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A Beginner's Guide to Game Center on The Mac

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Game Center is a social feature that has been an app on the iPad and iPhone since iOS 5. With the advent of games in the Mac App Store, Game Center has now made the transition to Mac and introduced as a new app in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Game Center is intended to be a service that ties together games and gamers across all devices. It’s a means of discovering new games based on those played by others and it’s a means of competing for achievements and scores against your friends, and even against the rest of the world. 160 million* other gamers can't be wrong, here's how to join them...


Where is Game Center in OS X?

When you first launch Mountain Lion you may be forgiven for thinking that Game Center hasn’t been included as it’s not in the dock. Don't worry, it's there. You just need to look in the applications folder to find the Game Center app.

Tip: Launch Spotlight by clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the top right hand side of the menubar or by hitting Command+Space. Type Game Center, and Spotlight will locate the Game Center App. Once located, click on Game Center or press Return. If you use Alfred, you can find Game Center by pressing Option+Space before typing the application name.

If you’re going to be a regular user of Game Center, you may wish to move the application to your dock. (To do this simply drag the Game Center icon from applications down to the dock.)


What is Game Center?

Game Center allows friends, and soon to be friends (as Apple says), to challenge each other in games available in the Mac App Store and on iOS devices.

You can challenge friends or strangers, from anywhere in the world, in a multiplayer game. Every game is multiplayer in the sense that you can see how you rank against your friends or even against everybody who plays that game!


Which Devices Support Game Center?

Game Center is available on iPod Touch 2nd generation and later, iPhone 3GS and later, iPad, and Macs running OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.


How Do I Join Game Center?

Game Center
This is the screen that you will see on launching Game Center. Use your AppleID to log in.

Once you have launched the Game Center application you will be prompted to enter your AppleID and password. If this is the first time that you have logged into Game Center you will be prompted to enter a nickname. This can be anything you like. My nickname is “johnnyw”, but I’m probably not as imaginative as you are! You will also be able to add a photo to your profile. That’s it. You’re now logged into Game Center.

Along the top of the Game Center app window, you will see the menu bar comprising the following:

Game Center Menu bar
  • Me: the main page of Game Center that displays your profile including the number of games you are playing, total points accrued and how many friends you are linked to on Game Center.
  • Friends: In this quite busy section, Game Center will make friend recommendations. Friend recommendations are based on people in your Contacts address book whom are also on Game Center, people with whom you have a friend in common or just Game Center recommendations based upon the games that you have in common with others.
  • Games: In this section you will find game recommendations, a list of your OS X games and a list of your iOS games. Clicking on any of these will bring up further information about that game, how you are ranked against your friends, overall and how many achievements and points you have earned in that game. The more achievements that you make, the more points you earn.
  • Challenges: Here, you will receive notifications of challenges from friends to beat their game scores or to earn achievement. To accept your friends’ challenges, simply click on the scores or achievements.
  • Requests: The final main section of the Game Center app shows any friend requests and allows you to invite others to be your friend on Game Center.

Finding Friends

You can choose to add new friends by clicking the Add Friends banner, on the left, and entering your friend’s email address or Game Center nickname.

Finding Friends
Finding friends in Game Center.

Finding Games

There are a couple of ways to find games using the Game Center app. On the main page, you can click on any of the icons to be taken through to the Mac App Store to view information about and download games.

Find Game Center games

Furthermore, under the Games tab, there is a button at the bottom of your listed games, marked “Find Game Center Games”, which takes you through to the Mac App Store. Here, you will find listed Game Center compatible games which you may download and challenge others.

Mac App Store Game Center games

Game Leaderboards

To view the game leaderboards, for any particular game, you need first to be in the Friends or Games sections. Viewing the leaderboards isn’t immediately obvious, but once you know how it works it is remarkably easy.

Leaderboards
Connor is ranked higher than me, but I am higher than Scott and Leon.

Simply click on the game in which you are interested in viewing the leaderboards and a new pane will slide in to reveal more information.

Tip: It’s discreet, but keep an eye on the top left of Game Center for two arrows that are occasionally illuminated. This gives one of the few visual clues as to where you are in Game Center.

The leaderboards for any given game will show how you rank against your friends and against all players of that game. You can also view how you rank against others over different time periods: today, this week and for all time.

You will notice the options, at the base of the header, for Leaderboards, Achievements and Players.


Game Achievements

Achievements are awards given for particular milestones in a game. You are awarded points for each Achievement gained. Some Achievements are easy, others much harder and points are awarded commensurately. By looking at Achievements you can create new challenges for yourself, and friends.

Click on any of the Achievements to bring up a speech-bubble type window to challenge friends or share your challenge on by email, iMessage, Twitter or Facebook.

Achievements
Achievements: Awards for different milestones achieved within a game.

Game Players

Players
Players: My friends with whom I share a game in common.

The last option simply lists friends with whom you have the selected game in common and when they last played that game.

By clicking on any of your friends you can view their profiles to see other games you have in common and view the other games that they play.

Player Profile
This is the Player Profile of one of my Game Center friends.

Game Challenges

Any participant of Game Center can challenge you. This may be a friend or, less likely, a stranger. Any challenges that are made to you are received in the challenges area of Game Center.

Game Center Challenges
Game Center Challenges from your Game Center friends.

You can choose to decline challenges. If you wish to decline a challenge, simply go to the challenges section, select the person from whom the challenge came, click to reveal a speech bubble containing the challenge. Simply click the “Decline” button.


Challenging Others

To challenge others is quite simple, again, once you know how. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to go to the friends section in Game Center, select one of your friends to see which games they have in common with you, then select one of the games.

You are then presented, by default, with the leaderboards for that game. Either click on a friend to send a challenge, or click on the Achievements tab.

If you clicked on achievements, you will see a list of achievements awarded you and your friend. It is here that you may challenge your friend to gain a particular achievements in that game.

Whichever way you choose to challenge somebody, simply click the “Send Challenge” button within the speech bubble, and add an optional message.

Challenging a friend
Sending a challenge to a Game Center friend.

Your challenge will be sent to your friend via email.


Conclusion

Initially, Game Center seems to be hidden in Mountain Lion as you have to go delving in the Applications folder for it. Next, you are assaulted with a skeuomorphic wood and green baize faux games table effect, a user interface that you either love or hate. Finally, you are presented with an app that, on the face of it, does very little with no clear nor consistent navigation meaning that it is easy to become lost.

If you can overcome these usability obstacles, you can click on Games and Achievements to set challenges for others and click on Friends to either see their profile or set challenges. (The behaviour of clicking on Friends is inconsistent in this respect across the app.)

The key to using Game Center is to click on things. Even things that are not obviously clickable - just click to see if it does anything. This is necessary only due to the fact that the interface is confusing to the new Game Center User. Following some exploration of Game Center, you will be able to see how you rank against your friends and the rest of the world, and you will be able to challenge your friends to add an extra competitive dimension to your games.

*Apple announced, during their keynote event on 23 October 2012, that there were 160 million Game Center accounts.

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