Apple’s New Foray Into Gaming: Mountain Lion Brings Mac vs. iPhone vs. iPad vs. iPod Touch


Posted February 23, 2012 - By Matt Swider

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iphone Vs ipad

Apple just announced what’s the equivalent to a new gaming platform with potentially thousands of popular games at launch, and you probably didn’t even notice the news. It was just one part of this week's big unveiling of Mac OS 10.8, aka Mountain Lion. Among the features hogging the spotlight are the expansion of iCloud file support, full AirPlay mirroring (not just a few specific applications), Twitter integration, and iOS’ Messages, Reminders, Notes (no longer tucked away in Mail) and Notifications (goodbye, Growl) all being ported to the Mac. But what gamers should be most excited about is the addition of Game Center.

Game Center for Mac, like the iOS app, allows you to track your points, achievements, and leaderboard rank among Game Center-supported games. There’s also a tab at the top that includes game app recommendations, both free and paid. Word of mouth, however, is the best way to discover new games, and for that, Apple is including a “Friends” tab. Seeing which Game Center games your friends own is likely to encourage you to go to the App Store and download the same apps for cooperative and competitive play. There’s nothing more motivating than going to a friend’s profile and seeing a mutually owned game listed with the words “Ranked higher than me.”

Game Center

Mac vs. iPhone vs. iPad vs. iPod Touch

Of course, that’s just the tip of the Mountain (Lion). Determined to be more than just an app for aggregated scoring data and finding friends, this forthcoming version of Game Center is also going to allow you to play games right on the Mac and play other Mac and iOS users at the same time.

This sets up a scenario in which you’ll be able to play some of your favorite iOS game apps with Mac vs. iPhone vs. iPad vs. iPod Touch cross-platform compatibility. That pretty much puts App Store-bought games in your hands at all times of the day, even when you’re supposed to be working on the computer. How many games will there be? There are more than 20,000 Game Center-supported apps in the iTunes App Store right now, but Apple hasn’t said how many of them will be enabled for Mac. That’s most likely because it’s up to the developers to support this new addition to the “universal app” classification.

Real racing 2

The Games

We can tell you that one of the first apps being demoed is Real Racing 2 by Australian developer Firemint. That’s because we confirmed with the studio that the single image Apple has released uses this beautiful-looking racing simulator to illustrate a MacBook Pro vs. an iPad 2. In what might be a “Photoshop Fail,” both displays show the race car from the same perspective - no modern two-player racing game in the world is driven from the same exact behind-the-car viewpoint. Regardless, Apple’s point is taken, as the caption backs up the company’s intended message: “Go up against fellow gamers on iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and another Mac. On your Mac.”

Angry Birds

Angry Birds would be another natural fit because it’s popular and already available in both the iTunes App Store and the existing Mac App Store. The latter store sounds a lot like what Apple is launching minus Game Center to tie everything together, and it might offer clues to the future of games on the Mac. It hosts some big-name titles from a couple of years ago like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Tropico 3, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Limbo and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Obviously, all of these won’t be crossovers for your current iOS device, but they could be integrated into the Game Center and finally deliver hardcore gaming on the Mac.

The presence of the one game we’re absolutely sure of, Real Racing 2, is a good sign for the core gaming crowd - after all, we declared it to be one of the 10 Best Games for Your iPhone 4S last fall. But it leads to one burning question: How are games like Real Racing 2 going to be controlled?

iphone controller

A controller future?

Everything from the MacBook Air to the Mac Pro lacks a touchscreen and accelerometer, two pieces of technology that have become ubiquitous among iOS games including Real Racing 2. A mouse or trackpad and keyboard combination could be one solution, but the more desirable input would be a wireless controller. Apple has experience with successfully creating Bluetooth devices: a wireless keyboard, the Magic Mouse and the Magic Trackpad. Could a Magic Gamepad be too far off? Better yet, if this theorized Magic Gamepad is in the works, could it function on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, too? Apple’s wireless keyboard does, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

We hear from so many gamers out there who dismiss the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch as real gaming devices, arguing that touchscreen controls aren’t up to par. There is some validity to that opinion. Games like Dead Space can be fun, but when your thumbs take up a third of the iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen, it’s hard to see what’s happening in this otherwise gorgeous third-person shooter. With this in mind, another controller option for the Mac Game Center would be to utilize an iPhone or iPod Touch as a controller. After all, if you own a Mac computer, there’s a decent chance that you also have one of these two controller-sized devices.

Lion OS

EA Sports has already put this iOS controller idea into practice with FIFA 12 for the iPad and a separate (and thankfully free) iPhone/iPod Touch app called EA Sports Gamepad. You control the on-screen players with touchscreen buttons on an iPhone and the entire game is played out on an unobstructed iPad. Replace the iPad with the Mac and the problem is solved.

Whether or not Apple invents a new controller to alleviate this problem, goes with an idea similar to EA Sports’ proven iOS controller or sticks with the age-old keyboard and mouse combination, Game Center has the potential to usher in a new era of PC gaming, one with tactical controls that touchscreen-haters have dreamed about.

Developers have several months to sort out the controls and use the Game Kit API to transition their games from the iOS to Mac OS 10.8. A developer preview version is out right now for them to tinker with, while Game Center, along with the other features of Mountain Lion, won’t make its public debut until this summer - quite possibily the perfect time to steal gamers away with cheap, cross-platform games during the gaming industry’s notorious summer slump.

Apple’s New Foray Into Gaming: Mountain Lion Brings Mac vs. iPhone vs. iPad vs. iPod Touch


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