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Mac gaming, is native always better?


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Mac gaming, is native always better?


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These days there are popping up more and more mac games. These games are usually put into two categories, native and wrapped games.
The wrapped games are usually using Cider and more recently also wine (with doh123's Wineskin). These wrapped ports are often much like the ones made on the Porting Team, or nearly identical, like the recently released The Witcher on steam which was available (wrapper only, you still needed to buy the PC game) on Porting Team already in 2010.

Read on for more info
Usually around various mac forums native games are praised, and ported games are usually talked down on. Native games are indeed a lot more time consuming to make, but if made properly it can be close to the performance of a windows machine. A poorly ported game however can be slower than a home-made wine port.

Recently many new mac games have arrived on Steam, Mac App Store and on various dealers. Does the native games run better, is it still worth wrapping PC games although they have a mac port? Read on and we'r gonna take a look on Two Worlds II (mac native), King's Bounty (native vs wine), Dragon Age 2 (cider), Assassins Creed 2 (native), Valve Games (native, Portal series, Half Life series, Counter Strike L4Dead ...) and Duke Nukem Forever (native).

Two Worlds II (native)
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Two Worlds II was the first native modern RPG that was made available for Mac OSX. It did have a bit rough start with some bugs, and the fact that it was released there was very few macs that could actually handle the graphics that the game do deliver. Recently Macs with much better graphics, especially in Mac Book Pros and iMacs were released, and you had a base of users that actually could run this game well.

I bought the game just after release on steam for mac, and did install it on my 2010 MacBook Pro with GeForce GT330M 256MB VRAM.
The first experience was not pleasant, the game was laggy constantly and my first though was that the Mac version was inferior, but after installing it on bootcamp, I soon realized that this was more because of the fact that 256MB VRAM really is way too little for this game.

I left the game alone for a few months and then tried it on my desktop with a much better graphics card (GTX285) and 1024MB VRAM. The game was now running fluently at maximum settings. Starting up OpenGL Driver Monitor and OpenGL Profiler showed me that the game used about 650MB VRAM and ran at a stable 50-60 FPS. This is pretty close to what I get in Windows 7. As for the port quality, i'd say it is a 9/10.




King's Bounty (native vs wine)
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Recently a game I've played a lot, King's Bounty (in wine), became SteamPlay (means mac+pc version on steam and if you already own the game, you will get the mac version free). Since I already owned the game I was very exited and downloaded the game. When I started the game, the first thing I noticed was that all fonts seemed less smooth and very jaggy. This happens for both King's Bounty: the Legend and The Armored Princess. (This review applies to both the games)

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I though, well, maybe it can bump up video settings and it'll work out. This was not the case, but to be honest, it doesn't bother me much.
After playing the game for a bit I felt that the game really felt sluggish and I fired up OpenGL Driver Monitor and OpenGL Profiler.
Both games running at 1680x1050 with Highest settings, except for the text, the games looks identical.

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As I was afraid, the wine version did almost run at twice the framerates per second. Other than that it seems they both used equal amount of memory (RAM) and video memory (VRAM). CPU usage was on both game roughly the same. I realize that King's Bounty have only been available for mac for a few weeks now, so there could come a performance patch. However it seems that all the feedback on steam about issues on Mac OS aren't getting heard, at least no replies from 1C Company on any of the many threads about King's Bounty on Mac.

As it stands for now, you're much better off using the PC version in wine than downloading the Mac version if you buy it on steam. Native version 5/10 and Wineskin version 7/10. Why they decided to make a native game and not a wine port is for me a mystery, as it would be easier and faster for them to just wrap the game (took me about 30 minutes). However with a patch or a hotfix I'm pretty sure they could make the native version very good, if they care.

