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Series: Gaming Gift Ideas
Entertainment and game gift suggestions from TidBITS readers
Article 1 of 9 in series
Tomb Raider II -- Saint John says: "If I hadn't pre-ordered it six months in advance, I'd be ecstatic to see a copy of Aspyr Media's Tomb Raider II under my treeShow full article
Tomb Raider II -- Saint John <email@example.com> says: "If I hadn't pre-ordered it six months in advance, I'd be ecstatic to see a copy of Aspyr Media's Tomb Raider II under my tree. Anyone who does action games knows about this one. It's nearly perfect for the budding Indiana Jones. The scenery is always good, and sometimes great. The camera doesn't show Lara Croft's vision, but rather works like a John Woo film, tracking her from suitable angles as she runs about. There's incidental music and sound effects - you can tell where the bad guys are walking if you have stereo speakers. The story (told largely in QuickTime movies between levels) is not just 'Aliens have attacked - shoot everything' - and, even so, you don't need precision mousing skills merely to shoot the bad guys. Lara is quite capable of aiming her own guns. Aspyr has put some Mac sensibility into the interface, making it better than a mere DOS port. There are many action games out there, but if I was stranded on a desert island I'd want Tomb Raider II."
Battle-girl -- Michael O'Hara <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes: "I'd second a recommendation of Tomb Raider II; however, I'd also like to recommend a shoot'em-up, Battle-girl. It isn't even 3D, but it doesn't matter: Battle-girl is a real time sink featuring frenetic action and yummy music. It also works well on older PowerPC-based Macs, where Tomb Raider II might have a problem."
Galapagos -- No, not the turtles or the islands. This suggestion from Saint John <email@example.com> came in response to a request for visual, non-violent games. Saint John writes: "Galapagos is an older 3D game that didn't make many waves when it came out. Although it's possible (and in fact likely) that the character, Mendel, will be destroyed by a trap she has to get through, she doesn't kill anything. And its non-traditional play makes it uniquely involving. You don't control Mendel so much as you control her environment - switching dangerous areas off, shepherding her into the next room, and so on. Mendel will learn in time not to go in certain directions, but without your help she's doomed. It's not exactly Starship Titanic, but it's not Starship Troopers either. I have a review of it online, and you can see more info at Anark, which developed it, and at Electronic Arts, which distributed it."
You Don't Know Jack -- Mark Altenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org> offers the You Don't Know Jack series from Berkeley Systems as a game idea for people who don't like computer games. "This series has the amazing ability to turn your computer into a game show and it virtually makes the computer disappear: the experience is quite different from any other computer game. Very funny and irreverent, too! Highly recommended, especially for people who thought they'd never play a computer game!"
Snood -- Phil Landis <email@example.com> recommends Snood, "a fun game which both adults and children seem to find addictive. You can download and play it free (without the custom difficulty settings). Registration provides full capability and is only $10."
Myth -- Mike Weber <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes: "I have to put in a plug for one of my favorite games of all time, Myth from Bungie. It's as gory as they get, but the play world is amazing. Third-person 3D views from any angle, in real time! Network play facilitated by the free bungie.net! Incredible 3D sound effects! I played the Myth demo for months before finally caving in and buying the actual game. The demo even lets you sample network play: good enough for weeks of fun. Myth II has just been completed and should be available shortly."
Article 2 of 9 in series
Get Goofy over Golf -- Lisa Thompson recommends Goofy Golf Deluxe ($25, demo available) as an alternative to shoot-em-up titles. "Goofy Golf Deluxe should be enjoyed by many users - except maybe those who don't bother with bloodless games or who have some aversion to miniature golfShow full article
Get Goofy over Golf -- Lisa Thompson <email@example.com> recommends Goofy Golf Deluxe ($25, demo available) as an alternative to shoot-em-up titles. "Goofy Golf Deluxe should be enjoyed by many users - except maybe those who don't bother with bloodless games or who have some aversion to miniature golf. It's simple to play - the instructions fit on one panel of the CD sleeve. It comes with only three 18-hole courses, but you can make your own courses and download others from the company's Web site. The course designer program is very un-Mac-like, but usable."
Urban Sprawl -- Anton Rang <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests tempting your megalomaniac friends with Maxis's SimCity 3000. "I recently pulled out my old copy of SimCity Classic and, after playing with it for a couple of evenings, realized it's pretty limiting. On a whim, I picked up SimCity 3000, and it's much more interesting. There are a lot of variables to play with, your city can develop quite differently on each play, and the graphics are much improved over the original (which also helps keep the game interesting). My only complaint is that parts of the interface (particularly opening and saving files) are very Windows-like. Once the game is running, though, it has its own easy-to-use city planning interface."
Build Your Own Civilization -- Dan O'Donnell <Dan.O'Donnel@nbc.com> took the builder approach one step further by suggesting the world-building strategy game Civilization II Gold. "Designed for older children, teens (and adults) this allows single or multiple players to build societies by going through the stages and details of the development of civilization, - either on existing or user-designed land masses - from about 3000 B.C. to 2020 A.D. You can also play out scenarios based on how the world as we know it developed. Many scenarios are included, there is good printed and online help (including descriptions of the developments of civilization and wonders of the world), and the game can be played across a LAN or over the Internet." TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan once spent far too much time playing Civilization II Gold against his music student and his friends over the Internet. "There's nothing quite like trying to take over a world where all the other nations are controlled by teenagers."
Article 3 of 9 in series
Cro-Mag Rally -- List Kreme wrote in part to warn people away from Risk II because of its "horrible and thoughtless" interface. Far more attractive, however, was Cro-Mag Rally, which he felt looked like a lot of funShow full article
Cro-Mag Rally -- List Kreme <email@example.com> wrote in part to warn people away from Risk II because of its "horrible and thoughtless" interface. Far more attractive, however, was Cro-Mag Rally, which he felt looked like a lot of fun. "The game is hard, but it looks gorgeous, the action is fast, the response is good and the idea is pretty cool." In the game, you play a speed-hungry caveman who races through the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages in primitive vehicles armed with a variety of primitive weaponry. It offers modes for one player, two players on the same computer, and up to six players on a network.
