Apple introduced Game Center for iOS in 2010, hoping to capitalize on the growing selection of casual gaming titles that make up a huge part of App Store's catalog.
With social gaming features similar to those in Microsoft's XBox Live or Sony's PlayStation Network, Game Center allows developers to tap into a single system for reporting scores and achievements, and for sending invitations to friends or getting matched up with other players in multiuser games.
In Mountain Lion, Apple is bringing Game Center's features to the Mac desktop, and of course, to developers of the more involved and complex games available on a full sized computer.
Now under development, Game Center currently doesn't sport any titles in the Mac App Store. Apple has outfitted the bundled Chess with Game Center features, demonstrating how the new features can work within desktop games.
The Game Center app
As with IOS, Mac users will now soon have a central app that links to their networked friends, the games they play, pending requests, and the achievements they've unlocked in each title they play.
After signing in, users can pick a nickname that will be used in leader boards and to identify them in multiplayer games. Users can opt to have a public profile, where they are identified to other player by their real name. There's also an option to look up Game Center friends using your existing contacts.
Once logged in, users can view their gaming social network of friends or invite others into their Game Center network. Existing iOS Game Center players should find their existing pool of friends once the service goes online with the release of Mountain Lion.
The third tab of Game Center lists the gaming titles (below) that user has been playing, presents recommendations, and links to the App Store. Note that games are listed as being "OS X Games," as Apple is advertising that Game Center on iOS and Mac will allow for cross platform gameplay, in addition to titles that are exclusive to either App Store.
Currently, the link to the Mac App Store presents an empty inventory of Game Center titles, simply because it hasn't officially launched yet.
On page 2 of 2: A preview in Chess 3.0
A preview in Chess 3.0
Apple's bundled Chess app, however, has been updated to support Game Center features. It also has some other minor updates, including a "gloss" background and subtle changes in its preferences. The computer AI, for example, now lets you choose specifically how many future moves (or how much time) the computer will ponder before making its move. Previously, Chess just presented a slider from "faster" to "stronger."
When you start an Game Center-enabled game, it logs into the network for you if you've already configured your account in Game Center. Otherwise, it will prompt you to sign in.
Signing into Game Center within Chess gives you access to two new features in the new 3.0 version, starting with Game Log, which in Chess shows the series of moves made. In the game below, an Achievement was also unlocked by putting the opponent's king in check.
Specific Game Center Achievements that have been unlocked can also be listed in the new Chess 3.0 (below), providing an additional way for players to meet secondary challenges as they play a game.
These Achievements are also tracked in Game Center itself, along with a list of players you have shared games with (below).
Cross platform Game Center play
Apple won't allow developers to list their own Game Center apps in the App Store until Mountain Lion ships, but it has already paved the way for developers to not only have Mac Game Center titles available at launch, but also to produce multiplayer titles that users on both iOS and OS X can play together.
Additionally, Apple has created a new Groups feature to allow users to share achievement and leaderboard score data between apps, enabling a developer to make a user's achievements visible across a connected franchise of related apps, or across the platform-specific versions of its game.
"With the Game Center app on your Mac [in OS X Mountain Lion], you can play anyone on a Mac, iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch," Apple notes, adding in a footnote that "Game Center is available on iPad, iPhone 3GS or later, iPod touch (3rd generation and later), and Mac computers with OS X Mountain Lion. Game Center works with games that have been developed to work with the Game Center service. Game Center may not be available in all countries or regions, and the available games may vary by country or region."