To embrace gaming Apple needs to level up its game porting toolkit – Six Colors

Aa a longtime Mac user, I’m just as aware of the platform’s limitations as I am its strengths. Chief among those limitations is—and has been for many years— gaming. Personally, though I played my fair share of Mac games throughout my teens and college years, I haven’t been an avid Mac gamer for a couple decades, first leaving for the greener pastures of PC gaming and then, eventually, the simpler world of consoles.

That’s why I found last year so interesting. Not only did Apple spend some significant time talking the talk about games with the release of its M2 Pro and Max chips and how good they were for gaming, but it even walked the walk with the WWDC release of its game porting toolkit.

As this year’s annual platform updates grow closer, Mac users are left wondering whether this is another flash in the pan from a company that has historically never gotten games, or if Apple might instead be poised to demonstrate that its commitment is more than just lip service.

Coming into port

Last summer I tried giving the game porting toolkit a whirl on my M1 MacBook Air, which was then running the required macOS Sonoma beta. At the time installing the toolkit meant following a series of technical instructions, involving no small amount of command line work. Though I’m no stranger to spending time in Terminal, I ultimately didn’t even manage to get to the point of firing up a game.

This week, though, I noticed that one of the classic games of my teen years, Star Wars: Dark Forces, had gotten the remastered treatment. That updated version was available for many of the consoles, as well as for Windows…but not for the Mac.

An updated version of a many years-old game seemed like ideal pickings for another stab at Apple’s toolkit: the gameplay wouldn’t be very demanding, but would also no doubt highlight any shortcomings in Apple’s technology.

Whisky makes it incredibly easy to install PC games—perhaps too easy.

What a difference eight months makes. That’s in no small part due to Whisky, an app that wraps both Wine, the tool that translates Windows API calls to their Unix-like equivalents, and Apple’s game porting toolkit into one very friendly interface. That removes pretty much all of the work out of the process, to the point where all I had to do was download Whisky and drag it into my Applications folder. It installed all the necessary under-the-hood software, leaving me with nothing but time on my hands.

So I grabbed the standalone installer for Dark Forces that I’d purchased from and simply ran it. Less than ten minutes later, I was running around blasting pixelated stormtroopers. I even connected the Xbox controller I keep in my office and it worked seamlessly, with no additional setup (I was surprised to see that even Dark Forces‘s in-game UI knew I was using an Xbox controller and changed to reflect that).

Fighting stormtroopers in Dark Forces
Stormtroopers would be scarier if they could actually hit anything.

The only issue I ran into was that the MIDI sound stuttered somewhat—all the sounds and music were intelligible, just with this additional audio artifact. Some digging around suggested workarounds involving replacement DLLs, which I gave a half-hearted shot at but had no luck.

The once and future king of Mac gaming

Windows gaming on the Mac is hardly new: over the years enthusiasts have used tools ranging from Apple’s Boot Camp to emulators like Parallels and VMware Fusion to translators like Wine and CrossOver to finagle PC games into running on Mac hardware. But all of those solutions were cumbersome to different degrees and served to alienate the people who just wanted playing games to be as simple as everything else on the Mac—nobody wants to hear that games work great if you just install these four pieces of software and tweak endless settings.

Apple’s said that its game porting toolkit is designed specifically for developers, to help them enable running their titles on the Mac. The idea being that it takes care of a certain base-level compatibility—to make sure titles are optimized and run well, companies have to put in some time.

What I wonder is just how well that’s paid off. There certainly hasn’t been an explosion in Mac gaming in the past several months, though, to be fair, games have long development timelines and large shops are probably not about to throw caution to the winds and embrace the Mac after all these years.

But has Apple done everything it can? I think the company’s only fighting half the battle here. The Mac has always suffered from a chicken-and-egg gaming problem: developers don’t want to commit resources to making games for a platform because there aren’t enough customers there; but the reason there aren’t enough customers is because there aren’t enough games.

The game porting toolkit attacks the developer side of the equation, but only brushes up against the other side: consumers.

If Apple really wants to jumpstart gaming on the Mac, it should bake the underlying technologies of the game porting toolkit directly into the system. Make installing and running a PC game as easy as if it were a Mac native title.

Dark Forces Mission briefing screen
Make Moff Rebus canon again, cowards!

Are there risks with this approach? Definitely. As I mentioned, the audio in my version of Dark Forces was sub-par and, from what I can see online, these kinds of edge cases are not uncommon. It’s not hard to imagine blame being leveled at Apple’s hardware and software for “not being up to the task” when the truth is that the titles simply need some extra care and attention to play at their best. Whisky already does a good job of trying to package in a lot of the ancillary software that can help make the right tweaks; there’s no reason Apple couldn’t apply a similar approach.

In the end, I’d argue that the potential benefits outweigh the risks: running PC games on the Mac at all is a pretty big coup, to say nothing of them running pretty well. If Apple’s really worried about a bad experience reflecting poorly on its products, it can throw up a splash screen disclaimer—come on, you guys love splash screen disclaimers!

The more demand from folks who are willing to play their games on the Mac, the better the chance that developers will be willing to at least invest the time to make sure their titles run well. And if that ends up being a gateway to making games that run natively on the Mac, well, then, mission accomplished. As impressive as Apple’s tools are, just chucking them at developers and expecting them to jump at the chance of being on the Mac doesn’t cut it.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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