Dragon Age 2 (official Cider)
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Dragon Age 2 is one of the best selling EA BioWare games(1), even though many fans felt it was alienating itself from the Dragon Age series.
Nevertheless, the game was on launch date available for both Mac and PC (also consoles), both on DVD and digital download. Dragon Age 2 fitted both Mac and PC version together on one single DVD, this was because the Mac version really was just a wrapper with a few slightly modified exe files inside, a Cider wrapper. Dragon Age 2 runs very well on Mac OSX, despite the fact it's a Cider wrapped game, however the PC version do have support for DirectX11, which the Mac version doesn't and you'll have slightly better looking effects in Windows, if you are running in Vista or 7 with a DX11 capable card. The game is also very stable, I think I finished the whole game without any issues at all (about 35 hours I guess).  And, just about any thirdparty mods work just fine with mac version and most are very easy to install. Official Cider port, 8.5/10.

Assassins Creed II (native)
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Assassins Creed 2 by UbiSoft was a huge hit on PC and Consoles and was ported natively by Ubisoft itself. However the game runs miserably on my machine. Since I cannot tab out of the game while it's running I have no way to attach the OpenGL Profiler for FPS, but my guess it's around 25 on highest settings and 40 on lowest. Even on lowest the game does have some stuttering from time to time. The game eats up a good 750MB VRAM while running on high settings. I have still not found any settings that make the game run well on my machine, it just might be me, but I need a constant good frame rate to enjoy games like this. Although performance wise the game is much heavier than games like King's Bounty, it is impossible to play with lower FPS and therefore this port is at best a 4.5/10. I'm pretty sure Ubisoft would be better off with Cider or even wine for this game. The game looks great tho. The good thing is that the game supports true surround sound, which wrappers can't. Oh did i mention, AC2 does not work on Lion, which is a shame as according to steam 54% of all mac users now use Lion.

Valve Source games (native)
(Team Fortress 2, Portal Series, Half Life Series, Counter Strike Source, Garry's Mod, Left 4 Dead Series, Day of Defeat Source)
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Valve was maybe the first big firm, after Blizzard that decided to make their games available for Mac. This was perhaps a stunt to get more Mac users to use Steam, and I guess they have got quite some sales after this were already after two months after release almost 9% of all steam users used mac(2). Due to the fact all these games uses the same engine and do have pretty much same performance.
I have almost all valve games on steam, and I've installed them all on Mac OS. All over the games runs great, almost on par with windows versions. Portal 2 runs at about 80-100 FPS at maximum settings with a GTX285. Since most people already have tried one or more of the Valve games I'm not gonna say much more.
9.5/10.

Duke Nukem Forever (native)
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Duke Nukem Forever was released SteamPlay, even tho the game ain't that great the port is very good. If you like to turn up the graphics the game needs tons of VRAM, but with a GTX285 you can still keep 40-50 FPS on close to maximum settings. Steam Version 9/10, the Mac App Store version does not support multiplayer with Steam users, so a huge minus there!

Borderlands (native vs home-made cider)
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I bought this game when it came out, on PC. Mac version wasn't announced by then and about a half year later Feral Interactive did release it for Mac. This game wasn't SteamPlay as Feral Interactive does not add their games to steam. I did make a home-made Cider build of Borderlands which I've updated a few times along the way. The cider version does actually run very well, with everything maxed it does run at 60 FPS on my machine, with the exception of Depth of Field, which I have never got to work. Making a Cider port work flawlessly with this game does actually require you to edit many of the games config files manually, so getting optimal performance will be a bit difficult. After the game is fully tweaked there is only one bug, the icon on your equipped items does not show, so you have to hover over it with the mouse to see what is equipped. The home-made version does also work with multiplayer.

