Do You VooDoo? We Do: The In's and Out's Of 3Dfx March 9th, 1999
Gary: So, Randy, what are we going to talk about this week?
Randy: How about why you are wearing a tutu and covered with feathers.
Gary: Heh, heh, maybe we should keep that quiet. Just a little fun between consenting adults.
Randy: Good idea. I'll leave that alone. It's probably better that I never know.
Gary: Well, you did just get a MacMagic card from VillageTronic. We could talk about our experiences installing and playing on this inexpensive VooDoo card based on the 3Dfx chipset..
Randy: You're darn right it's inexpensive! It's the main reason I chose this card. At 99 bucks, the MacMagic is cheaper than a lot of VooDoo cards for the Wintel crowd. You gotta give VillageTronic kudos for giving Mac gamers a great game accessory like this.
Gary: Even though you can get a faster VooDoo II card for another 100 bucks, I think this is more important for the Mac gaming market. How many times have PC people been able to gloat that they have an option that costs less? Mac users then usually employ the BMW versus Chevrolet argument. Which would you rather drive? (Unless you count a Corvette. Then I'll take the Chevy.) Now Mac gamers can say that we have a VooDoo card as inexpensive as any.
Randy: Unless you count the one I am trying to make. I think I can get it down to 15 bucks. We can try that one out next week.
Gary: I don't think so, buddy. I remember all too well the failed gaming chair you built.
Randy: Failed?! It tossed you sixty feet! That was no failure, my friend.
Gary: Yeah, yeah. So get on with the VooDoo card, dude.
Randy: Alright. I installed the MacMagic card into my UMAX clone, which has been upgraded to a G3 processor. It has 224 megs of RAM, which is more than enough for even today's most demanding games like Unreal and Klingon Honor Guard.
The installation was extremely simple. I just popped open the case and snapped the MacMagic into a free PCI slot. Since I have six PCI slots, I have plenty free.
Gary: I was waiting for that comment.
Randy: The only other step was to route my existing video to the MacMagic card, so that when I launch a game designed to be played with VooDoo acceleration, my trusty old Mac can kick the signal over to my new card.
Connecting a video pass-through cable to my existing monitor port (in my case, an ATI card), and plugging it into the MacMagic does this. Then, I just plugged my monitor into the video out on the MacMagic card, and voila - instant 3D acceleration. Some folks have complained that this a complicated procedure, but if you are a novice at installing hardware into your Mac, putting the PCI card in its slot will be the more challenging part.
Gary: Other folks have said that the pass-through setup degrades the video quality, especially in cheap video cards. I think this applies more to the Windows world, where video cards come from many different manufacturers and in many different qualities. We noticed no noticeable loss of signal whatsoever. In fact, we were treated to quite a stunning game experience.
More on that later, though. Now on to the software that controls the MacMagic card.
Randy: It is a nifty little application called the MacMagic Tweaker. The fact that it is an application is cool, because there are no extensions to load and conflict with other extensions. It also has a very cool design. There are four parameters that you can control from the Tweaker, including refresh rate, and amount of texture memory.
Gary: The interface has a fun and funky design. Each controller is a pin stuck in the arm or leg of a voodoo doll. Get it? By moving the pins around, you adjust the settings. A nice, but potentially annoying, extra touch is that when you move the pins, the voodoo doll lets out screams of agony. VillageTronic set out to make this card fun, and they succeeded.
Randy: Considering that VillageTronic is headquartered in Germany, this is really amazing.
Gary: Yikes! That was just a joke. Please don't inundate our mailboxes with cries of indignation.
Randy: Don't worry, man. Very few German people know how to write.
Gary: Dude! How smart is it to anger Germans?
Randy: Good point. Just kidding. What a great idea it was to mix tuba music with sausage.
Gary: Yeah. It doesn't get any more fun than that. And don't forget, they make the best damn beer on the planet. I should know.
Randy: Now that we have annoyed an entire nation of people, let's get on with the gameplay. Initially, when we began launching our 3dfx-enabled games, we were greeted with choppy video and error messages. Then we read the small but informative manual. When we figured out what the proper settings were, almost all of our problems disappeared.
Gary: Games like Klingon Honor Guard and Myth looked spectacular, and played with silky smooth frame rates. The difference between software and 3dfx rendering has to be seen to be believed. We have all seen the screenshots on the web, but these do not do the card justice. That's why we decided not to post any screenshots. You'll just have to take our word for it.
Randy: I thought the reason that we didn't post the screenshots is that we were too lazy to do the work.
Gary: Do you ever think anything you don't say?
Randy: Anyway, the effects that this card produces are amazing. Volumetric lighting effects are stunning, and particle effects, like smoke and fire, look so good, you want to stop, drop and roll.
Gary: Explosions look unbelievably real, and the detail that is brought out on texture maps makes enemies appear more lifelike than ever.
Randy: We did have one problem with the card that we haven't resolved yet. One of our favorite games, Carmageddon, has a 3dfx patch that was written by TechWorks for their VooDoo card, and we immediately located it on TechWorks site (apparently the only place you can get it).
When we launched the patched game, we were initially blown away. Gameplay was as smooth as we could have expected and we saw things we haven't seen while playing Carmageddon before. Until you experience all of your opponents raining down around you in perfectly smooth motion, or group of cars sailing off the edge of a building in the distance with no loss of detail, you just don't know what we mean.
Gary: We were playing with our usual reckless abandon, and I was winning as usual, screeching around the first lap, when the game quit out on us. This was a repeatable problem that would reliably occur about a minute or two into the game. I speculated that it appeared that it was a memory issue, as if the video memory was filling up and quitting out of the game.
A little research on the web gave us our fix - or so we thought. TechWorks wrote the 3dfx patch for Carmageddon for their VooDoo card, which came with only two megs of texture memory. The MacMagic has eight megs of video RAM, four of which are used for texture memory. So, to get Carmageddon to run reliably on the MacMagic, we had to use the Tweaker to lower the texture memory to two megs of RAM. Who would have guessed that the problem was too MUCH memory?
Randy: Excitedly, we fired up Carmageddon with the new settings and began to slaughter pedestrians with renewed enthusiasm. We raced, we killed, we crashed - and so did Carmageddon.
And the problem is just as repeatable as before. It appears that the new settings have had no effect at all.
Gary: And that really bites because we really like Carmageddon. Almost as much as putting on a tutu, covering yourself with feathers and -
Randy: Aauugghh!! Please! I don't want to know!
Gary: Okay, I won't tell you. Folks, just send all complaints to Randy.
Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.
The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.
You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .