Interview : The Secret History of Mac Gaming

Richard Moss writes about video games, actual and old (among many topics). In particular, he is documenting the underrated historical importance of the numerous games that were available for Mac computers in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. At the moment, Richard is running a crowdfunding campaign to turn this project into a book.

My father was a teacher. I started playing video games with the games he copied at school, just for me, from other teachers’ floppy disks, and Dark Castle and Stuntcopter are some of the oldest video games I can remember playing. This topic is very sensitive to me, so after backing the project, I contacted Richard, who accepted to answer a few questions for this blog.

I hope you will have as much pleasure as I had reading his answers below. And if it is the case, maybe you will want to have a look at his crowdfunding projet : The Secret History of Mac Gaming.


Y.R. How did you start playing Mac games? When did this dedication to Mac games begin?

R.M. I probably started playing Mac games before I could walk. I don’t remember exactly. My dad bought a Macintosh Plus before I was born, and at some point in my early childhood I began to learn how to use it. I played children’s games like Albert’s House and Spelunx (an early game by the Myst developers) as well as various other age-appropriate games. I can remember Phrase Craze Plus, Artillery, Banzai, At the Carnival, SimCity, Gilder, and Dark Castle in particular from those early days discovering games in the late 80s/early 90s.

I always loved playing games on the Mac at home, but as I got older I realised that, aside from a small selection of games that had come over from the PC, most Mac games were only available on the Mac. What’s more, the games I had on my Mac were unlike the games I found on PC and console. They had a different character, and I felt they were more creative — like how the Glider series turned a mundane, ordinary house into something whimsical and extraordinary or how Marathon offered both greater scares with less gore and a far more involved and thoughtful storyline than the top PC first-person shooters like Quake and Duke Nukem 3D.

darkcastle
Dark Castle (1986) title screen.

Y.R. How did your project of writing a book on that subject start?

R.M. I was bewildered by comments from non-Mac people about how there weren’t any games on the Mac. I knew of lots, and many of them were every bit as good as — if not better than — the games I played on Super Nintendo and PlayStation and Windows PCs. So I began to educate people, and when I first started writing online in 2010 I put a lot of energy into highlighting these wonderful Mac games.

By 2011 I was writing professionally, and I had much less time to do this. But the idea of how the great Mac games don’t get enough attention stayed with me. My writing speciality soon became in-depth articles about the people behind games, and I realised that the stories behind the Mac gaming scene in the 80s and 90s were mostly unrecorded. Very little had been written about the shareware developers who became stars among the Mac crowd just as Apple entered its darkest days. Nor had much been written on the innovations of early Macintosh developers — who explored mouse-driven gaming and high-resolution graphics years before these things became standard on PC.

I saw a chance to share the stories of the people for whom “Think Different” was not just a marketing tagline to sell Macs but a philosophy to live by. Making games is hard and requires a lot of passion, and these Mac developers could offer a different perspective on the industry and creative practices. So I started planning a book, then I began conducting interviews and honing and developing that plan. That was two and a half years ago.

glidoldniv
Glider (1991).

Y.R. Why did you turn to a crowdfunding campaign? What kind of feedbacks do you receive?

R.M. A book on the history of Mac gaming is a tough one to sell to publishers. The potential audience is large, but it’s very spread out and poorly concentrated. People who have fond memories of using a Mac in the 80s and 90s are spread all around different industries and interest groups. And in my research of the publishing landscape I found it very hard to find a publisher that this book suited. I approached a few small publishers that have done similar kinds of technology and/or games history, but unfortunately they weren’t in a position to take on the project.

One of them introduced me to the head of publishing at Unbound. I had a chat to the publisher and they seemed to understand what I wanted to do with the book. They loved the idea and my proposal. And they could offer a platform that allows me to retain control while also getting most of the support mechanisms of a conventional publisher — editing, design, production, printing, and marketing expertise. The caveat is that they only publish books that can get production costs covered by a crowdfunding campaign.