Pod Racer -- Forget the trench scene from Star Wars - for speed freaks nothing beats the pod race in Star Wars, Episode I. Either way, Chris Hanson <firstname.lastname@example.org> recommends "Star Wars Episode I Racer," better known among his friends as "pod racer." It's another racing game, but this time you're rocketing your vehicle at 600 miles per hour. It only runs on PowerPC G3-based systems, but "it's inexpensive, very easy to play, supports LAN and (with GameRanger) Internet play, and addicting." If you thought the pod racing scene was the best part of the movie, you'll find yourself in a galaxy far, far away for hours on end.
Gridz -- When your adrenaline has hit its peak levels from pod racing, Chris also recommends Gridz from Mac-centric publisher Green Dragon Creations. "Gridz is a great action-strategy territory-capture game. Kids really take to it, and it's fun for all ages. Your goal is to capture territory and destroy your opponents by fencing off portions of a grid and building robots which 'activate' the tiles you've fenced off, and which can attack your opponents' robots and fences. The more tiles you have fenced off, the more energy you generate and the more robots you can build."
iPoker -- Some would argue that the greatest achievement attained by personal computers is automatic card deck reshuffling (can you deny that Solitaire is probably the most-launched Windows application?). If you're looking for higher stakes, Gordon Meyer <email@example.com> recommends checking out iPoker 2000 by Scenario Software. "iPoker plays about 80 different poker games, has good graphics, and is very Mac-like. As a casual player, it is very easy to use and provides a great way to learn and enjoy the game. For more serious players, there are plenty of advanced features that will help you in betting and strategy. Everyone I've shown this game to, even if they're not a card player, has been very impressed."
Freeverse Card Games -- Another fan of card games is Conrad M. Hirano <firstname.lastname@example.org>, who recommends choosing from Freeverse Software's selection of card games. You can play against the computer or challenge other players online via the HMS Freeverse Server. The games offer a tutoring mode for novices, as well as popular variations of each game. "I've played only Spades and Hearts, but Freeverse also has versions of Euchre, Cribbage, and others, and has just recently released a Bridge game. These games may not appeal to those users demanding the adrenaline rush from the latest action game, but I've found these games addicting. I've been up late numerous nights battling it out on the card table with other night owls."
Fly Your Own Warthog: A-10 -- You don't need the biggest and fastest Mac to enjoy a good game. Hank Harken <email@example.com> takes to the sky with a now-classic flight simulator, Parsoft's A-10 Attack and A-10 Cuba. "Bored with tooling around the sky and looking at the landscape in a regular flight simulator? Liven things up: have someone shoot at you, make decisions on weapons loadouts, learn to use laser guided weaponry, try to survive unfriendly neighbors, and more. These two flight simulators will run on 68040-based Macs (slow), but will nicely complement your iMac.
"Even better, you can get these as part of special game bundles. For example, A-10 Cuba is included on Starplay Productions Inc.'s 10 Tons of Fun game bundle. They're not recent releases but have given me lots of challenging diversion. Even repeatedly playing the same scenario never seems exactly the same twice. Get two copies of A-10 Cuba and go head-to-head against your buddy in network combat. My only complaint is that the manual tells you how to operate everything in the aircraft and how to set and launch weapons, but there is no tactical information, i.e. best practices in using the aircraft and its weapons in combat situations, something in which I expect every Air Force pilot is trained. Let's just say that you'll lose many virtual lives during your OJT (on the job training)."
The Sims -- Looking to make someone who doesn't typically like video games miserably addicted to their computer? Give them a copy of The Sims, a sort of role-playing, real-life "adventure" that's a logical progression from SimCity. Instead of managing people in aggregate (in the form of industries, building, and so on) as in SimCity, you manage individuals. Choose or make a family, build a house, help them find jobs, and then take off the mundane details like washing dishes and frying burgers on the BBQ. The Mac version, through the developer Aspyr, offers add-ons to the game, such as potted plants, a pinball machine, and other items one can buy (sort of like the original Wheel of Fortune). A new add-on pack called The Sims: Livin' Large, adds a variety of new building styles, decoration ideas, and characters, including the grim reaper. "Just ask my girlfriend about the 'miserably addicted' part," says Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>. "The TV ads are brilliant. And beware the hamster; that's all I'll say." System requirements are high: a PowerPC G3-based Mac or better is needed, along with lots of RAM and hard disk space.
Deus Ex -- First-person shooter games like Doom or Duke Nukem can feel flat after a while: enter room, shoot everything that moves, move on to next room. For more of a thinking-person's action game, try Jeff Carlson's <email@example.com> latest addiction Deus Ex. You portray the role of a nanotechnology-augmented secret agent in the near future, gradually unraveling a myriad of conspiracies. There's plenty of action, but the game also calls for times when creeping quietly in the shadows is the best defense against the bad guys. Like others of its ilk, Deus Ex prefers plenty of hardware (at least a PowerPC G3-based Mac with lots of RAM).
The Settlers of Catan -- Rick Holzgrafe <firstname.lastname@example.org> suggests a non-computer game that is a family favorite: The Settlers of Catan. He writes, "This is a board game for three to four people - happily my wife and I have two kids of the right age, so the game is perfectly sized for us. The board represents an island with various areas that produce grain, ore, lumber, and so on. Players start out with single settlements and try to expand their colonies by judicious use of resources. Points are awarded for various accomplishments and the winner is the first to reach ten points.
"The Settlers of Catan is an award-winning game with a number of innovative features. For example, although players take turns rolling dice and getting things done in the usual way, every roll of the dice gives every player something to do even if it's not their turn. This keeps the game constantly interesting; nobody gets bored waiting for their turn. Another interesting point is that the 'board' is actually made of a couple of dozen separate tiles; during setup the tiles are shuffled before being laid out, so you get a different board every time.
