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Mac gaming, is native always better?
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)
(click to enlarge)
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)
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)
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.
(click to enlarge)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Duke Nukem Forever (native)
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)
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.
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.