One of the reasons Valve’s Steam Deck has become such a great platform for gaming is that, despite running a Linux-based operating system, it can run thousands of Windows games without any modifications thanks to Valve’s Proton compatibility layer (which is based on Wine).

Now Apple is bringing a similar feature to macOS… but it’s not really meant to let users play Windows games on Macs. It’s designed to make it easier for game developers to test their Windows games on Macs before porting them to run natively. That hasn’t stopped users from using Apple’s new Game Porting Toolkit to run games like Cyberpunk 2077 on a Mac though.

In a WWDC session this week, Apple described how the toolkit allows Windows games to run on a Mac without any modifications thanks to software that translates system calls from Windows APIs to their equivalent Mac APIs.

The Toolkit allows Windows games to access Mac input devices, audio playback, networking and file system hardware, and graphics. Games designed to use Microsoft’s DirectX 12 graphics can instead run on Apple systems that use Metal 3 graphics

Like Valve’s Proton software, Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit is based on Wine code… although in Apple’s case, the company worked with source code from CrossOver, the primary corporate backer of the Wine project, which also offers its own software for running Windows apps and games on Mac and Linux computers.

But unlike Proton, which is designed to let end users run Windows games on Linux systems without any help from the game developers, the Game Porting Toolkit is designed as a developer tool. Apple says it’s meant to help shorten the amount of time it takes developers to port their games to run natively on Macs… because that’s what it’s really hoping to encourage.

While you can already run many existing Windows games on a mac by tapping into this developer tool, Apple notes that they may be buggy and/or slower or less efficient than games that run natively. That’s because when you run a Windows game on a Mac using the toolkit, not only are you running a game, but you’re also adding the overhead that comes from running the toolkit, translating APIs, and translating instructions set architecture (most Windows games are designed to run on computers with x86_64 processors, while modern Macs have ARM-based Apple M series processors).

With that in mind, the toolkit also includes a Metal Performance HUD (heads up display) that can highlight performance metrics and help developers identify problems that would be resolved by taking the extra steps to compile the games to run natively on Apple hardware.

But companies have been working for years to make it easier for developers to make their apps and games cross-platform, often with limited success. There’s a chicken and egg problem here: Apple’s laptop and desktop computers have long been considered tools that professionals can use as graphics workstations for creating content… but they’re not widely considered to be gaming machines. And so developers haven’t had much reason to port their titles to run on Mac.

Maybe that’ll change now that Apple is making it easier than ever. But maybe now that Apple has also taken a baby step into simply allowing unmodified Windows games to run on a Mac, the company could eventually take a page out of Valve’s playbook and just make this a user-oriented feature one day rather than one aimed at developers.

via The Verge and Apple

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  1. Since it’s based on crossover, doesn’t crossover still depends on Rosetta2 to run on the apple silicon macs?
    If so, so many moving pieces, since we just dunno when apple will eol Rosetta2, or if crossover/wine would have a working solution when the time comes…

  2. I don’t think Apple will ever want to let end users run Windows games through this tool. They wouldn’t get a cut from any of that.

    But both Wine and the relevant CrossOver code are GPL. So Apple has to make anything they add to that public under the same license. And then that source can just be copied and made available to the rest of us, whether by CrossOver themselves, or anyone else who would want to main such a project.

    1. Ahh… correction: at least one part of the tech stack at work here is based on DXVK, which is under a permissive license, and Apple has not published modifications it made to that. So I was not right to say that this would be easily available to the rest of us.

    2. I’m not sure if the GNU GPL requires uses of software licensed under it to release source code for applications they distribute that merely makes use of the software. Like, a bash script that invokes wine at some point doesn’t seem like it would count, at least as long as you present your script as if it’s a separate piece of software.

    3. This was discussed on Jupiter Broadcasting’s most recent Coder Radio podcast and what you commented in your self-correction was explained, along with the expectation that Apple devs will have to apply this tool and then publish the converted game to the App Store (as the only means of distribution of these games on MacOS) so that Apple still get their 30% cut.

    4. Apple doesn’t get a cut from any software sold for Mac, unless it’s through their App Store, which isn’t how these kinds of games are sold anyways.

      Apple doesn’t have restrictions on how software is distributed for Mac like they do with iPhone and iPad.