood that people want to maximize their computer usage and that's why they make them like they do.
I've been with Macintosh since 1997 with my first PowerMac 8600/200 ;)

You know what people really needs. Hats-off.
Posted by Alzidex (1 comment )
Link Flag
My Mac mini (OS X 10.5.6m 1.8 Ghz C2D, and 1GB RAM) plays Spore fine, it is set up to an Olvia 37" LCD (which is also my primary TV) with a VGA cable, which I'm switching over to HDMI with the DVI adapter.

The only way it will run on my Mac mini (it is stock, NO hacks) is if my display is set to 800 x 600 and 75mhz, given that I've logged hours of entertainment!
Posted by johnpainter (1 comment )
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