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Hands-on: League of Legends for the Mac


Defense of the Ancients is one of the most interesting stories in all of gaming -- it was originally a player-created mod for the Warcraft III real-time strategy game, and it completely revamped the RTS game into a RPG/hack-and-slash mashup, where the player controlled a champion character that fought to turn the tide of battle on a player-vs-player map. The mod proved so popular that game companies are now creating their own official versions of it, and League of Legends is one of those -- a "DotA"-style mix of hack-and-slash gameplay combined with a few RTS elements created by Riot Games. "LoL," as players are calling it, actually has the best pedigree of all the DotA clones -- two of the mods' designers were (and still are) involved in the games' development.

Now LoL is coming to the Mac -- Riot Games invited me to come and see the game this week running natively on their MacBook Pro. The game uses a free to play model, so if you're running Boot Camp, you can go and download it right now and play to your heart's content. But Riot is convinced that "there's millions of gamers out there" who want to run their game natively, and so sometime later this year, it'll be available in OS X.

I got to check out the game on official Apple hardware, ask them if they had any problems porting it over, and poke them a little bit about how RTS games might work on the iPad. Hit the link below to read on.

Of course, right after they answered that question of why their game is coming to the Mac (because people want it there), the next question was: why now? When they launched, they said they wanted to devote as many resources as possible to making the game itself. "If we were to split the focus on both PC and Mac development, it would have slowed down a lot of the other things we wanted to do for the game," associate producer Steve Mieczkowski told me. They're using Cider to port the game over, and though they're aware of the issues with Cider in the past, they're taking the time to get it right. "Obviously, there's going to be some hurdles that we have to go through," Mieczkowski said. " We're going to do as much as possible to make sure the performance is not only good but keeps getting better."

The game plays well already -- it's not extremely system intensive, but the graphical flairs are all there, and controls are very responsive. LoL uses only some of the letter keys for its basic functions, and all of the keys are remappable, so you won't have to worry about your screen brightness dropping because you're pressing F1 while you want to cast a spell. Mieczkowski said they did get the multitouch trackpad working, so you can double-touch to right click in the game, but you'll want to use a two-button mouse anyway, just for responsiveness' sake.

Unfortunately, Riot told me that the game would probably still run best on Boot Camp, "just simply due to the way the Mac graphics drivers supported by Apple are. We're limited to what they provide in Software Update, so a lot of the performance differences that you'll see between Mac and PC are due to driver differences rather than differences in the operating system." Still, it's much easier to load the game up natively rather than close everything down and restart your Mac into Boot Camp. With the game so forgiving, though, most players shouldn't worry about performance. "You're going to be able to run the game really well on any Mac within the last two years or so," said Mieczkowski.

And the flood of Mac gaming releases led by Steam hasn't hurt the cause, says Mieczkowski. "It was a great time to have League of Legends come to the Mac, due to all of the buzz from Apple and all of the graphics cards updates and stuff like that." I asked if they had an eye, as I suspect Valve does, on the iPad and iPhone platforms. Riot does actually have a game out for the iPhone already, a tower defense title using the LoL brand, but for now, they said they were focused on desktop games.

They're still busy with League of Legends even though the game was released last year -- the business model is free-to-play, and they make money by selling skins, boost items (that allow you to earn experience faster), and new "champions" in the game itself. Every two weeks, they release more and more new items and features, and there are now over 50 various heroes to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Ten of those are free every week, and players can unlock them for good with a microtransaction.

League of Legends is a great time -- it's a little fast-paced, and it'll help a lot if you've played Warcraft III or especially Defense of the Ancients before. Even newbies to the genre or just players who enjoyed hack-and-slash titles like Diablo will find some fun. The Mac version will be out later this year, and Riot says it has lots of other updates coming for all platforms, including features for actual tournament and e-sport play. We'll keep an eye out when the Mac client is released and let you know then.

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