Friday, December 21, 2012

Just Tactics on OS X?

People keep asking if and when Just Tactics will be available for OS X. And it's a fair question. I figure folks deserve a straight answer.

When we started Just Tactics, we planned to support Mac OS X. We chose Java, with its cross-platform strength, for just that reason. But, things didn't quite come together as we had hoped.

First off, a Macintosh capable of running Just Tactics is a pricey machine, since the game needs a 1GB graphics card. The cheapest option available today is the $2,000 27-inch iMac. That's almost three times as much as my development workstation on Linux, and almost twice as much as one of our artists' Maya workstations running Windows 7. So we didn't buy one early on in the project.

My assumption was that, out of all the libraries and frameworks we were using, OpenGL would be the one to give us the least trouble. Especially if primary development was happening on Linux. And so we planned to buy one of those pricey iMacs when we got closer to our main quality assurance phase. I figured that we'd have plenty of time to fix the little bugs I expected in the periphery.

So we worked on the game for a year. I fiddled to get the rendering system doing identical stuff on Linux and Windows, with both ATI and nVidia cards. I wrote a bunch of GLSL shaders, and modified some of the stock JME shaders. All of that stuff worked fine in the office.

And then we tried Just Tactics on a Mac. Black screen. Didn't work.

The exact reasons why are arcane. But, the short version is this: on Linux and Windows, you can freely mix OpenGL 2.x and 3.x features. On OS X, you cannot. Due mainly to my own inexperience, Just Tactics is not cleanly OpenGL 2 or 3, but a mix.

Fixing Just Tactics so that it's properly OpenGL 3 requires some sophisticated modifications to the JME rendering system. It also requires that we translate a bunch of shader code. And this has to be done in such a way that it doesn't break Linux or Windows support, and in such a way that hundreds of special effects scripts don't have to also be rewritten. Then all of that has to go through quality assurance on three different operating systems. This is at minimum several months of work during which it's virtually impossible for me to maintain or improve the game experience for existing users.

So while it's possible to make Just Tactics work on OS X, we came to the conclusion that it wasn't the best use of our limited resources.

Out of all of the different computers Apple sells at the moment, only 4 iMacs and laptops have a graphics card that will run Just Tactics. It is true that the Mac Pros all have a good enough card, but I don't know anybody with a Mac Pro. None of the machines at the low end of the price range have an acceptable card, and those are the machines that people seem to buy.

For some less anecdotal evidence, have a look at the Steam Mac hardware survey. Only about 14% of Mac gamers have 1024MB or more of video RAM. Given that OS X only makes up only a tiny percentage of the gaming market (about 1% of Steam), and given that only about 14% of those Macs meet our minimum system requirements, it's pretty difficult for us to prioritize the several months of work it would take to bring Just Tactics to OS X.

It isn't 100% off the table. If there's enough demand, we're certainly willing to reconsider the issue. But before you start emailing us, keep in mind that fixing Just Tactics so that it runs on OS X isn't going to change the minimum system requirements. If you have an Apple laptop, and it isn't a top of the line MacBook Pro, OS X support isn't actually going to help you.


  1. It's running on my 27" iMac with a 256mb graphics card. But i am running it in Vista on a Bootcamp partition.

  2. I'm glad to hear that you've got Just Tactics running, Tokyo Dan. When you're running Vista, your computer is a regular old Windows computer. The incompatibilities we experienced are with OS X, not with your hardware.

    Keep in mind: a 256MiB card is well below the minimum 1GiB card. I hope it runs well enough for you to enjoy the game, but you're certainly not going to get the optimum experience in terms of frame rate or animation smoothness. And, in extreme cases (e.g. lots of different kinds of units, many simultaneous effects, etc.), the game may simply run out of video memory and unceremoniously crash.

    Basically, we need the full 1GB only *sometimes*. So, you can cruise along through dozens and dozens of games without ever spiking that high in VRAM usage, and then suddenly somebody summons twelve kinds of units not already in your army, and zappo. Crash. If you're cool with that happening occasionally, and you just rejoin the match, we thank you very much for your enthusiasm!

    If you're trying to squeak by on too little VRAM, you should definitely turn off some effects in the Options menu. I'd start by turning off Refraction; if that isn't enough to get you stable play, then Glow/Bloom; then, if you absolutely have to, Shadows. But don't turn off shadows. They really make the graphics.

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  4. "But don't turn off shadows" If I was crashing constantly and couldn't get a better gfx card I would definitely turn off shadows, doing this gives you the biggest performance boost. Turning off refraction and glow doesn't give nearly as big a boost. BUT, before I did any of those things, I would first open up the video.config file and change the Height and Width to reduce my resolution, this will give you the biggest performance boost. You can go as low as 1280x650 (any lower than that and the UI elements will not fit on the screen). P.S. I wouldn't mess with any other settings in the video.config file.

  5. Cool article, I really liked. I understand that at certain stages of development there are performance issues. But what if you use the power of cloud servers, for example like this data room?

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