"Settlers of Catan is a strategy game with an element of luck. The box says 'ages 12 and up' and the rules are somewhat complex. But our 9-year-old plays a killer game and we've long since stopped giving him handicaps. We adults find it fascinating and we play as enthusiastically as the kids. Games take up to two hours to complete. Two people could play but it's really best with at least three. Strongly recommended!"
Article 4 of 9 in series
Perhaps it's a part of getting older, of becoming ever busier, or perhaps - for Adam and Tonya - just having a three-year-old around the house, but immersive computer games haven't been a large part of our lives for yearsShow full article
Perhaps it's a part of getting older, of becoming ever busier, or perhaps - for Adam and Tonya - just having a three-year-old around the house, but immersive computer games haven't been a large part of our lives for years. Even still, this year's game suggestions sound attractive, especially for those of us who have never quite been able to stomach the first-person blood-and-gore shooter games.
Older games are often as much fun now as they were when first released, so if you're looking for more ideas, check out titles from previous years, those that made it into our issues and the full details in the TidBITS Talk threads.
iPinocchio iCards -- Andy J. W. Affleck contributed the first suggestion, writing, "I've had it for all of two days, but iPuppet: Colin's Classic Cards from Aspyr and Freeverse Software is wonderful. I've actually been a user of their Hearts and 3D Euchre Deluxe from Freeverse for years now. Anyway, the $35 iPuppet is the latest incarnation of these two games along with two more, Pitch and Spades, thrown in as well. You play cards in a 3D environment (the CD-ROM comes with many different locations) against a wide range of puppets, both cartoon and photographed (Colin, now named Horatio, has long been my partner for Euchre while Ian and Kate are my arch enemies. My dream world is to play them online in this combination one day). The game supports networked play, though I haven't tested it out in this new version yet.
"As if all of this weren't enough, it has a built-in MP3 player and playlists that you can share across all four games. The games themselves are well played and there is a built-in tutor to help you learn them. There's even a telepathy feature should you want to cheat (or see what weird thoughts the various characters have). Overall, iPuppet has excellent game play, opponents who actually make the game challenging, network play, great graphics/sounds, and it works under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. The only downside is that my wife keeps stealing my laptop to play."
Gettin' Jiggy With It -- Continuing with the computerized version of real-world games, Peter Haglich offered this suggestion. "One game I'm fond of (and which would make a good gift for anyone 8 and older) is Jiggy, a timed jigsaw puzzle game. An image of the completed puzzle is shown to the player for a brief interval, then it is hidden and puzzle pieces drop on the right side for placement on the puzzle. You play until the puzzle piece receptacle fills up. Jiggy provides you with a number of puzzles, or you can also import your own graphics for the puzzles. This gives you the opportunity to personalize your gift by including graphics which have meaning for the recipient.
"Jiggy works under Mac OS 8.6 or later, or Mac OS X. You can download a trial version that has only 10 levels and doesn't allow importing of graphics; a $15 shareware fee gets you a CD-ROM with 35 levels and the graphics importing feature. A portion of the registration fee for each full version is donated to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation."
Article 5 of 9 in series
We rarely find time to delve into the fantasy world of computer games, but our readers came through with a number of suggestions for their favorite gamesShow full article
We rarely find time to delve into the fantasy world of computer games, but our readers came through with a number of suggestions for their favorite games. Two of them - The Sims and Tropico - even provide fantasy worlds that simulate the real world.
Although the game market itself moves forward at a frenetic pace, don't discount the games of yesteryear for those people who don't need the latest and greatest. Graphics and sound capabilities may have improved over time, but plenty of older games still provide great game play. Check out the suggestions from previous years for these blasts from the past and do some hunting around on eBay or discount software sites if the publisher no longer sells the game you want.
The Sims -- LuKreme suggested a hit game that appeared on this list back in 2000 as well. "I know The Sims has been perched on top of the best sellers list (both Mac and PC) for a long time now, but there is a reason for it. With the upcoming introduction of The Sims Online now is a great time to get someone hooked in to the simulated world of The Sims.
"The Sims appeals to all sorts of people, from pre-teens to seniors, and to women as much as men. It's mostly noncompetitive and is engrossing. The online version promises to make it even more so by putting you directly in the game (instead of making you a 'Hand of God') and by making all the other Sims you interact with be real people as well. It's the ultimate chat room, with just enough 'game' to make it that much more interesting.
"So far the Mac releases have been keeping fairly good time with the PC, but I don't know a release date for the new Sims Online product. Still, the older Sims game and its numerous expansion packs are a lot of fun, if a bit addictive."
Tropico -- Saint John chimed in to suggest another simulation. "It may be more than a year old, but my game pick of the year is the tropical island simulation Tropico, by PopTop Software. I remember the old Hammurabi games, but Tropico is as far beyond that as the Sims are from a Barbie Malibu Dream House. For one thing, your control isn't absolute; you can set pay scales in order to attract certain kinds of laborers in certain areas, but if it isn't worth it to them (read: if their happiness isn't high enough) your citizenry won't work where you want them to. And you can get an idea of your population's happiness by getting statistical reports on them - or by spying on their thoughts! If enough people want to go to church, well, it behooves you to build one. More food? Convert some of those tobacco farms into something less profitable but more edible. Your dictator must survive occasional elections, so it's worthwhile to keep the locals content.
"Like PopTop's previous hit, Railroad Tycoon II, Tropico is full of animated wonders. The people don't just exist as numbers, but as little graphical people that go from home to work, and perhaps to the cantina afterward. You can follow an individual around. (I seem to zoom in on showgirls more often than other professions...) Each has a name, and even a unique personality. Some may run against you, others may foment revolution, and yet others may visit your country if there are enough tourist attractions. (Even cows have their own particular philosophies - it's worth building a cattle ranch just to listen in on them!) As the years go by, the babies grow into teenagers, and then adults - and they may switch jobs if something suits them better. And you can watch it all from your palace.
