I’ve had a decidedly frustrating evening trying to get this:
For those of you trying to work out the difference, the box on the left is Rise of Nations Gold Edition (Mac) and the box on the right is Rise Of Nations Gold Edition (PC). On screen both look the same, and play the same, and have the same features. In addition, both feature the ability to play multiplayer games, and have identical instructions on how to connect multiple machines to each other, even down to using the same UDP port for the connection. The Mac version is the more recent release, and quite happily talks about multiplayer gaming, however the key point I have now spotted is that it never mentions what the other machines are running – MacOS X or Windows. In fact the whole issue of cross-platform support is strangely not mentioned on any official sites, or reviews, and it is only when I found some discussion of problems on a couple of gaming forums that I found out about the issue. The Mac version and the PC version are incompatible.
It is worth saying at this point that cross-platform gaming is fairly common – I have quite happily played Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament against PC owning friends, and Warcraft III together with other titles from Blizzard Entertainment ship with both PC and Mac versions in the same box. In general there is no problem swapping files between Mac and PC, we even have a Mac version of Office!
The problem with Rise of Nations is not a technical incompatibility. In fact it comes down to one thing – DirectX – or more precisely the fact that the game uses the DirectPlay library to provide it’s multi-user support. Whilst Microsoft has quite happily licensed the game to MacSoft, that didn’t include DirectPlay support, so the Mac version had to have a rewritten multi-user engine. As a result Mac versions can talk to other Mac versions, and PC versions to other PC versions, but they can’t talk to each other. So either I have to upgrade our ancient PC to be able to play, or everybody else needs to get a Mac. Either that, or maybe one day, somebody will port DirectPlay!