Mac gaming has often been seen as an inviable platform for gamers, but it looks like that perception is about to change dramatically. Several recent developments have shown that Apple is making significant strides to enhance the gaming experience on its Macs.
Apple’s Game Porting Kit
To begin with, Apple has introduced a new Game Porting Toolkit. The toolkit was unveiled at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and has been designed to make bringing high-end games to the Mac faster and more efficient.
The Game Porting Toolkit provides an emulation environment that enables developers to run their existing, unmodified Windows games. This allows them to quickly understand their game’s graphics feature usage and performance potential when running on a Mac. The toolkit also includes a new Metal Shader Converter, which can automatically convert all existing HLSL (High-Level Shader Langauge) GPU shaders to Metal, significantly reducing the time it takes to bring shaders and graphics to Mac.
By using the Game Porting Toolkit, developers can see their game’s first scene running on the Mac much earlier than with traditional porting methods. This ability to see a game running right away can be a significant advantage, even when using a cross-platform engine.
We should also keep in mind that Apple Silicon Macs fundamentally run the same code as Apple’s iPads and iPhones. In other words, very little additional work is required to port a game to (for example) an M2 MacBook and an M2 iPad Pro.
Apple Silicon processors, starting with the M1, already had excellent horsepower for console-grade gaming, but with the porting kit getting native optimized versions of Windows games on Mac (and other Apple devices) should be much easier.
DirectX 12 Emulation Comes to MacOS
Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit doesn’t stop there. It also translates the game’s Intel instructions and its use of Windows APIs for keyboard, mouse, and controller input; audio playback; networking and file system use; and, of course, graphics. All modern graphics features, such as GPU-driven pipelines and SIMD operations, and even older features, such as tessellation and geometry shaders, are translated. This allows developers to examine how their Windows DirectX 12 builds would work on a Mac, providing valuable insights into potential performance issues and optimization opportunities.
However, Apple has made its emulation layer open-source, which has led to a slew of people throwing every game they can think of at it, with Reddit user just_reload_it posting videos of Diablo IV and Hogwarts Legacy, and user isaa6 showing off Cyberpunk 2077.
In what might be the fastest example of Sherlocking in history, CodeWeaver’s Crossover 23 also announced DirectX 12 support, but assuming someone can make a more user-friendly version of the current command line driver in-house Apple emulation solution, there might be little reason to pay for this feature.
MacOS Sonoma Gets a Game Mode
In addition to the Game Porting Toolkit, the recent macOS Sonoma update has introduced a new feature that will significantly enhance the gaming experience: Game Mode. This new mode automatically optimizes the system’s performance when running games.
Game Mode identifies when a game is running and adjusts the system’s resources accordingly. It effectively balances the GPU and CPU load to ensure that games run smoothly and efficiently.
Furthermore, macOS Sonoma includes an improved version of the Metal Performance HUD. The Metal Performance HUD now shows deeper details about the instruction set translation and which Direct3D API version is used. It also captures resource copies, clears, and provides valuable statistics about GPU usage and frame rates. This information can be incredibly useful for developers looking to optimize their games for Mac.
Big Names Are Taking Notice
These exciting developments have not gone unnoticed. Major game developers and publishers have already started to take notice and are beginning to bring their titles to the Mac. As more high-end games become available and the gaming experience on Mac continues to improve, it’s clear that Mac gaming is about to enter a new era.
Apple had gaming Luminary Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear fame) come on stage to announce that his game Death Stranding would be getting a native Mac release. Death Stranding is somewhat divisive (one of my favorite games), but there’s no denying the graphical and technical chops of this former PlayStation exclusive. Many of you reading this might be surprised that this type of game can run on Apple Silicon, but even the base model M1 MacBook Air packs significantly more horsepower than a PlayStation 4, which is what Death Stranding was designed for.
Other notable titles have come to the fore, with Resident Evil 8 Village already available on every Apple Silicon Mac, making amazing use of Apple’s AI-upscaling technology, MetalFX. Likewise, No Man’s Sky for Mac is available on Mac as of this writing, with existing owners of the game on Steam getting free access to the Mac version. Race Driver GRID is another title bound for Apple Silicon Macs.
Combining all Apple Silicon devices (Macs and iPads) with the most powerful iPhones and iPads running on Apple’s other high-performance processors adds up to a massive potential customer base for developers. With Apple smoothing out the rough road of porting games to Mac, we expect more than a few developers to grab this now low-hanging fruit.