"The music is worth mentioning, too. Sound has always been a PopTop specialty. As you scrolled about the landscape in Railroad Tycoon II, you heard sounds of nature or industry, fading as you scrolled away from the area in question. They commissioned lots of music for Tropico, and anyone who has even a slight appreciation for the Latin beat will really get into it! Since the music files are stored as MP3s, it would take only a little effort to put them on your iPod.
"Tropico even has a couple of expansion packs: Mucho Macho and Paradise Island. Maybe I'll find them in my stocking! The basic game, though, is definitely worth the price for any simulation or world-building gamer. Tropico II: Pirate Cove is due out for Windows real soon now, so if all goes well, next year I may recommend that for the Mac."
Bejeweled Deluxe -- Changing gears, Jack Daniyel Strong recommended a strategy game. "I highly recommend Bejeweled Deluxe from PopCap and the Omni Group. The idea is simple: rearrange shimmering gems to make patterns and rack up points. You can play against the clock or attempt to keep your sanity with a regular game.
"You can download Bejeweled Deluxe and try it for free; registering costs $20. However, .Mac members can save $5 by downloading the trial version from their iDisk's Software folder and registering through the Register link in the .Mac trial version."
After comparing Bejeweled Deluxe to the classic (and previously recommended, in 1998) Snood, now in beta for Mac OS X, Michael House seconded Jack's recommendation but warned that "Bejeweled Deluxe, and PopCap games in general, seem to be resource hogs, especially where CPU cycles are concerned. I get barely adequate performance on my 500 MHz iBook with 640 MB RAM in thousands of colors under Mac OS X 10.2.2. It runs acceptably on my new 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 768 MB RAM and Mac OS X 10.2.2 in millions of colors, but it can still hiccup if anything is running in the background."
Article 6 of 9 in series
Project deadlines, financial pressures, trouble erupting in all corners of the world - sometimes you just want to escape it all for a few minutes. That's where games come inShow full article
Project deadlines, financial pressures, trouble erupting in all corners of the world - sometimes you just want to escape it all for a few minutes. That's where games come in. This year's gaming ideas touch on both standard fantasy and adventure fare, as well as on novel entrants such as a title that's controlled by your body movements in front of a camera.
Although the game market itself moves forward at a frenetic pace, don't discount the games of yesteryear for those people who don't need the latest and greatest. Graphics and sound capabilities may have improved over time, but plenty of older games still provide great game play. Check out the suggestions from previous years for these blasts from the past and do some hunting around on eBay or discount software sites if the publisher no longer sells the game you want.
For Those Cold Neverwinter Nights -- LuKreme wrote, "Probably the best new Macintosh game this year is the BioWare computer role-playing game Neverwinter Nights. One thing that makes the game so appealing, beyond the great look, well-designed interface, and multi-player support, is that there are thousands of modules and expansions that can change the scope of the game radically. If you're not a fan of the 'hack and slash' mentality of most role-playing games, there are modules or servers that emphasize story, role playing, social interactions, and more."
Get Unreal -- Karl Kornel offered another role-playing game of the first-person, shoot-everything-in-sight variety: Unreal Tournament 2003 from MacSoft. He notes, "The graphics in Unreal Tournament are amazing, the sound is theater-like (on my little two-speaker-plus-sub system), and it has enough modes of play to give you a fun game even if you only have 30 minutes. There's also a recent update that fixes many problems that Unreal Tournament 2003 had with Panther and claims a performance increase of 25 percent or more."
Games for the Solitary -- Andy Affleck sticks with a perennial suggestion: Semicolon Software's Solitaire Till Dawn, which is available in separate versions for the classic Mac OS and Mac OS X. "I rarely have time to play games any more but this one is the one I keep finding time for. Or rather, I tend to play games which take very little time so I can squeeze them in whenever I need to. I've tried many of the solitaire games for the Mac and this is the one I like best. The interface is simple, elegant, and it just works. It doesn't have overly fancy graphics, but they're fine (I use a deck of cards with a picture of my son as the back) and it eschews fluff like an over-the-top splash screen, winning graphics, and so on. You just play cards, and that's precisely what I want to do."
Nik Friedman provides an alternative suggestion: Burning Monkey Solitaire (or Burning Monkey Mahjong Solitaire) from Freeverse. "It offers great card games, great time wasters, and is appealing to folks who aren't big gamers but want something fun on their computer."
Let's Get Physical! Les Carter offered a unique idea for anyone with a FireWire video camera and some extra energy. "I've been beta testing a great new game that would be the perfect gift for all the family this Christmas. If your recipient has a Mac and an iSight (or any other FireWire webcam, or DV camcorder) then have a look at ToySight, which is a cool little pack of games for the Mac that are totally controlled by the player's motion in front of the camera. I can honestly say that I haven't had as much fun with a game for ages, and I also got a bit of a workout into the bargain!"
Breaking out of the Data Center -- Chuck Goolsbee of digital.forest agreed with Andy's comment earlier about not having much time to play games. So when he's not watching the digital.forest network that keeps the TidBITS servers accessible to the world, Chuck grabs a quick game of DX-Ball. "My little time waster is DX-Ball, a shareware Breakout-style game, that is very well done. You can play quick little sessions, or all night, if you are good enough, and it's cheap at $10."
Breakout-style games are enjoying a renaissance, since one is built into the iPod now and LuKreme recommended another. "The $16 shareware Colibricks, which was the first game I played under Mac OS X is still a winner. It's a game in the style of Breakout, or more correctly, Arkanoid (if anyone remembers that arcade version of Breakout). I really like the physics model in Colibricks, and the insanely difficult levels you can play by using 'random level' option, which lets you get a taste for the impossible higher levels without having to play for six hours. It also allows you to save your game, so you can save when you are doing well and go back when you stupidly lose 3 balls in 30 seconds."
