With all the nattering about GameTap generated by the Uru
Live and Sam & Max communities, I decided to tap in and see what
the buzz was all about.
Let’s start at the beginning. I surfed to the website,
www.gametap.com and toured around to get an idea of what this site is
all about. Then I downloaded the GameTap software -- the emulator program
which gives access to the games and allows you to play them. Thirty minutes
later, I was connected and exploring GameTap.
The first thing I noticed was GameTap TV. It is playing
when the first screen opens. From here, you can watch on-demand short
videos of your choice. They deal with everything from where your favorite
character might live to Space Ghost interviewing luminaries such as Steve
Wozniak and Rand Miller.
Next, I found the Game Vault where all the goodies are
stored. GameTap currently has over 600 games. The Vault is divided into
several sections making it easy to find the game you want. It is searchable
by game name, game type, console type, or GameTap picks. From there, you
click to add games to your favorites list. The Vault will open at your list
from that point out.
Most folks’ main question is “What games do they have”? At
the moment, the Adventure category includes 64 titles, with about half
falling into the pure adventure category. The other half includes games
like the Tomb Raider series which are often considered
action/adventure. Titles include some text adventures, several of the
Myst series, various Quest for Glory games, a few Space Quests,
and the first three Zorks. Most of the adventure games are from
early periods of adventure gaming, but I noticed several released after
2000. I assume this section is where Uru Live and Sam & Max:
Season 1 will be.
There are 13 Board and Card games, 23 Role Playing Games (RPGs)
including a few of the Might and Magic series, and the first
Baldur’s Gate. The 61 offerings in the Family category include
Cluefinders, Jump Start, Lego, and Reader Rabbit
games. There are 30 Simulation titles and 51 in the Strategy category. The
remainder of the 600+ consists of Action, Classic Arcade (which my husband
loves), Sports, Fighting, Puzzle (not adventure-like puzzles), and Racing
titles. These numbers will certainly increase, as GameTap regularly adds
Playing the Games
When I joined GameTap I wanted to have the widest possible
range of experiences. Therefore, I downloaded and played a different game
every day or so. I started in the Adventure category but branched out to
include the Board and Card game, RPG, and Strategy categories.
The game files and saves are stored on your hard drive, but
you must be connected to GameTap to play them. This explains why a
broadband connection is required. Downloading is easy. Click on the desired
game. This brings up a “card” with information about that game, its
controls, and bonus material. Special game requirements and the manual on
PDF, if available, are also here. Most games don’t have special
requirements and the manual is not available for all titles.
Downloading the Games
Downloads begin with a click on the “Get the Game” button.
GameTap estimates the download length. I noticed the first time is usually
incorrect, so don’t panic. The figure will jump a bit, finally settling
down to a more accurate approximation. Download times vary from three
minutes for Mahjong to three hours for Beyond Atlantis 2.
45-90 minutes was my average download time, but this figure is totally
dependent on your connection, your computer, and the game you choose.
The long download time is only for the initial download. You
can play another game or use your computer for other tasks during this
period. Thereafter, to play, open GameTap. Go to your Favorites (if you
designated the game as a favorite). Click on the title, and then on “Play
the Game.” The game opens within a few seconds; a minute at most.
Playing Across Genres and Platforms
A great feature of GameTap is the availability of console
games for PC play. I enjoyed “dipping my toe” into these old titles as well
as into genres new to me. Doing so allowed me to discover I like strategy
games, a genre I never before considered playing.
It is also entertaining to play the older games without
having to fiddle with my computer settings. Not that every game ran
flawlessly. Most ran just fine with no tinkering, but not all.
Not Always Perfect
In particular, the first Myst requires QuickTime
6.5.2. The current version of QuickTime is 7.0. I uninstalled the current
version and installed the older one. Myst ran beautifully, but I
soon discovered my son’s iTunes will not function with that version of
QuickTime. So, it was back to the current version. My personal computer
guru tells me it is possible to simply swap the QuickTime
(uninstall-reinstall) files each time I want to play Myst, but that
is more work than I’m willing to do.