It was scary and weird at first, but I am getting used to asking people to not just pay money for a copy of the book but to believe in me and my project and to commit to helping see it over the line.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far, although a small percentage of people openly dismiss the book (like “what is it four pages long?”). Most people who take the time to look through the campaign page and watch the pitch video seem to be enthusiastic about it (though sadly not all of them are able or willing to pledge). Some have reached out over email or Twitter or on the campaign page to offer help or make suggestions. It’s also been wonderful to have the people I’m writing about get behind the project and believe in my ability to tell their stories.

I had not expected to have anybody write in to show their support or to have people I’ve never met excitedly telling their friends and Twitter followers to pledge. It’s also been encouraging to raise nearly a third of the target funds in just a sixth of the campaign — the campaign runs for three months, and we reached 29% after 16 days. I thought it would be harder and take longer to get this far.

Y.R. What are, in your opinion, the main games in the history of Macintosh?

R.M. Enchanted Scepters; Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True, which was the first MacVenture game and an important early graphic adventure; StuntCopter; The Colony; Dark Castle; Crystal Quest; A Fool’s Errand; Glider; The Manhole, which was Cyan’s first game; Spaceship Warlock; Myst; Pathways Into Darkness; the Marathon series; Myth; Maelstrom; Escape Velocity; Burning Monkey Solitaire; Spin Doctor; Alice aka Through the Looking Glass; Nanosaur; Bugdom; Clan Lord; Spectre; Scarab of Ra; Ray’s Maze; F/A-18 Hornet; Cap’n Magneto; ChipWits; Shufflepuck Cafe; Bolo; Balance of Power.

And as long as that list is, it barely scratches the surface of what games were available and notable on the Mac.

Y.R. Today, a much higher proportion of games are developed on all platforms (Windows, OS X, linux), which is good news for Mac users but raises the following question: is there a living Mac games tradition today or are Mac games a closed historical period in the history of gaming?

R.M. There’s very little to distinguish Mac gaming from Windows or Linux gaming nowadays. Mac-only games are extremely rare, and the Mac gaming community has shrunken significantly despite a large increase in total number of people playing games on Mac computers. There are a few people like Ric Molina from MacGamerHQ still carrying the torch for Mac games media, and as you say there are way more games coming out for Mac now that porting is so easy and that major development engines like Unity and Unreal have built-in Mac support.

But I feel like the era of Mac gaming as a distinct thing is over. It faded away in the mid-2000s, leading into and coming out of the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors in Macs. I now think of PC gaming as encompassing Mac and Linux as well as Windows, except with specific needs to be addressed on these two smaller platforms. And much of that old Mac gaming spirit lives in on the indie gaming community at large and in the iOS developers who embraced the iPhone in its early days.

Y.R. Thank you Richard for these answers. Good luck with the campaign!

More

The website Le grenier du Mac hosts a significant number of old Mac games.

If you want to play Dark Castle, Return to Dark Castle (for OS X) gathers Dark Castle, its follow-up Beyond Dark Castle, and whole new levels.

Today, all three Marathon games (developed by Bungie) are open source and run natively on Mac, Linux and Windows. They are available on Bungie’s website.


The header is a screenshot from Dark Castle (Silicon Beach Software, 1986).

Yannick Rochat

Yannick Rochat

Yannick Rochat est premier assistant à l’Université de Lausanne et chercheur en digital humanities, un domaine où se rencontrent informatique, mathématiques et sciences humaines et sociales. Ses travaux portent notamment sur les réseaux, les twitterbots, les game & play studies, et les archives de journaux. Mathématicien de l’EPFL, il est également docteur en mathématiques appliquées aux sciences humaines et sociales de l’UNIL.

Une réponse à “Interview : The Secret History of Mac Gaming

  1. Mon grand frère adorait le Mac Gaming quand on était plus jeune. Cela me rend nostalgique de lire cet article. Je me souviens parfaitement de Dark Castle. C’était l’un de ses préférés.

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