The official version does not have the inventory icon issues and does of course work out of the box. The game however have some minor issues, like some v-sync issues reported by some users. There is also no option for windowed mode. Performance otherwise is pretty decent, and a AMD 6750M can play it almost maxed with a few settings downed a bit at a stable 60 FPS. That is about the same kind of performance I get at the home-made version, maybe even a bit better!
The game does however have support for surround sound, which the wrapped doesn't, and several gamepads.
(I do not own Borderlands for Mac, and the testing of the mac client have been done by kgamelover1)
Home-made cider version: 7.5/10, Official native version: 8.5/10


So what does the future hold?
Many developers, especially Blizzard, have always treated the Mac community the same way as the PC one. The games they have produced have all been available for Macs and usually with the same release date. After Valve decided to bring their Source games to Mac and made Steam available for Macs, many more games have been made available for Macs. There are some third party developers like Feral and Aspyr that have made games available for Mac too, although most not SteamPlay and my impressions on various forums is that their games runs pretty well and their support seems very good. Even on forums like macrumors.com they are helping out users.

Native ports doesn't automatically means that the game will be better, but a well made native port will be faster than a wrapper game, it's just sad not all developers spend the necessary time needed to make the Mac version as good as it should. Some wrapped ports, like Dragon Age 2 features decent performance and is a easy way out for a developer.


OpenGL Driver Monitor and OpenGL Profiler is a part of the XCode development kit and can be downloaded for free.
These tools can measure GPU usage, VRAM usage and how many FPS a certain application is running at.

(1): http://www.huliq.com...ceed-45-million
(2): http://www.electroni...nificant.share/

All screenshots are taken in Mac OS. All opinions in this article are my own and other users can have different experiences with the games.


by cluthz


38 Comments

Great article , but how is this a review ?

hmtinc, on 13 May 2012 - 02:44 PM, said:

Great article , but how is this a review ?

Well, i can't exactly make a 'Rant' category :P
For now, this resides in review, since it's written very good, and it's basically a review of native vs. ported.
I've found my native version of King's Bounty runs much faster than my old wrapped version.

clocknova, on 13 May 2012 - 03:18 PM, said:

I've found my native version of King's Bounty runs much faster than my old wrapped version.
The native version runs very badly on my system, could it be a 10.6 issue? Could you use OpenGl Driver Monitor and measure the FPS you are getting?
After about 30 mins testing I had a maximum of 35FPS and an average around 20FPS, which is not very enjoyable.
Blades of time Native and the wrapper i made the wrapper i made was better than the native version seems i get more FPS form the wrapper also

Quote

There is no way to go windowed mode, or even tab out of the game, so if your mail needs to be checked, or you wonder who messaged you on Skype, you actually have to shut down the game.  Guys at Feral, this is 2012!
Rubbish. You can easily tab out of the native Mac version. Feral goes to some extent to enable this since 2005 or something.

And an official windowed mode is lacking because the game simply does not have one - even in the Windows version. You can edit the ini-file to enable a windowed mode, though.

DrStrang3love, on 13 May 2012 - 06:51 PM, said:

Rubbish. You can easily tab out of the native Mac version. Feral goes to some extent to enable this since 2005 or something.

And an official windowed mode is lacking because the game simply does not have one - even in the Windows version. You can edit the ini-file to enable a windowed mode, though.

I did not test the mac version, as I stated in the article. Kgamelover1 did however test it and I've added the comments he had on the native mac version.
However, if Borderlands on mac does support cmd+tab I will have to update the article.

devilhunter, on 13 May 2012 - 02:47 PM, said:

Well, i can't exactly make a 'Rant' category :P
For now, this resides in review, since it's written very good, and it's basically a review of native vs. ported.
I said you should've made it 'Editorial', but Review is a good category too.

DrStrang3love, on 13 May 2012 - 06:51 PM, said:

Rubbish. You can easily tab out of the native Mac version. Feral goes to some extent to enable this since 2005 or something.

And an official windowed mode is lacking because the game simply does not have one - even in the Windows version. You can edit the ini-file to enable a windowed mode, though.
You can't tab out during multiplayer, which is the only time I (and everyone else I know IRL) play this game.

KGameLover1, on 13 May 2012 - 09:09 PM, said:

I said you should've made it 'Editorial', but Review is a good category too.
You can't tab out during multiplayer, which is the only time I (and everyone else I know IRL) play this game.

