by Chris Barylick
July 22nd, 2005
Grad school out of the way, a master's degree in the mail and the weight of academia behind him, the Slacker has returned to that which matters: playing video games until the wee hours of the morn. Thankfully, his legal status (one sans dependents), as well as a lack of pets and plant life to keep alive, creates a situation where this is entirely feasible. The Slacker may not have all the spare time of a 15-year-old from which to create a formidable set of gaming skills, but with the right effort, he can still come close.
That being said, there remains an abundant amount of amazing software to be had. This column will make every effort to point out the very best of what's out there in the realm of Mac gaming, including shareware and freeware (with only slight admonishments to support the authors, or at least help finance their efforts to create a marinade with which to make their futons edible). If the Slacker can put off the diamond-encrusted spinning rims he had lusted after for his '93 Volvo, then he has full faith that you can send in a small registration fee once in a while.
Without further ado, let's begin...
Perhaps the most surprising find of the past two months and something the Slacker had only reluctantly downloaded given its frequent updates (if the author cares that much, it can only draw attention) is KTA Tennis by KB Productions, a shareware tennis game in a similar vein as that of various tennis titles on the old Super Nintendo console that can be run under both Mac OS 7-9 and Mac OS X (10.1 or later).
Simple, addictive and fun, KTA Tennis allows players to choose from a variety of existing players as well as select a difficulty level, number of sets per match and court surface to play on. A two-player mode, available in both the demo and registered versions, allows players to go head to head against each other while easily mapped keys allow for custom settings as well as keep each player's hands on their side of the keyboard.
If there was any doubt in the Slacker's mind regarding this title, it quickly dissipated as the game grew on him. Good graphics with an old school feel, detailed sounds (including the smack of the ball against the court as well as the grunt of a player as they swing) and realistic physics combine beautifully to create a game that's as much fun to play for five minutes as it is for two hours.
Factor in directional controls to change the velocity and direction of your hit and the game gains an intricacy that adds to its replay value. Figure out the right way to return a shot and serves that once blazed past you become a cinch to rebound. Learn to drive an opponent in one direction, then reverse the direction of your shot toward the uncovered section of the court and the game is yours.
Still, this is something of a work in progress and KB Productions seems to realize that there's no room for subtlety when it comes to shareware registrations. The sound, while excellent for a shareware title, can go a little out of synch with the events on the screen (especially if the audience seems to applaud for a point about five seconds after the fact after the next rally has begun). A pop up registration reminder that partially obscures the upper left hand corner of the screen interferes with gameplay and while these can be clever (such as reminding you not to play KTA Tennis by bouncing tennis balls on your keyboard), it makes a player wish the program was a little more generous with its demo time before the program reminded you that it's anything but free.
Still, an $18 registration fee isn't that outlandish, especially given the title's steady stream of updates and fixes. A small 10 MB footprint on the hard drive doesn't get in the way of much and users are also allowed the option of paying via Paypal should it suit them. Fun, to the point, well supported and chock full of replay value, KTA Tennis is as much fun as any shareware or commercial game currently available for the Mac.
If there's anything that ever interested the Slacker, it's been the theoretical, usually an idea or technique within a game that's currently being developed or having its role and purpose worked out. This idea is perfectly expressed in Ragdoll Masters, a shareware fighting simulator by Ragdoll Software's Matteo Guarnieri, the author of Radical Rebound (a title which has has the player engaging in space combat through the tactical use of a ship's shields in lieu of guns).
If Radical Rebound was a break from the conventional, Ragdoll Masters takes this about eight steps further. Here, players take control of one of two neon-colored rag doll figures trapped within a square that must defeat each other in combat, all while floating almost uncontrollably in a zero gravity environment. Oddly enough, this begins to make sense as the player discovers they can control their character via the arrow keys (or whatever keys they map to this function) and develop a sense of tactics in their movements (such as working to bounce off a corner, then come at their opponents legs-first in order to pull off a better attack and guard against oncoming blows).
The controls, which feel haphazard at first, seem to correspond to movements in the character's center of gravity (in other words, visualize which direction you'd move in given the character's relative position on the screen and this begins to make more sense) and add a realistic feel to the game.
Adjustable parameters such as character size, color, gravity levels and overall physics add additional value to the game and payment of a $4.95 registration fee through esellerate.com allows players access beyond the third level, the chance to go head to head against each other and grants access to all of the title's options.
Unfortunately, there is one considerable drawback to consider. While the game isn't extremely resource-intensive, it doesn't play well with other programs that may be running simultaneously. Activate Mac OS X's Activity Monitor utility and you'll see that the program grabs as much of a processor's attention as possible. Whether this is a bug to be fixed in a future release or here to stay is unknown, but given that it made the Slacker's dual 2.0 GHz G5 tower sit up and take notice, this gives one pause before attempting it on an older G3 or G4.
Still, this is something new, fun for both short and long-term gameplay (nothing's more fun than successfully rebounding off a set of walls to pull off a combination of fighting moves) and for a mere $4.95, it's hard to say no.
Add new variations to the game such as differently shaped arenas to fight in or even further exaggerated physics and things become that much more interesting. Ragdoll Masters requires Mac OS X 10.1 or later to run and occupies a tiny footprint of only 1.2 megabytes on the hard disk.
The Slacker's Guide will run every week on TMO, and will include a Mod of the Week highlighting the very best of currently available video game modifications available for commercial Mac gaming titles. If a freeware/shareware title or game mod has caught your attention, please and I'd be more than happy to give it a look.
As always, applications for the internship position will require a headshot, at least three professional references and a year of humidor maintenance.
Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.
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