The Game of Kings (and Queens) -- Kirk McElhearn is tending toward the more cerebral games. "I'm just getting serious about playing chess again, and the best bargain out there is Sigma Chess, which comes in two versions: a free basic version, which will beat the pants off me for a long time, and a $15 pro version, which offers extra features for serious players. The program is fast, attractive and strong."
It's Just Enigmatic -- Christopher Ungeheier and Nik Friedman both recommended the 3-D puzzle game Enigmo, from Pangea. Nik found it relaxing, fun, challenging but not too challenging, and overall just a great game. Chris agreed, adding "You can also download more levels from Pangea's Web site, and for those who find it too challenging, there's a level editor so you can create your own fun."
Pull Some Virtual Gs -- Now here's an unusual idea. Tomoharu Nishino turned us on to NoLimitsSimulator from Mad-Data. "It's a quite realistic roller coaster simulator - nothing beats feeling the G-forces of the real thing, but NoLimitsSimulator comes pretty close. It comes with 50 or so pre-built tracks featuring the world's most famous roller coasters. It also allows you to build and simulate your own rides; the build environment is robust but complex, making it more like a CAD program than a game. Obviously as with any simulation application of this type, NoLimitsSimulator benefits from a fast computer with a fast graphics card; it's absolutely gorgeous on a new Power Mac G5 but is still quite good even on an aging 800 MHz PowerBook G4. At $25, NoLimitsSimulator is perfect for the roller coaster junkie or an engineering type."
Article 7 of 9 in series
All work and no play... hey, wait a minute, that sounds suspiciously close to home. At least TidBITS readers are a bit better about switching away from the productivity applicationsShow full article
All work and no play... hey, wait a minute, that sounds suspiciously close to home. At least TidBITS readers are a bit better about switching away from the productivity applications. Even more so than with other software, we encourage you to check out recommendations from previous years, since many of those games remain extremely enjoyable for those who weren't exposed to them originally.
Is That a Tank in Your Pocket, Or... Jamie Kahn Genet wrote, "I recommend Pocket Tanks. Anyone who ever loved Scorched Earth will find this $16 Mac OS X artillery game fantastic fun. It's dead easy to learn with numerous outlandish weapons, each with its own blast pattern. Two player mode is highly addictive and appeals to young and old alike.
"Oh, and for any gamer wanting to be taken seriously by the old school who missed them the first time round, or lost their copy, I recommend the Marathon Trilogy Box Set (but good luck finding a copy) and/or Bungie Action Sack (a lot easier to locate on eBay, plus it has every other pre-Myth Bungie game), Myth: the Total Codex ($25, with new fan-created updates you can play under Mac OS X!) or get Myth:TFL and Myth 2 separately, and System Shock (an amazing FPS/RPG for its time that disappointingly fell under the radar of most Doom-obsessed gamers). There are a wealth of treats to be had from old Mac games if you are so inclined."
Airburst Extreme -- Nik Friedman recommended Freeverse's Airburst Extreme. "Fun for the whole family. Cheap ($30), non-violent (well, pretty much), and it has great multi-player options. It's a fast-paced arcade game in which you play an alien of some sort sitting on a ring of balloons. You attempt to pop your opponents' balloons with a bouncing spiked ball. Kind of like a fighting game version of Breakout. Bizarre power ups, a variety of variations on the basic game theme (including racing, grenades, a story mode, soccer, and a seemingly infinite number of other options), and a funky techno soundtrack make for an extremely addictive mix!"
Gish -- Jeff Porten wrote, "I don't recall where I found it, but I've been extremely impressed with Gish ($20). You see, you're this ball of tar, and you're fighting robots and snarly round creatures and... oh, just go download the demo. What makes this game for me is that the physics of the tarball seem accurate. If you try to stick to a ceiling but you're moving too fast, you rebound off at an angle. Your avatar is a thick fluid, and reacts accordingly. Takes a while to learn all of the things the guy can do (especially throwing rocks at high velocity), but it's a lot of fun in the process."
Solitaire Till Dawn... Again -- Andy J. W. Affleck commented, "As usual, here's my annual plug for my favorite game: Semicolon Software's Solitaire Till Dawn, which is available in separate versions for the classic Mac OS and Mac OS X ($25). I rarely have time to play games any more, but this is the one I keep finding time for. Or rather, I tend to play games which take very little time so I can squeeze them in whenever I need to. I've tried many of the solitaire games for the Mac and this is the one I like best. The interface is simple, elegant, and it just works. It doesn't have overly fancy graphics, but they're fine (I use a deck of cards with a picture of my son as the back) and it eschews fluff like an over-the-top splash screen, winning graphics, and so on. You just play cards, and that's precisely what I want to do."
A Mixed Bag -- Kevin van Haaren concurred with Andy's recommendation of Solitaire Till Dawn and managed to change the subject several times in almost the same breath. "It's one of my favorites too, for the same reason. I'd love to have a Palm version as all the Palm solitaires I've found aren't nearly as nice. Speaking of Palm games, I like the quick little games, like some of the solitaires in Solitaire Till Dawn. Bejeweled is probably the most well-known of these types of games. I picked up the Pop Cap Games Pack ($30) that has five of these types of games (Bejeweled and Atomica! are my favorites.)
"I also see Bejeweled 2 is available ($20), although the version for Mac OS X doesn't appear to be available yet. And the Web version doesn't want to work for me in Safari or Camino.
"Another great game for Mac OS X is the free Bubble Pop from Lobotomo Software."
Neverwinter Nights -- Andy also expanded his game playing beyond cards. He continued, "Even though I plug Solitaire Till Dawn every year, I do try other games. This year I played another game so much that I have to recommend it as well: Neverwinter Nights."
Set in the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy realm, Neverwinter Nights is a role-playing game that provides the visuals and action you may remember from days of rolling 12-sided dice.
"I downloaded the demo (240 MB) on a whim and fully expected to play it for a minute and then toss it. I ended up buying the game ($50), completing it over a few months, buying expansion packs and downloading modules, and getting my buddy to buy the game so he and I could play online. It's that good. Certainly get the demo and see for yourself. Note that you need some hefty graphics processing power to get the most out of it, but it is well worth it."