Well, if you can tab out duing single player it as to be fixed in the article. For some reason I cannot edit it!?

cluthz, on 14 May 2012 - 02:05 AM, said:

Well, if you can tab out duing single player it as to be fixed in the article. For some reason I cannot edit it!?
You have to ask a admin or a news team member to edit it

KGameLover1, on 13 May 2012 - 09:09 PM, said:

I said you should've made it 'Editorial', but Review is a good category too.
You can't tab out during multiplayer, which is the only time I (and everyone else I know IRL) play this game.
That's a GameRanger "feature". When you tab out of the game, GameRanger thinks you left it. That's why cmd+tab is disabled when playing multiplayer.

DrStrang3love, on 14 May 2012 - 08:14 AM, said:

That's a GameRanger "feature". When you tab out of the game, GameRanger thinks you left it. That's why cmd+tab is disabled when playing multiplayer.

I've used gameranger for many games, never seen that.
native always!
I'd say more often than not, native is better than wrapped games.
Such is the case for games that cannot work when wrapped, obviously, but that is also the case for games with multiplayer. Natives would tend to run it better, in a sense.

But of course, with the progress and time, companies may not update their mac natives, leaving it trailing in the air, incomplete or buggy. This is where the wrappers come in handy, as they can be easily used to port the updated games and maybe even perform, harder, better, faster, stronger (:P daft punk reference here) than the mac native as new wrappers will constantly get released, bringing along with it improvements and bug fixes.
Your definition of 'native' is ambiguous. Does 'native' include official ports? 'cause so far, Portal 2 is the only Valve game that runs natively on macs. All the others are official ports. DNF and Borderlands are also official ports, not native.

It's hardly surprising that community ports can be of better quality than official ports. Amateur Porters have plenty of time to get really good at porting, and can keep tweaking and improving ports years after they get it working. Professional porters have very little time to delve deep into the game and squeeze out every last drop of performance.

What makes them any better than the porting team? They're not. They use the same or similar tools. They learn from the same resources. They taught each other and themselves. There is no reason their ports should be better than the community's.

Truly native games will generally have far better performance than ported ones though.
I played AC2 and AC: Brotherhood on my mac with os x 10.7 without any issues... well, other than having to download the launcher for both games and performance is a bit poor considering i have a quad core i7 with dedicated graphics...

both games play at around 30 fps on highest settings

my specs: macbook pro 15 inch late 2011 2.2 ghz quad core with 8 GB of ram & a radeon hd 6750m card with 512mb of vram

Froop, on 16 May 2012 - 03:57 PM, said:

Your definition of 'native' is ambiguous. Does 'native' include official ports? 'cause so far, Portal 2 is the only Valve game that runs natively on macs. All the others are official ports. DNF and Borderlands are also official ports, not native.

It's hardly surprising that community ports can be of better quality than official ports. Amateur Porters have plenty of time to get really good at porting, and can keep tweaking and improving ports years after they get it working. Professional porters have very little time to delve deep into the game and squeeze out every last drop of performance.

What makes them any better than the porting team? They're not. They use the same or similar tools. They learn from the same resources. They taught each other and themselves. There is no reason their ports should be better than the community's.

Truly native games will generally have far better performance than ported ones though.

I think you have misunderstood something.
DNF and Borderlands are indeed native (and of course official ports).
All valve games too.

I'm very glad to see that you have confidence in our work here at PT, but I'm pretty sure developers like Feral and Aspyr does use more time on their ports than we do, although we do our best! Ports here are usually done by a person alone or a small team of a few members. (UbiSoft have one monkey doing their work)

As for using the same tools, that's not entirely true, we never modifies the original source, but add a layer of compatibility to run the PC version of the game, where as Feral/Aspyr/others does not.
Native, but wrapped isn't bad too
I work at Feral and more specifically, I worked on the Borderlands port.

