Image: The startup screen when booting OS 9.2
Written by: Elijah Moon Blackwell
It’s alive! Alive!
Resurrection is not the word I use to describe my hobby. I don’t really bring anything back from the dead. Usually it’s moving a game from the dusty shelves of a thrift store to my game room’s dusty shelves. However, after weeks of tinkering, I truly feel like Dr. Frankenstein now.
A few readers asked me to start looking into retro Mac stuff. Now I don’t know a whole lot about Macs, but I welcome to the opportunity to learn.
Mac OS 9 released in 1999. A final update (Mac OS 9.2) came out in 2001. In the same year Apple introduced Mac OS X 10. This was a gigantic leap. Honestly, the changes are too numerous to list here.
I have a handful of Mac CD-ROM games. Some for OS 9 and others for OS X. It’s about time I had something to play them on so I can start reviewing some games! Sounds easy enough right? Getting a Mac?
Setting everything up was a nightmare
The first step was finding the right Mac to buy. With Windows you have countless of computers to choose from. For example, my XP machine is a random 2010s HP desktop. Mac needs specific hardware. If choices were limited back then, they are definitely limited now.
After a botched Facebook Marketplace deal our hardware guy Kris bought me a Mac Mini G4. It’s a very small, compact machine. The only thing in front is Apple’s “SuperDrive” which reads CD and DVD formats. All the input/output ports are in the back. It is great for someone like me with dwindling space.
The idea was to run Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger because it is the newest OS that supports an extension called Classic Environment. Theoretically, with this extension you can run OS 9 programs in Tiger. This means I could potentially play OS 9 and OS X games (up to Tiger) all under the same operating system. This would be ideal, as Tiger released in 2005. That’s a large timeline of games to choose from. 1999 to 2005!
After burning a whopping four CDs, and hoping the antiquated disk drive didn’t fail, I finally got Tiger installed.
I found out the hard way that Tiger doesn’t actually come with Classic Environment. It was part of a CD bundle that came with the machine. Guess what we didn’t have?
So I traveled to macintoshrepository.org, one of many Mac archival websites, to find the files I needed.
After finally having everything installed how is Classic Environment? To be blunt, it was a waste of time and effort!
Sure, it can see the files on the discs but it couldn’t really run them. Only one Mac OS 9 compatible game fully worked. Age of Empires II Gold worked but it had official OS X support so that really didn’t count. I’m pretty sure the extension is more for productivity software. It suffers a performance hit much like using a virtual machine in Windows. It wasn’t made for gaming.
After a bit of research me and Kris found a community modded Mac OS 9.2 image. It was specifically for the Mac Mini G4. This seemed to be the answer to my prayers. The only problem is this means I can’t play newer titles. But if I had to choose, I’d rather be able to play the older stuff.
If you are curious you can find this image file at macos9lives.com. It released in 2018. The original post was edited in March of this year, so the community is still very active. The dedicated fan base is ensuring Mac OS 9 lives forever.
I’m kind of surprised Apple allows all these sites to exist.
I’ve never talked about abandonware before on CD-ROM Fossil and for good reason. Abandonware is legally grey. Sometimes downloading something a developer doesn’t support anymore is legal. Sometimes it isn’t. In this case I guess Apple truly doesn’t care, which kind of shocks me.
The installation process of the modded OS 9 image was quite simple. Probably the easiest time I had while tinkering with Macs. Thank you heroes of the retro Mac community!
It was all worth it because Mac OS 9.2 is awesome!
I don’t think I’ll ever be an Apple fan. However, I may become a retro Mac fan. There’s just something aesthetically pleasing about this desktop. The Apple logo is the classic rainbow one! Not the boring white/grey one they use today.
The default wallpaper is friendly, all the icons are colorful and it is overall clean. I don’t feel overwhelmed looking at this. If the bottom control panel is a bother you can actually collapse it. A lot can be customized.
Honestly, I’m glad Tiger didn’t work because OS 9 is just so cool! Tiger looks almost identical to the latest releases of Mac OS X. (Well actually the latest version is macOS. They dropped the X and merged the words. Whatever Apple.)
There is a lot of default themes, fonts, and wallpapers to choose from. You can get more options by going to macintoshrepository.org.
OS 9 isn’t awesome just for the looks. It also has a lot of unique applications. There’s Scrapbook, which allows you to create a digital scrapbook; right up my alley. I may mess around with this one day to see if it’s as cool as it sounds.
Modern day Macs have Spotlight. It’s an application that easily searches your drives (or the internet) quickly using whatever keyword you typed. OS 9 has the same kind of thing but called Sherlock. In my case, I have Sherlock 2. I don’t think I’ll ever fill up my drive to the point of needing this program but it’s still pretty cool and more efficient than Windows File Explorer.
Then you got Stickies. Basically it allows you to pepper your desktop with sticky notes. Stickies was first introduced by Apple in System 7.5 in 1994. Microsoft has the same thing but I’m not sure who did it first? I can’t be bothered to research it because it’s sticky notes. Come on, let’s not have a war over who made a program that probably took 30 seconds to code first.
There’s a lot more to explore like Script Editor or Simple Text. There’s also loads of abandonware software that can be found on macintoshrepository.org or macintoshgarden.org. Haven’t really explored the latter but both sites appear on the first page of Google when searching “retro mac software.” They both also require a free account to download any of the files. I will try to obtain the physical media before resorting to these archive websites. But keep in mind, this stuff isn’t easy to find and our budget isn’t high at the moment.
Cool, but how does it game?
Really well! For the games I tested anyway. There is only one game that still gives me issues which is Wing Commander III. Even though I have a 1gb of RAM (which is overkill) it still throws up an error saying I don’t have enough memory. It disables music so I can still launch the game. The game runs perfectly fine because the hardware is excessive but for some reason it just doesn’t see all my RAM.
Other than that any game made for OS 9 should work. I’m assuming I can play OS 8 and System 7 games as well but I haven’t quite tested it yet. If you didn’t pay attention to the Stickies screenshot I’m a little past deadline. Update on compatibility later!
Regardless, this means I can cover retro Mac video games. It also means that I will make more of an effort to collect physical Mac media. Usually I’d only get Mac games if I saw them in the wild. The rest were gifts or donations.
There isn’t a whole lot of supported resolutions so using a modern capture card to record video is near impossible. I haven’t figured out a solution to that quite yet so Mac content will probably be exclusive to the website at first.
But you know…the problems are totally worth it and didn’t make me want to cry into a pillow…totally didn’t delay this article a full week or anything.
Got any retro Mac software or games you’d like me to look at? Let me know in the comments or email me at cdromfossil.com! Stay tuned, more Mac content soon!