Dark Side of the Moon: A Brief Visual History of Mac Gaming

Ever since my parents bought a Macintosh SE in 1989 with a 512x384 9 inch black and white screen, I've been partial to Mac OS. Through the days of System 6 to the heady days of System 7 to the dark days of OS 8 and OS 9 and finally to OS X, I've use Macs for most of my computing life.

Much of my gaming has also been on the Mac.

Some of the games I played were ported from DOS. Some from Amiga. A surprising number, though, were Mac native. And each and every one was a piece of my childhood. I didn't get a gaming console until the launch of the Super Nintendo in 1991. But even after that, since I was limited as a kid to 2 hours of TV (including games) a day, I'd often sneak some additional gaming hours by playing on the Mac in my room. Ssh, don't tell my parents.

Anyway, I've been playing and entertaining myself on Macs since 1989. It's a lot of time to cover. Let's get started and revel in some nostalgia.

Dark Castle (Silicon Beach Software, 1986)

One of the first games I played. This was in a batch of games I received on several floppies from a friend of the family. It was my first ever side scrolling adventure game, and it was a blast. The main programmer behind this game, Jonathan Gay, became a major force behind Flash and a CTO at Macromedia.

Dark Castle [Wikipedia]

The Ancient Art of War (Brøderbund, 1984)

This was also on the floppies the friend gave me. I was never all that good at it -- and unfortunately that trait carries over to modern day RTS games. Despite the hours I've put in, the highest rank in StarCraft 2 I've ever gotten was Gold. Though recently I did get into Platinum, but only by losing the placement match (???).

The Ancient Art of War [Wikipedia]

Dungeon of Doom (Woodrose Editions, 1985)

I played this game enormously. The mechanics were simple enough for me to understand at that age, and the gameplay straight forward enough to capture my attention for hours. Unfortunately, unlike many authors of early computer games, John Raymonds did not continue on to a career in the tech or video game industry.

Dungeon of Doom [Wikipedia]

Loderunner (Brøderbund, 1989)

I remember being super annoyed with this game. I don't think my young fingers at that point had the dexterity to play the game well. Or maybe I just suck at platformers. Not sure. Douglas Smith, the creator, would eventually go on to be involved with the English releases of Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger and more.

Loderunner [Wikipedia]

Shufflepuck Café (Brøderbund, 1989)

A bit of a misnomer, as it was more like a version of air hockey than any shufflepuck game I've ever seen. I remember freaking out my parents with the cracking glass sound that fires when you miss a puck and lose.

Shufflepuck Café [Wikipedia]

Glider (Soft Dorothy Software, 1989)

This game has since been ported to iOS. I had a lot of fun with this title. One of those games with a fairly simple mechanic that provided quite a bit of gameplay. In a lot of ways, incredibly similar to best-selling titles in the iOS App Store today. The programmer, John Calhoun, would later go on to work for Apple on iOS and OS X.

Glider PRO [Wikipedia]

Bolo (Stuart Cheshire, 1989)

One of the first networked games I played. I couldn't actually play this at home, as my family didn't yet own a modem at the time. My parents' place of work had Macs networked together, however, and I remember many a good time playing this game with friends. The developer, Stuart Cheshire, would later go on to create Zeroconf for Apple.

Bolo [Wikipedia]

SimEarth: The Living Planet (Maxis, 1990)

My first simulation game, I played this before ever hearing about SimCity. When Spore was announced several years ago, I immediately thought about this game. I don't think I've ever had this much fun playing God until The Sims came out and I made my unfortunately Sim family pee on a toilet on top of the fridge.

SimEarth [Wikipedia]

Angband (Open Source, 1990)

The first rogue-like I ever played. I somehow skipped completely over NetHack (though I played some Moria), and went straight to Angband. I played Version 2.5.1 the most. My dad was in graduate school at this time, getting his doctorates. I remember copy across this game while fooling around with one of the computers in the student computer lab. I was instantly cooked. The next day, I came back with a floppy and copied it to play at home.

It's spawned a ton of variants over the years. The most successful one was probably Zangband, later renamed Tales of Middle Earth (TOME), and then renamed again to Tales of Maj'Eyal (TOME). Along with Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, it's probably one of the two most popular ASCII based roguelikes today.

