The number of Mac games is growing, but it’s still relatively small compared to the wealth of games available for the PC. Connectix’s Virtual Game Station (VGS) 1.1 opens up the vast library of Sony PlayStation titles to G3 Macs – including the iMac – using impressive technology that emulates a PlayStation’s hardware, including its MIPS RISC processor. Currently available only in the US, a UK version is being developed for release later this year. Be prepared for occasionally sluggish game response, though; this is emulation, after all.
When you insert a PlayStation disc into your Mac, VGS launches automatically. Thanks to the G3s’ 24x CD-ROM drives, games load faster under VGS than they do on the PlayStation’s 2x drive.
In VGS’s minimalist user interface, the main window lets you create and select virtual memory cards – which, like real PlayStation memory cards, you use for saving game states. It is also where you configure input devices and set the volume for VGS, eliminating the need for trips to the Monitors control panel.
Although you can use a keyboard as an input device, PlayStation games are clearly designed with a game pad in mind. We found that the Gravis Gamepad Pro USB, with button placement identical to the PlayStation controller’s, made the VGS experience much more like using a PlayStation than like using a computer (although we missed the PlayStation’s analogue game pad in some games).
The downside of emulation is always that it’s, well, emulation; it’s never as good as the real thing. VGS 1.1 is no exception. Connectix admits that it has tested VGS only with the most popular games of the past year or two, so it’s no surprise that some games work better than others. Although our test games were generally quite playable, we did hit some snags. Playing Konami’s Metal Gear Solid on a G3/300, we found the response slow during intense action, compared to playing it on a real PlayStation. We had similar experiences with Sony’s Crash Bandicoot 2 on an iMac 233MHz.
It was easy to overlook the occasional sound dropout in Sony’s Spyro the Dragon and minor graphical glitch in Psygnosis’s G-Police, since both games played well otherwise. Shiny’s MDK was the only game in our test suite that wouldn’t play at all; it consistently got stuck shortly after starting.
Connectix stresses that VGS runs only on Power Mac G3’s; it doesn’t support older machines with upgrade cards. VGS requires a fast system bus, as well as one of the CD-ROM drives in recent Apple systems so it can verify that the discs it plays are not pirated copies. We tried running VGS on a Umax S900 outfitted with a Newer Technology G3 upgrade card, and CD-ROM-compatibility issues foiled multiple attempts to load a game. Some accelerator vendors claim their cards are compatible with VGS, but don’t be surprised if the performance isn’t what you expect.
Connectix’s Virtual Game Station is an impressive piece of technology that runs most PlayStation games well, even though it has a few compatibility quirks. The delayed response we saw can make games that require split-second timing much harder to play. Although it’s unlikely that VGS will supplant real PlayStations, Mac owners who want more game play will certainly put it on their wish list.