If you’re like me, then you prefer the games from the PowerPC era. Not simply because they were coded for the architecture, but rather that this was the best era in Mac and PC gaming in my opinion. The reason I feel this way is that the games from this era are more raw and simple, with a lot less fluff. Many modern games focus mainly on graphic realism and lack the quality experience that older ones had.
In my experiences, I would say that the CPU plays a more important role in Mac gaming compared to the wintel world. I say that because in my direct experiences with many games it’s the CPU that makes the most difference. An example of this was some testing I did a couple years back. I tested a Sawtooth with a G4 1.0 GHz 7455 and Radeon 9800 Pro 128 MB vs. another Sawtooth with a G4 1.8 GHz 7448 and a Radeon 7500 32MB. The 1.8 GHz system beat the snot out of the 1.0 GHz in every single way. Although the 9800 in the slower system is a far better GPU, the difference is negated by a CPU that is clocked 80% faster. Obviously the 9800 is better suited for the 1.8 GHz, which is where it lives now, but those tests were to prove a point at the time. This was all during a debate where others had claimed that the GPU was far more important for Mac gaming, but it's actually 2D where the GPU plays more of a role on a Mac vs. Wintel machines. The GPU is still important in gaming, make no mistake; I'm just saying that the CPU is more of a factor in Mac gaming vs. Wintel.
It makes sense to break up games by system requirements, so people can try the ones within the ability of the hardware they have. Although these games are all harder to find these days, they are pretty much all still available if you look hard enough in the right places. I will list all the options I can think of but will really only comment on the ones I have direct experience with. I didn’t really start gaming on Macs until a good year or more into the G3 era around early 98. Because of this, I cannot really comment on the earliest games for the 601-604 CPU’s.
Most of these games have reviews on Inside Mac Games dot com. The ones that do will contain a link to the review in the title. Inside Mac Games is the number one most trusted source for me and many Mac gamers. The site is particularly good for older game info.
Group 1: Any G3 - G4 350-700MHz – Rage 128 or higher
The selection is limited on this low end of the scale, but the titles available are quality games.
Quake III took everything up a few notches. The graphics and game play are stellar compared to the previous two. I started playing this in 1999 when I bought the Stormtrooper new. The stock configuration was a G3 350 MHz with a Rage 128 16 MB, and it played III like a champ. ID software did an amazing job optimizing it for the G3 systems and later the G4. I play the G4 optimized OS X version on my 1.8 GHz with Radeon 9800. I get well over 200 FPS at 1920 and over 300 FPS @ 1280. Needless to say there is never even a hint of lag. It also plays great on the modern revision of my Stormtrooper with a G4 500 and Radeon 7000 PCI.
The truly great thing about all 3 versions of this game is that they are all built for both classic OS and X. III plays even better on X in my experiences.
When you consider that this game was released in 1999, and has such low requirements, the graphics are quite amazing. I play it at 1920 with quality set to highest on my 1.8 GHz G4, and it looks fantastic for its age.
It’s a third person shooter much like Tomb Raider, but is a far better game IMO. The hand-to-hand fighting is so fun in this game that I almost never use the gun. I only shoot when facing one of the enemies which is only shooting, and not approaching to fight. The gun selection leaves a lot to be desired, so that is certainly part of my hand-to-hand preference. To be fair though, the gun selection is the only area the game lacks quality in my opinion.
Like Quake, there are Classic and X options for Oni. The X option is very elegant in that all you have to do is attach the X app to the original Classic game content folder. There is also a great editor available here, which allows you to make yourself invincible, and invisible to the enemies. They can only see you when you punch them. You can also give yourself virtually unlimited ammo. The later levels are so hard to beat that you often do need these cheats; unless you're some superhuman gamer.
As far as I know, there was never an X version made, so this is Classic only. I played it on 8.6 and all the 9 versions without issue. There is a version for PowerPC Linux, which I installed a while ago, and will play more when I have a chance.
Just thinking of this game as I write this makes me want to get it again. From 2003-2004 a few friends and I played this over LAN together at least once a week. It’s a perfect game for LAN and online play, because the more that play on a level the more fun it is.
I have never heard of a OS X version, so if you can find a copy it would be for OS 8.5-9.
If you have an older child or teen, or just really like Spider-Man, then this game is worth looking into.
Other options for this hardware group:
Marathon (all versions)
Sim City (I & II)
Tomb Raider (I, II and III)
Myth (I & II)
Group 2: G4 800MHz-1.0GHz – Dual G4 450-533MHz – Radeon 7500/Geforce 2 or higher
The good news is that all the games from group 1 will play even better on this hardware.