Angband [Wikipedia]

Spectre (Velocity Inc., 1991)

Tanks in 3D! This was amazing the first time I saw it because it was like some game I would see at the arcades. I remember this game also being installed on some demo computers at CompUSA, and I would sit there and play while my parents went shopping.

Spectre [MobyGames]

Prince of Persia (Brøderbund, 1992)

This. Game. Was. So. Hard. Or at least I remember it being extremely difficult. I recall being ecstatic whenever I would get past the first several stages of the game. The Aladdin Sega Genesis game released many years later reminded me of this game a lot.

Also very different from the future, more popular, 3D incarnations. And future, less popular and pretty bad movie adaptation.

Prince of Persia [MobyGames]

Maelstrom (Ambrosia Software, 1992)

This game was mysteriously installed one day on one of the computers at my parents' lab at their work. I never found out who installed it (maybe one of their undergrads?) but it was a ton of fun. It was also my first introduction to Ambrosia Software, creator of some of my favorite games of all time.

Maelstrom [Wikipedia]

Warlords II (SSI, 1993)

This was probably, in retrospect, a really bad game. At the time though, it was my first encounter with turn-based strategy. The screenshot is from a color version, but Warlords II also supported black and white play on the Mac SE, which was essential. My parents didn't get a color Mac (Mac II and then, later, a PowerMac 6100) for a while yet.

Also, don't get me started on how much I miss SSI. I played all their Gold Box games in middle school on a friends PC, and they were amazing.

Warlords II [Mobygames]

Pathways into Darkness (Bungie Studios, 1993)

This game scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. The graphics are kind of laughably cartoony now, but I remember being terrified of some of the monsters I would hit. Obviously, Bungie would go on to do great things in the future.

Marathon (Bungie Studios, 1994)

This game probably doesn't need any introductions. Before Halo, it's what put Bungie on the (admittedly small) map of Mac gaming. Remarkably good for a first attempt at FPS, I played this for many years. And yes, played this while glancing jealously at the Doom IIs and Quakes of the world. In later years, Bungie would, famously, initially demo Halo for the Mac, get bought by Microsoft and make a series of super popular Halo games for the Xbox and Xbox 360.

A free version for iOS was released recently.

Marathon [Wikipedia]

Exile I: Escape from the Pit (Spiderweb Software, 1995)

Amazingly, Jeff Vogel at Spiderweb Software continues to make RPGs to this day. All of his games are wonderful, and ever since I played Exile I, I've been a fan. Jeff remade Exile recently in the form of Avernum: Escape From the Pit for the iPad. It's one of the few RPGs I enjoy on iOS, and its excellence makes me excited for the upcoming Shadowrun and Wasteland games for the iPad.

Exile series [Wikipedia]

Escape Velocity (Ambrosia Software, 1996)

The Escape Velocity series ranks high in my list of best series of all time. I spent hundreds of hours with the three games that make up the Escape Velocity trilogy. The game is an addicting mix of top down space shooter and rogue-like exploration. Think Wing Commander: Privateer but in top-down 2d with more ships and weapons and all manners of upgrades and loot. The mod scene was also particularly strong. Full conversions were built for Star Trek and Star Wars ships and loot.

The closest game I've been able to find that matches the gameplay and ultimate replayability of Escape Velocity is Transcendence, a free game for Windows initially released many years ago. It ups the rogue-like aspect of Escape Velocity even more.

Escape Velocity [Wikipedia]

And beyond

There are a ton more games after the mid to late 1990s for the Mac. There were less original titles after this point, however. But, tt would be remiss to not at least list of the the other games I enjoyed that aren't listed above: Ares, Avara, Myth: The Fallen Lords, and Crystal Quest.

I'm certain I've missed some. That old Mac SE with its 20MB hard drive and 9 inch screen is still in my parents' house in the attic somewhere. I should find it and see if it still works. Between gaming, writing school papers with a copy of Microsoft Word 5.1 stored on a floppy, and using early versions of NCSA Telnet to play MUDs like Avatar.

Good times.