First Impressions of Steam for Mac Including Portal and Team Fortress 2

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Valve Corporation's foray into PC digital games distribution can't be defined as anything less than a success. Steam, the service, has garnered tons of fanfare from users, critics, and publishers alike for its simplistic design and non-obtrusive DRM.

In early March Valve teased, and then revealed, that a Macintosh version of the client would be on its way. Even better, the developer announced several of its games were slated to be ported as well. I've had the beta of the client, which officially hits on May 12th, for a week. The two games currently available in the beta are Portal and Team Fortress 2.

PC users, or Mac owners with Boot Camp, will feel at home with the client. Its simple interface is mostly unchanged in the Mac beta version. Tabs indicating its essential functions line the top of its window, displaying the virtual "Store," your "Library" of games, patch and update "News," and "Community" functionality. Invitations from friends, as well as advertisements for games, still pop up with the speed and appearance of a Growl notification. In fact, the entire program is smooth and fast. It works and, most importantly, without a hitch.

Cross Platform

Steam for Macintosh and Steam for PC are married via "Steam Play." This feature allows you free access to any Mac ports of PC games you've already purchased through the service. Games like Portal and Team Fortress 2 support this option, while several more are sure to come.

And keep in mind that this sort of cross-platform approach is something the Valve crew is seemingly taking seriously. Team Fortress 2 Mac owners like me have been playing with PC owners of the game on their very same servers during this latter end of the beta. I expect more of this in the future.

On a tangential note: the Steam cloud also keeps all of your information in-line between the two versions. Friends, profile and Library data is shared between both. I'm told that Steam for Mac, though, will have a specific Library option that displays what games you can play on the platform. It's currently not in the beta.

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The Games So Far

Two Source engine games, Portal and Team Fortress 2, are essentially finished and available for play in the beta. Both games run natively using OpenGL.

Portal and Team Fortress 2 feel and play like their PC counterparts, though they may not look quite the same for all users. I, for example, had to do a bit of software-side tweaking to achieve fluid experiences: my 15" Macbook Pro -- rocking the integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M video card only, 4 Gigs of RAM, and 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo -- couldn't handle either game on its "High" settings. (But do keep in mind that integrated graphics represent the low-end of graphics hardware and those with discrete chipsets should fare much better.)

Team Fortress 2 in particular needed to be brought down to its lowest lows in order to run well. But even at this point, the game retains its characteristic charm -- both in terms of the over-the-top, manic multiplayer action and presentation.

I'm not sure if these two titles are the best indicators of what Valve is doing with their ports, though: they're both old titles. In the near future Valve will be adding in Mac functionality to Left 4 Dead 2 and its predecessor, as well as the Half-Life series and Counter-Strike: Source. These games should give us a better idea of what to expect. As of now, though, I'm left with the impression of promise and the minor satisfaction of playing games that I've played on multiple platforms natively on my Macintosh.

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What's Missing and What's Coming

Gamepad support, despite it being listed in the options menus for games, is not something the beta has. I was told by Valve earlier that this support is definitely on their to-do list.

Other developers might have their own to-do lists, too. As of right now, only one other developer, Tripwire Interactive, have pledged support. That developer is releasing Mac versions of Red Orchestra Ostfront 41-45 and Killing Floor.

Other notable games I've spotted with "Install" options for the Mac beta are: Torchlight, Peggle Nights, Altitude, Bejeweled 2 Deluxe, the Dash games, Dream Chronicles: The Chosen Child, the Tales of Monkey Island series, and World of Goo.

While there hasn't been much to ogle over with the Mac beta of Steam, I still can't stop smiling. There's a lot to like with the functionality of Team Fortress 2 and Portal, and a lot to enjoy from Valve's native-support of the platform. Games will continue to hit on the service as it grows and grows, and we'll be direct beneficiaries of its current -- and hopefully future -- dominance as more publishers join the fray. Valve need only to convince publishers that Mac owners are consumers.

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Steam for Mac should become publicly available on May 12th.

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