Darkstone, an RPG that intrigued me, ran wonderfully,
but a few letters in the text did not “translate” correctly making it
extremely difficult to read. I uninstalled and reinstalled with no
improvement. I called tech support. They were very friendly and helpful,
going so far as to call the company in Canada that published the game. But
in the end, we were not able to correct the problem. After some research, I
found a universal criticism of this game upon release was that the fonts
were difficult to read. I’m not sure how much that fact contributed to my
present problem with Darkstone.
GameTap can be installed on two computers at the same time,
and has up to seven sub-accounts. It includes parental controls, and many
games are configurable to the way you like to play.
GameTap is ALT+TAB friendly when watching GameTap TV or
surfing the game vault. However, running the games and tabbing out usually
froze my computer.
I did not try to play any game with a gamepad, but the FAQ
says it “supports some, but not all” gamepads. It may or may not work with
your favorite one, and tech support will not help with this. However, there
is a list of supported gamepads in the FAQ.
GameTap allows you to chat with your friends while playing
games, though I did not test this feature. It also allows you to challenge
friends and to be challenged. I don’t like challenge play, so I turned that
feature off. I do like that you can see the list of games available on the
website before enrolling.
Starting and Stopping
Joining GameTap is smooth and easy, requiring the gamer to
create an account and register a credit card which GameTap guarantees
against fraudulent use. I’m still a member, so I can’t tell you how easy it
is to quit.
It takes a phone call to customer service at 1-866-722-5295
to suspend the account. I include the number because it took me a bit of
digging to discover this was the number you must use if you wish to end your
subscription. You cannot stop it by email or chat support.
My Biggest Frustration
GameTap installed and ran easily on my desktop
(specifications below). But in spite of many hours work (in excess of
twenty hours), it never would install on my laptop.
My computer guru spent two days on the phone with the
GameTap technical support folks, uninstalled, reinstalled, disconnected
peripherals, and shut down virus and firewall software. None of these steps
were necessary on the desktop. He tried it with the laptop hooked to the
port and unhooked from it. He tried with only the laptop on, since we share
a single DSL line, and with many other configurations. He updated and
backdated drivers. At some point, I think he tried standing on his head.
Sadly, nothing worked.
I know that GameTap will run on laptops, but it stubbornly
will not run on mine.
GameTap Technical Support: A Mixed Bag
In any on-line experience, technical support and customer
service are major elements in customer satisfaction. GameTap tech support
is available four ways: phone, on-line chat, email, and a searchable
database of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ). I had several
occasions to use GameTap’s tech support, with mixed results.
Phone Support Options
The first level phone support is excellent. My wait time
was minimal and the techs I interacted with were friendly, courteous,
knowledgeable and most importantly, stayed on the line with me until my
problem was resolved. I hate talking to tech support when they give me a
list of things to try and then hang up with an admonition to “Call back if
none of those things work.” That did not happen here. The techs stayed
on-line with me while I tried the various solutions, hanging up only when
the problem was resolved or all solutions were tried and failed.
Problems arose with the “tried and failed” phone support
scenarios. In those instances, the second level tech support folks are
supposed to call within three to five days to continue working on the
problem. I had two problems that generated the “tried and failed” outcome
(the Darkstone text, and a failure to install GameTap on my laptop).
It has been three weeks since my first attempt to solve these problems with
the first level tech support folks. As of this writing, I am still waiting
to be called back.
I did try calling tech support after nine days and asked
about the wait time. They apologized and gave me an extra month of GameTap
for free, but the two problems mentioned above are still extant.
On-line Support Options
Chat support is very easy to use, though there are some
strange lag times between when I post and when I get an answer. I used it
three times for questions I could not easily find the answers to on the web
site. Each time my questions were answered quickly and correctly.
I used the on-line FAQ several times. Sometimes I found my
answer, and sometimes not.
