Random Apple Memory
Adam Banks remembers how a genetically modified reptile gave the first iMac its cutest selling point
We recall Apple’s cute iMac reptile game.
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac on 6 May 1998, he stressed that not only did it look different to other personal computers aimed at the home, it was also more powerful. As well as the 233MHz G3 CPU, that power came from ATI Rage GPUs, precursors of the AMD Radeon cards in today’s Macs. So while its internet connectivity — one of the features symbolized by the new “i” prefix — was the big story, the iMac was also ready for 3D gaming.
Above the hardware sat Apple’s QuickDraw 3D, an innovative software layer conceived to bring 3D to consumer– level computers. It was promoted to developers with a cute rollercoaster simulator, Gerbils, commissioned from Pangea, a small software company founded by Brian Greenstone in Austin, Texas. Pangea had been releasing popular games for a decade, going back to the Apple IIGS, and the QuickDraw 3D software development kit made the new realm of 3D “unbelievably easy to pick up,” said Greenstone.
When the iMac shipped in August 1998, it came with Nanosaur, a 3D firstperson shooter (FPS) from Pangea. It was by no means the first modern FPS for the Mac: Quake and Tomb Raider II had been hits the previous year. But Nanosaur didn’t demand twitch reactions or pixel-perfect jumps, and players needed just 20 minutes to complete its simple treasure hunt in a colorful, family-friendly world.
Then as now, the Mac was nobody’s first choice as a games machine, mainly offering late ports of selected PC titles. But Nanosaur embodied Apple’s ethos of technology in the service of accessibility. With its smooth, lush graphics and casual appeal, it was the first thing new iMac owners would show friends and family, and all ages could have a go, regardless of computer or videogames experience. This was gaming for the rest of us.