Battlefield 1942 -- You'd think that putting out a TidBITS issue every week and working on other projects would be enough computer exposure, but Managing Editor Jeff Carlson likes to relieve stress occasionally by playing the first-person World War II shooter Battlefield 1942: Deluxe Edition ($50).
He wrote, "Although it doesn't have the best graphics on the market, Battlefield 1942 features some of the best online play: liberate Stalingrad or defend Britain with dozens of other players, using airplanes, submarines, tanks, and other equipment. I like to jump into a game for small chunks of time and not worry about having to spend hours completing a mission - though you can play an entire campaign as a single player against the computer."
Article 8 of 9 in series
For the most part, we don't play games - real life is challenging enough, and you can't beat its graphics or immersive experience. But there are still plenty of times when a computer game would be just the thingShow full article
For the most part, we don't play games - real life is challenging enough, and you can't beat its graphics or immersive experience. But there are still plenty of times when a computer game would be just the thing. Even more so than with other software, we encourage you to check out recommendations from previous years, since many of those games remain extremely enjoyable for those who weren't exposed to them originally, and you can probably pick them up cheaply from previous owners or on eBay.
Serious Flight Simulation -- Some things are predictable, and one of them is Andy J. W. Affleck's suggestion of Solitaire Till Dawn from Semicolon Software ($25). He also reiterated his plug for Neverwinter Nights ($50) from last year before heading into new territory. "This year, my new obsession was my birthday present to myself. I got both a Saitek Cyborg Evo joystick ($70) and X-Plane ($80). The two, together, create a fantastic flight simulation which transcends simple messing about in planes. They become a tool for anyone who wishes to learn to fly. I've been working through online tutorials that discuss the basics of flight (from the theoretical to the mechanical) and working with X-Plane to practice. I certainly don't feel that I could take the stick of a plane after the pilots have been overtaken by food poisoning and would prefer to leave things to the Otto Pilot, but I am having a great deal of fun. On my 1.25 GHz 15-inch PowerBook G4, it runs pretty well, though I can't turn on all the graphical niceties if I want reasonable animation speed. Luckily, X-Plane lets you adjust how much it displays to compensate for older/slower video cards. Do read through their site and make sure you have the right hardware, as the game is demanding. But if you have the right stuff, you can have the Right Stuff."
Five Games to Play with a Five-Year-Old -- Andy didn't stop there - he suggested a slate of games that his five-year-old son likes either to watch or to play himself. The floor is yours, Andy!
Cro-Mag Rally is a great, easy racing game. It's well worth the $20 fee to unlock the challenging higher levels. If nothing else, it was worth getting so that my son and I can both walk around for a few days afterward saying things like "Sticky tires activated!" and "Whoa!" a lot. Maybe that's just us.
NoLimits is a fun roller coaster simulator for $30. Its graphics lack polish in some areas (the landscape is filled with flat trees, and water is a flat surface) but the actual ride can be a lot of fun. It's a lazy weekend morning tradition for my son to climb into our bed, me to get the laptop, and to ride roller coasters. It's a lot of fun. Maybe that's just us.
Pocket Tanks ($16) from BlitWise and Cornerstone TSP Games is a modern take on the classic tank game where you adjust the angle and power of a shot and attempt to hit another tank across the screen. In this version, you have a huge number of weapons to choose from (and expansion packs, which can be downloaded for free or for fee) and terrain that can be heavily damaged in often fun ways.
Super DX-Ball Delux ($16), also from BlitWise and Cornerstone, is another "breakout" style game. The main difference with this one is that it can have non-rectangular bricks that create situations where the ball caroms off in less predictable directions. Otherwise, it has the expected assortment of bonuses including the ability to shoot bricks, turn the ball into a fireball that can detonate groups of bricks, and more.
Then there's the weirdly addicting Snood from Word of Mouse games ($20). Snood has been around for ages, but I discovered it only this year. It's a puzzle-like game in which you shoot silly/ugly faces up into a sea of other faces. Connect three or more like faces, they vanish, and you get points. Simple. But it's the faces and the silliness of the whole game that makes it fun. Maybe that's just us.
Atlantis, Found -- Jochen Wolters wrote, "Even though first-person shooters seem to be grabbing most of the game market mind share these days, some software developers are still coming up with stunning puzzle games, and Atlantis by FunPause is one such game. Little robots push sequences of colored balls through bent pipes, and you insert further balls into these sequences by shooting them from a cannon that slides horizontally back and forth in classic Space Invaders style. When you create sequences of three or more balls of the same color, these balls explode, and it's your goal to make all balls explode before they reach the end of the pipe. Atlantis has great gameplay with cool graphics, decent background music, and nifty extras. It combines a simple game idea with some wicked playing-field layouts to create a highly entertaining game. As an added bonus, unlike most 3D-graphics based games, Atlantis's gorgeous animations run absolutely smoothly even on not-so-high-end Macs like my 867 MHz PowerBook G4. Atlantis is a great example of a game that you can enjoy thoroughly even if you play it only occasionally for a few minutes. Be warned, though: you may find it more addictive than you'd expect at first sight. Atlantis costs $20, and you can play in demo mode for a full hour before you buy."
Strategy for Free -- You don't always have to pay much for a good game, as Tim Archer found out. "My 13-year-old son and I have recently gotten hooked on the open source game Battle for Wesnoth. A turn-based strategy game, it's definitely the most elegant freeware game that I've seen in a long time (although FreeCiv is a close competitor). There are lots of user-created scenarios available. We haven't tried the multi-player options available on the Internet (dial-up makes that tough), but there is apparently an active community of players. Inside Mac Games calls it a retro game, so maybe I'm showing my age. Still, my 13-year-old has enjoyed it as much as I. And for us cheapskates, you can't beat the price!"