The other commenters are correct: you can easily Cmd-Tab out of Borderlands in single-player mode. It's disabled for multiplayer due to GameRanger. The GameRanger client will insta-kill Borderlands if it loses focus, presumably as an anti-cheat measure. That's not something we could control on our end.

As for performance, believe it or not I benchmarked Borderlands against some Wine-wrapped versions, and (at least when I did this) our framerate was nearly double that of a Wine wrapped one. It's possible the gap has narrowed somewhat in the past year, but I haven't retested in a while.

And as you note, the Mac-native port allows you to have all options on without graphical oddities. ;-)

Froop, on 16 May 2012 - 03:57 PM, said:

It's hardly surprising that community ports can be of better quality than official ports. Amateur Porters have plenty of time to get really good at porting, and can keep tweaking and improving ports years after they get it working. Professional porters have very little time to delve deep into the game and squeeze out every last drop of performance.

Ignoring the other points about "native port" vs "port", the bulk of our work is squeezing out every last drop. Using Borderlands as an example, we worked with Apple, AMD and Nvidia to identify hotspots in the port and get fixes in on either our side or on theirs as appropriate. It's an ongoing process, and indeed Borderlands is not done being patched as a result. Borderlands also has a timedemo that we can all use to make sure that future drivers and OS releases don't cause performance regressions.

The bulk of the performance issues lie in the way these games interact with the OS, so in general a lot of our gains come from tuning the games to use the OS in the best way possible. And sometimes that means we can identify an OS-side solution that helps everyone.

cluthz, on 14 May 2012 - 10:42 AM, said:

I've used gameranger for many games, never seen that.

I asked Scott K. the specifics about this: if the GameRanger app gains focus while a multiplayer game is active, GR will kill the app. This is outside of app control. We could add a checkbox saying "I promise not to make GameRanger active while I'm playing so let me tab out", but you can see that it's not foolproof.

hoserama99, on 24 May 2012 - 04:18 PM, said:

I asked Scott K. the specifics about this: if the GameRanger app gains focus while a multiplayer game is active, GR will kill the app. This is outside of app control. We could add a checkbox saying "I promise not to make GameRanger active while I'm playing so let me tab out", but you can see that it's not foolproof.

Hello!
Glad to hear from you about the gameranger issue. The games I've played on gameranger lately are old BioWare Infinity games, like Icewind Dale and thru it's probably 40 hours or more, I've tabbed out several times to check guides etc and never got dc'ed. But I do however believe you about the log out, in that case the statement should be changed.

As I told earlier I do not own Borderland for Mac, so I have never had the chance to tests it's performance.
It's worth mentioning that NVidia often has much better performance than AMD when it comes to wine, and some games are outright unplayable on AMD, which codeweavers claim to be due to driver abnormalities with AMD drivers on OSX.

It's pretty fun to see you reporting here, as I pointed out that feral was good at listening to the community and had feelers out on forums to help out users. edddeduck has been particular helpful around macrumors the last few years. I hope feral keeps that up, and if more companies followed in your footsteps there would be less needs for semi hacked ports like ours.

cluthz, on 24 May 2012 - 05:03 PM, said:

Glad to hear from you about the gameranger issue. The games I've played on gameranger lately are old BioWare Infinity games, like Icewind Dale and thru it's probably 40 hours or more, I've tabbed out several times to check guides etc and never got dc'ed. But I do however believe you about the log out, in that case the statement should be changed.

Yes, to clarify my original statement: it's not so much tabbing out that's the problem, it's tabbing out and then making GameRanger active. What's likely to happen is that if you Cmd-Tab out of, say, Borderlands, the first thing on your list will be GameRanger since that launched the app - and so instant death. It's easier to avoid bringing GR to the front if you're playing a windowed game and click on Safari to move it to the front (thus avoiding GR's laser eye).
updated cluthz' article with the changes he made.
Native games run bad but are most compatible and most simple to handle.