Steam Power

In case you hadn’t heard, today was a magical day for all of the Mac users of the world who also like to play video games. This is because Valve released an implementation of the Steam platform that runs under MacOS X. Now, I know that I have been hard on Steam in the past. But things change, and my bitter feelings for Steam were a product of its initial implementation. From those humble beginnings Steam has evolved into perhaps the best online video game platform for non-mobile devices that there is.

In fact, over time it’s become clear that if you are going to buy video games for a personal computer, you should generally avoid those companies that are not called Valve or Blizzard. Valve and Blizzard tend to meet the minimum requirements of game releases that are worth buying instead of stupid. I will repeat the list here:

1. Works out of the box 100% of the time on the hardware I own.

2. No stupid optical disks for either installing the game or proving that I own the game. Just authenticate me on a web site, or equivalent, once in a while.

3. Works out of the box 100% of the time on the hardware I own.

4. The game is actually polished, relatively bug free, and well designed.

5. I am allowed to install the game on a reasonable number of machines that I own without undue difficulty. Steam provides the added bonus that any game I previously purchased for the Windows version of Steam will automatically be available on my Mac as well. Therefore, I’ll be able to play Half-Life 2, a game I bought for Windows in 2004, on my Mac in a few weeks when they release it. That’s magical.

So the number one good thing about Steam on the Mac is that now all those great Valve games can be played natively without any painful emulation hoops.

The number two good thing about Steam on the Mac is that various publishers that share Valve’s general development philosophy will also be porting to the Mac. Thus, things like the excellent Torchlight from Runic games are already available.

Finally, perhaps the most dangerous thing about Steam on the Mac is its support for the Steam Cloud system, which puts your saved games into a server so they are transportable from machine to machine. With this system you can start your Torchlight game at home, then continue to play it in your office while you “compile”, and finally take it on your laptop to that long series of architecture meetings that you’ll be in tomorrow since you will need to take “notes.”

In other words, Steam Cloud could destroy civilization as we know it as millions of people everywhere play Civilization IV on their Macs instead of contributing to the engine of industry. Society as we know it will go up in a puff of Torchlight, or Counterstrike, or Half-Life 2 Deathmatch.

Maybe someone in Homeland security should shut this down now, before it’s too late.