Meet Your Inner Gamer -- Kate Derie wrote in to say, "I would like to suggest a computer 'game' with an interesting twist. The Journey to Wild Divine includes biofeedback hardware and your performance in raising and lowering your energy level is the key to progressing. It would make a great present to anyone interested in reducing stress or increasing their health-awareness." The Journey to Wild Divine costs $160; expansion packs are also available.
Don't Hold Back, Keyboards Are Durable! This idea came from Andrew Laurence, who, when he's not helping moderate TidBITS Talk, helps moderate his young son. "Baby Banger offers endless amusement for the very young, and blissful relief for the not-so-very-young. This open source application runs in a full-screen white window. Random shapes, in random colors, appear on the screen in response to key presses, accompanied by delightful BEEP! BOOP! SPROING! sounds. My two-year-old has been delighted by Baby Banger since he could sit up and drool on my keyboard."
Handheld Game Device for Linux Geeks -- It was only a matter of time before this happened. Mike Cohen recommended that any Linux geek who enjoys games check out Gamepark's $190 GP2X. "It's a hand-held unit about the size of a Sony PlayStation Portable, but it's based on open source software, running Linux on an ARM processor. It even ships with an SDK so you can write your own games for it. They're just starting to ship, so they're in short supply. I ordered one, and I'm still waiting for it."
More Console Gaming -- In the hard-core gaming world, Macs don't have much of a niche, as Lucas Mathis told us. So what's his solution? "Even though many great Mac games are available, I've pretty much stopped gaming on my Mac. It's easier to play games on consoles. This year's most interesting console is Nintendo's DS (about $140). Basically, the DS is a portable console with two screens (one of them a touchscreen) and voice recognition, which allows for some wild gaming concepts. It even plays older Gameboy Advance games. The DS has a wide variety of games for all ages - games for smaller children (such as Yoshi's Touch & Go or various Pokemon games), games targeted at adults (like Sega's Project Rub or Trauma Center), and tons of games that defy categorization (Nintendogs, a 'dog simulator'; Pac Pix, a PacMan game where you draw the PacMan figure you're playing with; or Electroplankton, a music toy). It supports wireless multi-player gaming - most games support local wireless gaming, and several new titles, like Mario Kart DS and Tony Hawk's Sk8land, support wireless Internet multi-player gaming. Getting online through an AirPort base station is easy, and online gaming is anonymous, so people can't find out each other's address, and there's no way to chat or talk with each other during games, which should come as a relief to parents who have heard what kids tend to say during online matches. Mario Kart DS in particular seems to be highly popular among Mac users. Steven Frank of Panic Software has a blog entry that is being used as a semi-official friend code (Nintendo's name for a user's online ID) exchange point for Mac users. People are even organizing Mario Kart races for Mac users. The DS is suitable as a gift to children or adults. You'll probably want one for yourself, too, so you can beat the person you gave one in Mario Kart."
Remember the 1980s? Adam here. Tristan, who's nearly 7 years old, has shown little interest in computer games, but as a historical learning exercise and to avoid the highly immersive nature of many modern games, we're considering getting a $30 Atari Flashback 2 Classic Game Console. The games look primitive, of course, but I remember them having excellent gameplay from when I was a teenager. Even though they're available for the Macintosh-compatible version of the Stella Atari 2600 emulator, the console moves the experience to the TV, which is already considered an entertainment device, and provides the two joysticks necessary for all the two-player games, which is what we plan to concentrate on.
Article 9 of 9 in series
Sometimes you just need a break from work, if not from your Mac. Sure, you could watch stupid human tricks on YouTube, but why not just play a game? Although the game industry constantly pushes the boundaries of reasonable hardware requirements, yesterday's games are often still a fine way to while away some spare time, so it's worth checking out previous years' suggestions, though you may need to haunt eBay to find copiesShow full article
Sometimes you just need a break from work, if not from your Mac. Sure, you could watch stupid human tricks on YouTube, but why not just play a game? Although the game industry constantly pushes the boundaries of reasonable hardware requirements, yesterday's games are often still a fine way to while away some spare time, so it's worth checking out previous years' suggestions, though you may need to haunt eBay to find copies. Comments on this year's suggestions are welcome in TidBITS Talk.
Speedy Mac -- Computers enable us to do things that are dangerous or impractical in real life, such as modeling nuclear explosions or, of course, releasing your inner Steve McQueen by careening down the road in a muscle car at impossible speeds.
Chuck Goolsbee, who spends his days locked up at our Internet service provider digital.forest, recommended Ambrosia Software's Redline, a driving game featuring realistic physics and network play. It's also open for developers to create new tracks, cars, and add-on modes, such as the team-play Smuggler mode: each team has one slow car amid its fast cars, and the object is to let the slow car win the race. Redline is available as a 184 MB download; the unlicensed mode features two tracks and one car.
Chuck wrote, "It is also a bargain. I bought one copy for myself for $25, and each additional copy costs only $5... so I bought eight more for my staff. Now on Friday afternoons when we traditionally shut down the phones for an, um, 'tech staff meeting' (cough), we all climb behind our keyboards for some morale-boosting fun!"
Chuck's need for speed (and, we suspect, to toast his co-workers) also led him to purchase the $100 Logitech MOMO Racing controller, which features a steering wheel, stick shift, and foot pedals. We suspect Chuck will see real daylight again sometime next year.
Put Away the Graph Paper -- Who needs 3-D graphics acceleration when you've got a pencil and paper? Ambrosia Software has combined a spaceship shoot-'em-up with the age-old practice of drawing your own adventures in the clever $20 SketchFighter. John Welch said, "I've not had a game this much fun since junior high school, when I'd do it the hard way. Even if you're not an old timer, this game is fun, and if you ever did this with pen and ink, it's truly delightful."
