Apple’s Magic Trackpad & PC Games

Almost put up a blurry picture of my trackpad with my cat. Decided against it

I did a bad thing. I bought an Apple Magic Trackpad. I know, I know! In my defense, I intend to use it with a PC rather than a Mac, and I bought it primarily to try and ease up a nasty bout of RSI. The latter hasn’t worked one bit, so now I really have to work on justifying the former.

If you’re not aware of it – briefly, it’s an oversized multitouch trackpad, like you’d usually find on a laptop but strangely reimagined as a standalone Bluetooth unit that looks a bit like a desktop calendar that’s run out of pages. Though many (i.e. one person) have called me a fool for even trying, I have also gamed on it successfully. Somewhat.

There’s been a hullaballoo about it in Macland, with shrieking types believing it spells the end of the mouse and a move towards making Macs iPad-y. Nonsense, poppycock, what rot. Of course it doesn’t – it’s just designed as a mouse alternative for show-offs with neatly-manicured beards. I.e. not me. Which is another reason I bought it: to try and pervert it utterly by chaining it to Windows. I’ll show them, etc. Oh, they’re not listening. Never mind.

It doesn’t work quite as intended on PC due to Apple making its multitouch operation bound into OSX functions, but it is possible to install it on it and get most of its features working in Windows (I’ll show you how in a moment) – and to use it for games without abject failure.

Let me add the proviso that it is not better than a mouse for gaming. It’s worse, at least if you’re a veteran mouse+WSADer. It’s just that, unlike every other mouse alternative in the history of the universe ever, it’s not absolutely hopeless. You can game with it, and I’ve used it to play a significant amount of StarCraft 2’s singleplayer. It works pretty well, the only real downside being dragging a box to select a whole bunch of stuff can flake out. All told, it’s definitely not as efficient as a mouse – but it does work. The mouse has a viable alternative. That’s been a long time coming, it really has.

I wouldn’t dare use it for multiplayer, because you just can’t quite coax that kind of speed of response out of it. There is definitely a tactile, futurist pleasure to using it for strategy though – a sense of stroking the world, interacting a little more directly rather than moving a plastic oval around a piece of wood/plastic/titanium/human bone/whatever the hell you people use for desks these days. Even though the mouse is unquestionably the better tool for the job, I keep gravitating towards this – and not purely because it’s a new toy. Oh, and I can hold it one hand and tap at it with the other, not having to involve a desk at all, which does feel terribly Star Trekky.

Particularly, the size of the thing (about 5 inches square) is enough that you don’t feel cramped: it’s a proper interface, not the strange half-measure that a standard laptop trackpad constitutes.

Haven’t tried it with much else yet, though it worked a treat in Peggle. I suspect it’s no good whatsoever for shooters, but I look forward to trying.

In terms of multi-touch features, I’ve persuaded it to do zooming and scrolling, but that’s it. Which puts it on a par with a three-button mouse. Hooray, big bloody deal. Given it does rotating and app-switching and all sorts on OSX, I feel there’s some potential locked inside this weird, blank, shiny slab, however. Its size and its direct finger-responsitivity make it a pleasure to use – but it does need to do more.

If it was programmable, its multi-touch nature would make it a wondrous thing for stuff like RTSes and MMOs, keying certain areas or gestures to certain functions. Given that it hasn’t helped my RSI one bit I’m probably going to return it to the shop, but a part of me wants to hold out and see if any clever buggers manage to write custom software for it. It’s a touch interface for the PC which doesn’t require a special monitor that you have to leave greasy fingerprints all over. I’m very interested to see where that could go in terms of games, presuming people can find a way past whatever locked doors Apple’s erected around it.

If you’re considering getting one, my final word remains that the mouse is unquestionably better for gaming, but for some genres this future-slab is definitely viable. Don’t kid yourself you’re getting it for anything other than indulgent reasons, though: there isn’t any practical justification for it. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a square of metal and glass attached to a battery, however, and again I’m looking forward to seeing what modders make of it.

Oh, and to install it on Windows, unless you want it to function solely as a one-button mouse, you need to fool your PC into thinking it’s a Mac. A Mac with Windows installed on a partition thanks to Apple’s Bootcamp software, specifically. Which is easier than it sounds. I figured this all out the hard way myself, though I guess guides must exist by now.

You need to obtain from somewhere (Apple don’t host it directly, but it’s very easy to find) the Bootcamp 3.0 driver pack; it will refuse to install directly because it can immediately tell your PC isn’t a Mac. No matter – use Winrar or suchlike to extract everything from the .exe – it’s actually a compressed archive file disguised as an executable. Explore the extracted folders, ignore the Setup file you immediately see and instead go to Drivers -Apple. Run the Bootcamp (or Bootcamp 64, if you’re on a 64-bit operating system) file there and everything will install.

You then need to pop to Apple’s site and download the Bootcamp 3.1 update (32 bit, 64 bit). Repeat the extract-from-the-exe process and then find and run Bootcampupdate.exe. Then grab the Magic Trackpad update for Windows (32 bit, 64 bit) – you can install that directly, without the extraction stuff, as it will believe you legitimately have Bootcamp installed.

Reboot and that, then finally pair your Trackpad via Bluetooth. Having Bootcamp installed isn’t any kind of problem or resource hog, but it will set your keyboard to an Apple layout. You can restore that to normal via Control Panel.

Right, back to slightly awkward gaming for me.

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