The email support just plain did not work for me. GameTap
said I should have a “detailed answer” in 24 hours. I’m still waiting.
And Several Small Frustrations
Some games have the manuals available, but some don’t. This
is not a problem with simple games, but was definitely a problem when I
attempted a complex strategy/RPG hybrid called Disciples II: Rise of the
Elves. The game ran flawlessly, and there is an in-game tutorial. But,
I’ve never played this type of game. I need in-depth instructions like
those found in the manual. I eventually found some information at another
website. The GameTap folks are in the process of uploading more manuals and
I commend them for it. Nevertheless, not having a manual for the
Disciples game was a major disadvantage for me.
A frequent problem I’ve encountered is that the Log-out
toolbar disappears anytime I leave the home page. To get it back, I have to
Alt+Tab out and back. Easy enough if I’m not playing a game. However, if
shutting the game down does not bring the toolbar back, I am forced to use
Ctrl+Alt+Delete to bring up Task Manager.
Also, the interface could be more consumer friendly. I had
to call tech support to find my downloaded games in order to delete one. If
you are wondering, they are under “My GameTap,” “Local Storage,” “Advanced
Storage Options.” From there you can see which games you’ve downloaded and
I joined GameTap not quite sure what to expect and, frankly,
thinking I would not like it. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. It’s a
great way for me to play some of the classic games without mucking around
with my computer settings (which I am uneasy doing). I’m excited that
GameTap is helping make it possible for Uru Live and Sam & Max
GameTap seems to be the perfect vehicle for episodic
releases such as the new Sam & Max. I normally don’t care for games
released in episodes. My pragmatic side reels from the total cost of the
“complete” story. Placing these games on GameTap negates this problem.
It’s almost as if GameTap was tailor-made for just that type of release.
GameTap is also an easy way to indulge myself with games
from other genres which have piqued my curiosity. I don’t want to buy a
game in another genre and then discover I don’t like that style of gaming.
GameTap allows me to sample games to my heart’s content.
I think GameTap is a good “deal.” For less than the cost of
lunch ($9.99 per month), it provides many hours of entertainment for my
family. It is my sincere hope that GameTap will add more pure adventure
games as they continue to grow. Doing so will only increase its value to
myself and others like me.
Update, 27 Oct. 06
It turns out the problem
with GameTap and our laptop was a router problem. It is up and running on
the laptop just fine now.
Also, GameTap's pricing
structure has changed. Check their website for more information.
Lastly, as promised, the
number of titles available is now 719 and
continuing to increase.
Home to Uru Live and
the new Sam & Max episodic releases
software allows many games to play on XP PCs
Current cost is
$9.95 monthly charged to credit card
Must have broadband
U.S. Only (at this
time, but they are supposed to be planning to expand into other markets)
Over 600 games
available in many genres
Can be installed on
tech support excellent, with higher level support being less than
Tech support and
customer service available on-line, chat, phone, and email
Manuals may or may
not be available for games
Gamepad may or may
Game files and saves
stored on your computer
Must be connected to
GameTap to play
downloads vary from 3 minutes to 3+ hours
Can play other games
or use computer for other functions while downloading games
times to play the game should be less than a minute (depending on your
Sign up on-line, but
must phone to discontinue
Pentium III or AMD
Athlon 800 MHz or better
256 MB RAM
5 GB available
3D-capable video card with 32 MB VRAM or greater
Direct X 8.X and
Open GL 1.1
Computer that Installed and Ran GameTap without Problems:
Win XP Professional SP1
3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4
1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM
Sound Card: DirectX Version: 9.0b
Video Card: 128 DDR NVIDIA Geforce FX5200 Ultra
Laptop that Never Successfully
Windows XP Professional (5.1, Build 2600) Service Pack 2
Pentium(R) M processor 2.13GHz
Memory: 1024MB RAM
DirectX 9.0c (4.09.0000.0904)
Card name: ATI
MOBILITY RADEON X700
Current Mode: 1024 x
768 (32 bit) (60Hz)