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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Mac Mini Game Console

I was surprised to see this article on uses of a Mac Mini completely leave out the notion of hooking it up to a TV as a gaming platform. Several blogs and forums have mentioned it, although most dismiss it when trying to compare it directly to current gen consoles. So let me take another stab at selling it.

But before rattling off some steps to making such a platform - let's remember ... the goal wouldn't be to make a device which would stampede all over the next gen Sony or Nintendo AmazingBox 3000. That's just not possible - those are specific devices with subsidized hardware intended to glut an entertainment market for years. You can't beat that game without playing the game by their rules, and nobody we know has the money to do that.

The goal would be to make a unit which still had respectable power for this generation that was easily accessible and modifiable by a community. If you consider that there is still a community homebrewing games for the Dreamcast, you could see where the demographic exists for this.

This wouldn't be about trying out the latest Unreal-powered game out with your friends while your eyes melt to amazing graphics - for that you'll need the latest video card or console. This would be about a homebrew community that doesn't have to hack into hardware and reverse engineer code to get samples running, but one that could leverage Apple's more than willing game developer assets right off the bat. While the initial cost is certainly higher (I don't think I need to comparison shop a new Mac Mini against a used Dreamcast), it would instantly eliminate the black box that "protects" every other console out there.

So what would it take?

Obviously, a Mac Mini
For the dev platform, I think someone would possibly be stuck with the lowest end model Mini. I know that probably bites, because most people will prefer the Mini with at least a little more RAM to it. However, this would help insure that whatever was developed on the Mini would run on almost any other Mini.

Means to a Television
The Mini is already built for it, though for us "regular television" folk, we'll need the adaptor above.

A pair of XBox Controllers ... and the means to use them
Someone's already written drivers to hook up some XBox controllers to your Mini. So just grab some USB love and hook it up.

Some Game Development
So you've got your mini, slapped one side to your 32" and the other to a pair of joysticks. You can't just sit there and stare at nothing, right? Here are some starting points to making your own Apple game:

Apple's Own: Out of the box, OSX doesn't sound like such a shabby framework.

Torque: The rockstar of indie engines, Torque powered Tribes 2 ... and is happy on an OSX box.

PTK: Little company called Phelios has made a starter SDK for Windows and OSX. While you still need some C++ knowledge and a compiler, Phelios is willing to do some of the heavy lifting.

BlitzMax: BlitzBasic has been around for a long time - and this version of the low entry gaming SDK is currently OSX only.

So $500 for a Mac Mini, $20 for S-Video adaptor, $50 for a pair of shiny new XBox controllers and $5 for some software to run them and about $100 for and SDK ... you get your own personal gaming console and development platform for less than $700. Remember, just a dev version of a PSP costs more than a economy car - and try to tell me it isn't a good deal.

Naturally a few technical concerns would remain. Like how easy is it to code for multiple joysticks and other console - orientated designs ... but at least the majority of the hard stuff has been eliminated.


Rikki said...

Sounds like an interesting idea, but:
- People only want to write games for famous games consoles, because everyone else has them and there is the challenge of hacking them in the first place.
- Why a Mac Mini rather than a cheap PC?
- Does the Mac Mini have a really inferior graphics card, making it almost useless for intensive graphics? A cheap hand-built PC would let you add a decent graphics card, at least.

Josh said...

- Well part of the homebrew community is definitely the challenge - and I completely respect that angle. Unfortunately it also puts a limit as to what kind of games can be developed.

- The Mini's casing was more unique at the time of this writing. While SFF PC's were around, they were more costly in general and it's a bit harder to mount those on a wall behind your set, for instance. While my CheapBox could have worked with the proper cables, I wasn't about to shove a mini tower into my media center.

- Ironically, the Mini also had a more powerful gfx card when this was written. But they're also faster. So I don't know what they'll handle now. My Mini could handle Halo on some low settings, however.

However all the (still unfinished) games I was working on with the Mac were 2D in nature.

lady said...

I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan.

solenda said...

It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!