Apple’s new Proton-like tool can run Windows games on a Mac

If you’re hoping to see more Windows games on Mac, those dreams might just come true. Apple this week at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) announced some major news for game developers who are making porting Windows games to the Mac a lot thanks to a Proton-like environment that can compile and run the latest DirectX 12 Windows easier and faster make games on macOS.

Apple has created a new Game Porting Toolkit similar to the work Valve did with Proton and the Steam Deck. Apple’s tool instantly translates Windows games to run on macOS and allows developers to launch an unmodified version of a Windows game on a Mac and see how well it runs before fully porting a game.

Mac gaming has long been a popular topic in the PC gaming community, although the Resident Evil Village and No Man’s Sky ports are rare exceptions and macOS gaming is largely ignored.

“The new Game Porting Toolkit provides an emulation environment for running your existing, unmodified Windows game, allowing you to quickly understand your game’s graphics capabilities and performance potential when running on a Mac,” said Aiswariya Sreenivassan, a GPU technical project manager and Graphics at Apple, in a WWDC meeting earlier this week.

Game Porting Toolkit makes it easy to run Windows games on macOS. Image: Apple

This game porting toolkit even supports DirectX 12 games like The Medium, with Sreenivassan demonstrating how to run the game through Apple’s translation layer. Much like Wine and Proton create a software layer together to translate Windows API calls into Linux, Apple is doing something similar here to convert those Windows API calls into its Metal API.

Apple’s new Game Porting Toolkit instead translates Intel-based x86 instructions and Windows APIs into Apple Silicon. Keyboard, mouse, controller input, audio playback, network, file system, and Direct3D APIs are all translated to the corresponding APIs in macOS.

The result is Windows games that run on macOS without porting or modification. According to Apple, this is more for evaluating games now before porting them to macOS, but nothing prevents macOS users from installing this Game Porting Toolkit and trying out games.

Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit allows developers to instantly run DirectX 12 Windows games on macOS. Image: Apple

The big problem will be exactly how games run in this environment. Most will not be optimized with this tool and will inevitably experience performance issues and bugs until the developers create their own ports. Code Weaver announced its highly anticipated DirectX 12 support for CrossOver Mac (a similar Windows compatibility layer) earlier this month. But it also warned that despite this advancement, “there wasn’t a single magic key” that unlocked DirectX 12 support on macOS.

“In order to get Diablo II Resurrected to work, we had to fix a variety of bugs related to MoltenVK and SPIRV-Cross,” CrossOver Product Manager Meredith Johnson explained in a blog post. “We expect this to be the case for other DirectX 12 games as well: we need to add support for each individual title, and each game will likely have multiple bugs.”

Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit is a big step in bringing more Windows games to macOS. Image: Apple

However, Apple’s own translation layer still matters. Apple has often talked about how powerful the GPU cores are on its M1 and M2 chips, and this week even announced an M2 Ultra chip with a 76-core GPU that’s 30 percent faster than the M1 Ultra. We just haven’t seen this level of GPU performance in games on the Mac because so few of them are ported.

Porting Windows games to the Mac has not been easy for developers and usually involves a complex process of recompiling the source code, converting custom shaders, reimplementing the graphics subsystem, and converting audio, input, and HDR rendering. Developers can use a cross-platform game engine to reduce complexity when targeting multiple platforms, but they still need to debug a game and optimize performance on macOS.

Apple now has a tool to help developers understand how much porting work is required to fix bugs and optimize their games on macOS. Apple also has a new Metal Shader Converter that automatically converts existing GPU shaders to metal. Both tools greatly reduce the time and effort required to port games from Windows to Mac.

Apple’s Mac gaming push also includes a new gaming mode in macOS Sonoma, and game developer Hideo Kojima appears during Apple’s WWDC keynote to announce Death Stranding Director’s Cut will be coming to macOS.

If Apple continues this work on its translation layer, maybe one day it will be so good that end users will be able to run Windows games on macOS just like they do on a Steam Deck. That dream is still a long way off, but Apple showed this week that it could eventually become a reality.