Why the NAM for Mac package is no more

Note as of July 28, 2014: NAM for Mac is now here.

When the NAM Team began making preparations for the NAM 31 release cycle a few months back, we ultimately decided to eliminate the separate NAM package for Mac OS X users, and under the NAM Team member account at Simtropolis, I posted a thread about the subject in advance of the release.   The relationship between users of the Aspyr OS X port of SimCity 4 Deluxe and the custom content community over the years has been an odd one over the years, in large part because of the quirks that occur with custom content on that port, the difficulty creating custom content on a Mac (most SC4 modding tools are Windows only), and the prevalence of installers in many content downloads, many of which don’t work on OS X (including the NAM’s Nullsoft-based installer).

The aforementioned quirks didn’t really have much impact on NAM operation on OS X, until Apple released OS X Lion (10.7), which removed Rosetta, the emulation software that Apple previously included to allow older PowerPC applications, including the OS X port of SC4, to run on Intel Macs.   Aspyr released a “Universal Binary” patch for their SC4 port, which technically allows the game to run without Rosetta.  However, this patch, as per the official description,  is an “open beta”, which was released “to let the user of this patch provide [Aspyr] with feedback as to how well it works”, and Aspyr notes that even with the patch, “Simcity 4 Rush Hour is still not supported for play on Intel Macs.”  The patch has not been updated in the nearly 6 years since its release, and neither the port or the patch is supported by Aspyr anymore, so there’s pretty much no chance of this changing.

Many users running this Universal Patch installed on a system running Lion or later have reported inexplicable tendencies for the game to crash to desktop after 30 minutes or less (twice that for enterprising users who tweaked the port’s packaging), and these crashes become instant when certain NAM files are installed to the Plugins folder.  Among these NAM files that has been linked to the crashing is the so-called “Bridge Controller” file, which, in addition to bridges, also handles all Left-Hand Traffic path remapping, shadows on elevated pieces, and even some “tile verifier” code that is involved in ensuring proper placement behavior of some network items. Some Mac users have reported they can build bridges if they put the game on pause, exit the game, put the Bridge Controller into their Plugins, relaunch the game, build the bridge while ensuring the game is still paused, exit, pull the Bridge Controller back out of their Plugins, and launch the game a third time–but that’s really a lot of effort, that only the most dedicated users will undertake.  And if you’re in the UK or another Left-Hand Traffic country and on a Mac, you’re completely out of luck.

There’s also a couple other factors involved.  Based on historic download count records from the past few years, the number of people downloading the Mac versions is only about 3-4% of all NAM users, and it’s been known for awhile that quite a few of those downloads are actually Windows users, looking for a manual install package, or trying to find the Windows version who download the Mac version instead, by accident.  So realistically, the user base that is running the the game natively on OS X is likely right around 3%.  That 3% is also a very vocal segment of the user base, which over the years, has required a disproportionately large amount of tech support.  As none of the NAM Team members run the Aspyr port–even the Mac users among us run the Windows version on dual-boot–it was already difficult to assist OS X users.  It’s infintely more so with the massive complications that were introduced by Apple removing Rosetta, forcing the Aspyr port users to install a buggy, unsupported 6-year-old patch that’s not recommended for anything other than test usage, if they want to brave running SC4 on later OS X releases.  Beyond that, the .zip file would end up being somewhere in excess of 500MB.

Over the years, we’ve generally tried to make the NAM available to as many people who can run SC4 as possible.  But the issues with running the Mac port, in the wake of the decisions Apple has made with respect to software architecture within the past couple years, are too much to overcome, and unfortunately, we had to cut our losses and stop supporting the Mac port altogether.

It’s worth noting that if you are a Mac user, there are other options for you than running the unstable patched version, which will allow you to use the NAM and all the custom content out there worry-free.  The most feasible, of course, is running a dual-boot with Windows, and acquiring a copy of the Windows version of the game, which, nowadays, can be gotten as inexpensively as $5 on some sales.  And if you don’t have a copy of Windows, or are wanting to stay away from Microsoft, there’s another free option–Linux.  There’s actually a growing base of users who are running the Windows port on Linux with WINE, with no problems whatsoever, and through WINE, the Linux users are even able to run the Windows installer.