Gaming on the Road

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The last PC I bought before I went Mac was a self-built powerhouse with an emphasis on graphical performance so that I could play all of the latest games (which, at the time, included Grand Theft Auto IV, Portal and Team Fortress 2) so it’s mind-blowing to me that I am now able to play all of those games (not to mention more recent ones like Portal 2 and Borderlands 2) on something that comfortably fits in my carry on.

Not only that, but the introduction of the iPhone and iPad has seen a massive explosion in both casual and not-so-casual gaming on devices that are perfect for playing on planes and buses when a full on immersive gaming experience is inappropriate (or, given the little legroom we get these days, impossible).

The Options


Screenshot of the game Sky Gamblers: Cold WariPhones and iPads are mostly known for their casual games but there are plenty of immersive experiences to be had as well, not to mention the unique interactions afforded by the the gyroscopes, accelerometers and touch screens that add a new dimension to game control that goes beyond the traditional console controller.

The games that are currently consuming much of my free time include:

  1. Letterpress
  2. Ridiculous Fishing
  3. Badlands (absolutely gorgeous)
  4. Zombieville USA 2
  5. Cold War
  6. Tales of Monkey Island (it doesn’t quite reach the epic storytelling scope and hilarity of the originals, but there’s enough nostalgia-inducing smiles in there to keep me going)
  7. Cut The Rope
  8. Tiny Wings
  9. Temple Run 2
  10. Infinity Blade 2
iOS games, clockwise from top: Badland, Tiny Wings, Tales of Monkey Island, Infinity Blade 2

iOS games, clockwise from top: Badland, Tiny Wings, Tales of Monkey Island, Infinity Blade 2

The quality, ingenuity and performance of these games on my freaking mobile phone is incredible and many in this list are made by individuals or small teams, which is a testament to the power of the App Store platform that it allows these artists to go up against the multi-million dollar companies on an even(ish) playing field, thrive and, in some cases, come out on top.


Screenshot of Team Fortress 2

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the multi-million dollar companies. They are the ones that are able to afford to create vast, gorgeous visuals with jaw-dropping graphics and voice acting by movie stars and (if they remember) a compelling story and an immersive gaming experience.

Steam is an amazing service that gives you access to hundreds of these titles (as well as a vast array of indie titles). They also have SteamPlay—meaning that if a title is available on both Mac and Windows, you pay once and can then choose to use install it on either platform.

My current array of titles includes:

  1. Portal 2
  2. Grand Theft Auto IV
  3. Borderlands 2
  4. Team Fortress 2
  5. Monkey Island Special Edition


Screenshot of Super Mario Kart on a Mac emulator

I grew up playing Nintendo—from the original NES all the way through to the GameCube and Wii. Many of the original titles hold up and I’ve been enjoying rediscovering a lot of old favourites. I’m currently using Snes 9x, which seems to be a relatively solid choice for a Super Nintendo emulator.

  1. Super Mario Kart
  2. Zombies Ate My Neighbours
  3. Super Mario World
  4. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo
  5. F-Zero

Practical Considerations

OS X vs Windows

If you’re on a Mac, you’re probably going to want to dual boot into Windows. Steam has brought many titles to the Mac natively but many of them are still Windows only. I’ve also had issues with frame rates due to chip throttling on the Mac side that can be overcome by using tools only available on Windows such as ThrottleStop and NVIDIA Inspector.

Of course, there’s a reason why that throttling exists and I’m probably destroying the longevity of my laptop by continually overheating the discrete GPU but everything is so much sexier at 1900×1600 @ 60FPS and laptops can be replaced.

Make sure you understand the risks before you go down this road.

Disk Space

Games aren’t renowned for their conservative disk space usage. Thankfully, Steam allows you to store all of your games in the cloud. I’ve given myself 25GB of Windows storage which is enough to have one major and one minor game installed simultaneously.

Switching does require downloading up to 15 GB of game data which is no mean feat on South American internet, so some forward planning is required.

Legal Issues

Emulators are a grey area of gaming. The emulators themselves are legal, however the ROM images required to play them are often not. The only real justification is that, if you own the original, then owning the ROM is like owning a backup of something you already paid for.

Yeah, it’s a sketchy justification and should a magical service come along that allows me to go fully legal on my laptop I will happily pay for it. Unfortunately, Nintendo aren’t renowned for their openness to such ideas so I don’t not expect this to happen anytime soon.

Been Spending Most Our Lives Livin’ in a Gamer’s Paradise

Great games are great games, whether they were produced by a small independent shop or a large studio, today or twenty years ago, and being able to enjoy this rich and complex history on a machine you can throw in a bag is another way that technology has empowered me to keep one eye on my own history and culture even as I explore many others throughout the world.

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6 Comments (1 pingbacks)

  1. I don’t think I’m getting the best out of my iPhone, I’m missing out on loads of games here! I sold my Wii to raise funds to travel, I think I’m gonna have to stock up on a few games to keep me busy on the long bus journeys!
    Great post, thanks for sharing.


  2. If you have the ping for TF2, you have the ping for Planetside 2. Free to play and it’s a FPS with a few hundred people all playing at the same time vs the 12-24 limits on other games.

    I’ve also been spending WAY too much time on X-Com: Enemy Unknown via Steam lately. I enjoyed the old ones enough to give the new version a try. Glad I did!


  3. Apart from the odd puzzle or two, not much of a gamer these days – even with gadgets trailing around my knees -, but have to give a shout-out to Guybrush! I’ll never get back the lost hours of sunlight all those years ago, but who can think of such things whilst in the middle of a banjo duel?


  4. What a great post, It is so relevant to my (gaming) life that I squeeze in when I can.

    I am using emulators in Thailand and Laos and catching up on the great titles of my childhood.

    ‘Monkey Island’ is an all time favourite and obviously all of the ‘Mario’ series. I have really got into ‘Badland’ on iPhone too, which is such a good game to play on the buses. I have been getting my ‘Grand Theft Auto’ fix from playing ‘San Andreas’ and trying to suppress my sadness of missing the ‘GTA V’ launch in the UK.

    In the same episodic set up as ‘Tales of Monkey Island’ I have played through ‘The Walking Dead’ series which is also available through steam. I would really recommend it and is good for quite a few hours of immersive story telling.

    Glad you are finding time to play and thank you for the post.



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