Wowed by WoW -- Speaking of network play, a few people recommended Blizzard Entertainment's massively popular World of Warcraft. Andy Affleck wrote, "My 14-year-old nephew talked me into it and I bought it, mostly on a lark, and soon found myself immersed in a world that was rich and deep. I quickly fell in with a good group of friends online whom I meet and play with when I have the time. The game can be addictive - I find that you either love it or can't figure out why it's worth all the money you pay for it ($40 to $50 depending on what deals you can find, plus a $15-per-month fee). I justify the cost by cutting back on my monthly Starbucks habit. Although much of the time you find yourself performing menial tasks just to advance a skill or to raise your character's level, it's the social aspect that keeps my interest. But then, I've always been a sucker for online communities and the tools making them possible so while I'm bashing the heads of various baddies, I remind myself that this is my continuing education in my own research into these spaces."
Lewis Butler pointed to the upcoming expansion World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade. "It's not out in time for Christmas (Blizzard is releasing for the Mac and Windows simultaneously on 16-Jan-07), but you can get your favorite gamer a game card for World of Warcraft now and then get The Burning Crusade for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, can't you? Vermont's 230th birthday after declaring independence from New York? The 37th anniversary of Buckminster Fuller's Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects? Yes, you can. There's a reason over seven million people play: the game is excellent."
Wii Wish You a Merry Christmas -- We prefer to focus on Mac games, obviously, but this year's attack of console gaming systems spurred a couple of readers to recommend the hard-to-acquire Nintendo Wii.
Lucas Mathis, who noted that the Wii is "white and small and pretty and looks good next to a Mac mini," praised its unique controller. "Instead of a traditional gamepad, it is controlled using a motion- and position-sensing remote control. Basically, you wave the controller around to play all kinds of games - golf, tennis, baseball, sword fights or bowling. The Wii is targeted at gamers and non-gamers alike, and there are games for children, adults and even for the elderly. In addition to that, traditional games like Super Mario, Zelda or Metroid can be played, too, and to top it all off, the Wii is capable of downloading old favourites - it plays NES, SNES, N64, Genesis (also known as Mega Drive) and TurboGrafx games."
He also recommends the blog of Steven Frank (of Panic fame), where you can exchange your online code in order to play Wii games online against other Mac users.
The Wii isn't intended as just a gaming machine, however. Andrew McCann wrote, "There is a photo channel that can display pictures from a camera (the Wii takes SD cards, but there appears to be some internal memory as well) and a Mii channel to create avatars, which can be stored in the remote."
Sussing Out Sudoku -- Andy Affleck noted a game that can help you improve your game. He wrote, "The first part of 2006, I went through a Sudoku phase before I tired of the puzzle and went back to doing crosswords. Part of why I tired of them was that I had learned all of the advanced solving techniques making even the hardest puzzles relatively easy to complete. I have Robert Woodhead's free Sudoku Susser to thank for that. While this Sudoku game lacks a glossy user interface, it comes loaded with every advanced solving technique on the planet (and links to a Web site that explains them in detail)." Andy also pointed out that yes, this is the same Robert Woodhead, aka "Trebor," who co-created the original classic Wizardry game back in the 1980s.
This year Broderick Bohls suggested checking out the various card games and brain teasers like Word Wits and Flower Power at GlennsGames.com: "I have really enjoyed the fun and easy group of games from GlennsGames.com, which you can purchase individually or as a group via download or on a CD. They are great for winding down or keeping busy if you are surfed out and waiting on a download."
Stephen Cochran wrote, "If you like a game that's part puzzle and a whole bunch of amazing graphics, the Enigmo games from Pangea are still some of my favorites. The original Enigmo ($20) is two-dimensional, which is better for those younger ones and those who don't want lots of controls to worry about. The ability to create your own puzzles also guarantees a long lifetime for the software. Enigmo 2 ($30) can be a little more frustrating to navigate simply because you can now circle around in a third direction. I'd compare it to the difference in learning curve between a driving game and a flight simulator."
Jochen Wolters also likes to while away his down time with the $20 Phantasia by 300AD.com. He wrote, "Its graphics, sounds, and music are so well-crafted that the game is a joy to play. And since the difficulty of the game's 30 levels is well balanced between mildly challenging (so as not to become boring too soon) and not too hard (so as to keep frustration over yet-unsolved levels to a minimum), it is just perfect for those 10-minute workday escapes. Considering Phantasia's non-violent theme, cute sounds, and impressive graphics effects, though, the game should be just as enjoyable for younger players as well."
Lastly, let's hope that Jean MacDonald at SmileOnMyMac isn't looking for a change of career with her recommendation of the $20 Diner Dash, which "is great if you know people, like me, who do not like shooting things and prefer to do something, um, 'constructive.' You wait on tables, with ever more challenging restaurant patrons, like senior citizens (patient but slow), and businesswomen (impatient but fast and good tippers), while your restaurant gets fancier and more complicated as you move through the levels. I just got Diner Dash 2, which has introduced families (you have to remember to bring them a high chair, and you have to mop up the inevitable spills) and cell-phone addicts (who annoy other patrons and cause them to leave)."
Games for Kids -- Remember, kids, the computer is not a toy. Oh wait, yes it is! Andy Affleck (who we assume also does non-game computing, but his enthusiasm and multiple gift ideas suggest otherwise) shared some of his six-year-old son's favorites. Andy wrote, "Although the graphics lack polish in some areas, the actual ride in the $30 NoLimits Roller Coaster Simulator can be a lot of fun. It's a lazy weekend morning tradition for my son to climb into our bed, me to get the laptop, and to ride roller coasters."
Other obsessions include Freeverse's $20 Burning Monkey Puzzle Lab and the $16 Pocket Tanks from BlitWise and Cornerstone TSP Games, a modern take on the classic tank game where you adjust the angle and power of a shot and attempt to hit another tank across the screen. In this version, you have a huge number of weapons to choose from (and expansion packs, which can be downloaded for free or for fee) and terrain that can be heavily damaged in often fun ways."
The Holidays Are about Tradition -- We can't let this year's recommendations go out without Andy Affleck's annual plug for Solitaire Till Dawn from Semicolon Software ($25), and his continuing obsession with Austin Meyer's X-Plane ($80), which, he points out, compensates nicely for machines that aren't on the cutting edge.