Halo: Combat Evolved (1.5)
If you like first person shooters, and have never played this game, then you’re really missing out. The requirements are a G4 800 MHz and a 32MB vid card. It’s OS X only, and although it will play on Radeon 7500 and lower, I recommend an 8500 or higher.
Quality game and quality graphics, so you really can’t go wrong. The game play can get rather intense at times, and the maps are quite good. I tend to prefer the mostly outdoor maps, as the building based ones are a bit redundant.
Other options for this hardware:
Group 3: G4 1.2GHz+ - Dual G4 800MHz+ - G5 - Radeon 8500/Geforce 5200 or higher
One thing I need to mention about GPU’s is that the numbering systems that ATI and Nvidia used with some cards make no sense. A layperson would assume a Radeon 9000 or 9200 was better than an 8500, but that is not the case at all. Both the 9000 and 9200 are based on an underpowered 8500 chip. The 9000 is also slightly above the 9200 in performance. Also, the original Radeon (no number) is slightly more capable than the Radeon 7000. The rest of the Radeon are numbered in a way that represent the power delivered.
With the Nvidia cards found in Macs, there is some confusion with the Geforce 3 and 4. A Geforce 3 will trump a standard 4 (aka MX), but a 4 Ti will beat a 3. The Geforce 4 MX is only very slightly above the 2 in performance.
You can get by on most of the games below with a Radeon 7500 or 9000/9200, or a Geforce 2 or 4 MX, but would need to turn all the quality down and play at 800x600 if you want any semblance of performance. I have added a real world performance ranked list of both Nvidia and ATI cards to the bottom of this post.
Once you get bored of playing the built in levels, you can enjoy endless possibilities by playing skirmishes. The online play is very good, but it has to be PowerPC vs. PowerPC or Intel vs. Intel. Aspyr and EA wrote a 1.04 patch that added universal architectures, because before that it was PowerPC only. Even with the universal patch you can’t play Intel users with your PowerPC. On Gameranger people generally title the games by architecture for this reason.
The requirements say a G4 1.0 GHz, but it isn’t smooth until you get up to 1.2 GHz in my experience. Even with a Radeon 9800. I have had good results with it on the dual 867 MHz MDD I used to own with a Radeon 9600. It played well enough on the dual 867, that it would also be fine on a dual 800.
I play it these days on the 1.8 GHz with 9800 @ 1024 on medium quality. The reason it’s set a bit low is that it makes the larger maps much smoother and I prefer those. Map speed is crucial on an RTS game.
I should also note that the Radeon 9000 has a known conflict with this games rendering; you can still play it, but everything turns either blue or black in terms of ground and sky. Very hard on the eyes. There has never been a Mac fix for this that I'm aware of, so 9000 owners (if thats all you have GPU-wise), stay away from this one. Some of the MDD towers came with the 9000 stock, but it was never a big GPU on the Mac; more the similar 8500 and 9200.
The requirements are listed as a G4 867 and 32 MB vid card, but this is unrealistic in my experiences. You can get by fine with a Radeon 7500 but for true performance, without everything set the lowest, a 1.2GHz or higher will be better.
I have the Road to Rome expansion, and the Desert Combat mod. It's easy to waste hours in this game driving around the desert in an Abrams tank looking for things to kill. The standard WWII levels are great, but the desert mod gives it much more modern and powerful weapons.
The game has something to suit everyone. You can drive a tank, APC, fly a plane/jet/helicopter, fire a missile truck, steer and shoot a battleship, use anti-aircraft guns, or just run around with a gun shooting people. Whatever you prefer.
I am also an author on Rated Win, and wrote this post there about the Desert Combat mod, and the Spectre gunship specifically.
Let me know and I will list them.
As with everything I write, I tend to only base it on things I have experience with. If you feel other games are worthy of mention then leave a comment and I will add it to the post to help spread the word. Explain what you like about it and what specs/settings it plays well with. My life is so insanley busy that my mind is always jumbling many things, so I am sure I have left out obvious ones like Unreal Tournament. I have no experience with it, or what hardware it plays best on so if someone wants to chime in on that it would be great. I'm looking for games I have not mentioned or added insight to those that I have.
Real world GPU ranking (least to most powerful)
Rage 128 (mobility)
Rage 128 Pro
Radeon (original Radeon with no number)
Radeon 9550 (mobility)
Geforce 4 MX
Geforce 6600 LE
Geforce 4 Ti