Steam for Mac

I’m not really much of a gamer. I play a bit, but it’s generally ‘casual’ games. I don’t have a console, and I don’t think it would be worth buying one for the bit of gaming I might do. A Wii (Search for "Wii" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US) might be worthwhile, but we’d have to buy a TV to go with it first, and that’s quite a bit of money.

When I switched to Mac some time ago, I was prepared for the fact that there weren’t as many games available. Before that I’d been using a tablet PC with no CD or DVD drive, which would have been enough to stop many games from working anyway. Age of Empires is the only ‘real’ game I’ve played much of, and even that probably averages out to less than one game every couple of weeks.

All that said, I was still quite glad to see the arrival of Steam for Mac, with a bunch of new games available, and more to follow. Even better, to celebrate the launch, they’ve made Portal free for both Mac and PC for a couple of weeks. Portal is similar to the old platform games we used to play back in the days of 8-bit home computers, but with a big twist. It’s fully 3D, from a first-person perspective. Imagine a first-person shoot-em-up like the old Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem, Unreal Tornament, etc; but instead of running around shooting anything that moves, you’re walking around completing a series of puzzles. In the early stages, at least, there’s very little real peril. Nothing is trying to kill you, and you’ll work the puzzle out eventually. In the stages I’ve reached now, though, things are getting a little more dangerous, with a few ways to die.

The result, for me at least, is a more fun experience. The puzzles are cleverly built, and there’s sometimes more than one way to beat them. It’s very immersive, and takes a bit of thought.

Steam itself seemed quite flaky at first, crashing several times as I tried to have a look around the store. It was updated the next day, though, and again the day after, and seems much better already. I’ve heard elsewhere that this is fairly common with Steam and their products – lots of problems for the first day or two, but they quickly fix things.

I’m eying up my next Steam purchase already (I suspect Civilization IV is my kind of game), but it’s well worth taking the chance to get Steam and Portal while Portal is free.

Minimising My Mac

I’ve done a bit of cutting down on what I keep running on my Mac recently.

I used to keep lots of apps running all the time – email, Tweetie, Evernote, iTunes, Transmission, Google Chrome. All running, all the time, even overnight. Chrome always had a few tabs open – PigPog’s dashboard, Facebook, Google Reader, and usually a few things that I might decide to do something with at some point. It was a land of distractions, and things ground to a halt when I tried to run Aperture.

I installed iStat Menus, after reading about it in Smoking Apples. Aperture ran, and all my RAM was used. MacOS paged furiously out to disk, but couldn’t really keep up. Aperture would hang when building previews, sometimes for hours on end.

I tried closing almost everything else, but it didn’t help much.

I finally got around to testing the two 2Gb memory modules I’d removed when one became faulty, found out which one it was, and put the other back in. My Mac now had 3Gb rather than 2Gb.

I ran Aperture. It quickly used over 2Gb RAM all on its own, finished the processing it was doing, and shrank back down to around 200Mb. Just as it should. Looks like the problem was that with 2Gb of RAM, doing that just took a lot of paging in and out, and so, a lot of time.

By then, though, I’d taken a bit of a liking to having less stuff sitting open. I do quite like to see emails when they arrive (I don’t get many at home, so it’s not much of a distraction), but I don’t always need the Tweetie window there on show. iTunes doesn’t need to be running when my iPod isn’t actually syncing. Evernote doesn’t need to be running all the time, though it’s quicker to throw things into it if it is. Mail can at least be closed overnight.

As for the browser, I’m trying to make it a habit to leave it running, but with no windows actually open. That way, it’s very quick to start if I click a URL somewhere, or want to have a quick look at Facebook. The rest of the time, though, there’s no need to keep things open. I just need to check for any spams or comments on PigPog once or twice a day, and look at Facebook occasionally. Google Reader doesn’t need to be checked obsessively – just looked at sometimes. When I want to.

So far the results are good. I’m spending less time repeatedly checking the same sites and feeds several times an hour. The only problem is staring at the relatively blank screen, and wondering what to do next. I decided to write. I’m writing this now.

Producing some sort of output, rather than staring at Facebook and Twitter for an hour – sounds like an improvement to me.