But Macs have supported some gaming for years, it's just the experience has been rather lackluster, as well as a frustrating hunt for compatible games. Yet with the arrival of Apple Silicon bringing in the M1 and M2 chips, with their impressive performance and efficiency, supported by a smart compatibility layer, recent Macs can now bring a lot more power to games.
I recently discovered this on my MacBook Air M2, which can run the rather demanding Total War: Warhammer 3 via Steam, despite being a fanless machine that you can pick up with two fingers. Games that have had some optimization and an App Store release like the fantastic Divinity Original Sin 2 run near-perfectly on macOS and Apple Silicon machines. To be fair, this RPG, which is one of the best Mac games around, isn't hugely demanding.
But with the launch of No Man's Sky on macOS, first coming via Stream and then the App Store at a later date, I've got the feeling that we're seeing a new dawn for serious gaming on Macs. After all, we've already seen how Resident Evil Village can run on a MacBook Pro.
However, there's more to Mac gaming than just porting games over to the Apple desktop operating system. Firstly, compatibility is still something that needs to be overcome, with optimization thrown into the mix for a good gaming experience. And secondly, Apple's own chips and APIs potentially have a lot to offer games that are reworked for them. The upcoming macOS Sonoma makes porting games from Windows to Mac easier with a Game Porting Tool, but the best performance comes native Mac games, and there's new tools for converting DirectX graphics to Metal.
To get a better understanding of how No Man's Sky was finally brought to macOS around a year after it was first touted, and the future potential for Mac gaming, I fired off some questions to developer Hello Game's CEO Sean Murray.
Talk me through how you got No Man's Sky running on macOS — how much support did Apple provide and what challenges did you need to overcome?
"I’d love to tell you that things like this are some sort of grand strategic vision, but honestly we don’t work like that. It started with someone here thinking 'maybe this would be cool,' and it slowly gathered momentum as more folks joined, including a bunch of help from Apple.
We like a challenge and we like to bring this game we love to as many people as possible. It really appealed to release this as a free update to our millions of existing Steam players.
It would probably be easier to just do a basic port of a game to new architecture, but we wanted this to feel like a native game, something built for the hardware. It meant adopting a new rendering pipeline, shifting development to xCode and Mac machines, and revisiting everything from controls to load times to reimplementing multiplayer. Certainly it’s painstaking and meticulous work, but it wasn’t painful, it’s the type of challenge we enjoy."
Will NMS coming to Mac open up a whole new audience and drive more content, or simply provide another platform for gamers?
"I love the idea of a new player picking up the game on Mac, and benefiting from seven years of updates from day one. I especially love that maybe there are Mac owners who we just wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise, I hope they’ll be surprised by what we’ve been able to pull off on Mac.
A lot of what we do is driven by the community, and so it’s always exciting to see new players join that very welcoming group of players. This is just the start of our journey on Mac."
What can the Apple Silicon Macs offer gamers and game developers? Is the hardware easy to build on — could we see others follow Hello Games' example?
"I can’t speak for other developers, but of course that’d be lovely to see. I think that especially with the new Apple Silicon, we’re looking at impressive gaming devices that are sitting on people’s laps and desks, and I’d love to see more games take advantage of that for sure."
Hello Games touts an exciting future on Apple hardware — does that mean we can expect Apple-exclusive games?
"We’ve always been big fans of Apple’s hardware. Joe Danger was our first game, and found success on iOS. The Last Campfire was a recent passion project for us, and was an early title for Apple Arcade. In fact No Man’s Sky is our only title not on the App Store!
As a developer I think you want the most people to play this game you love and have worked so hard on. I guess that’s the thinking that means we want to release No Man’s Sky on Mac, to have that be a free update where it can be, and to offer it on Steam and the App Store. It’s a mindset that we’ll certainly carry forward into our other games."
How do you see the future of gaming on Macs playing out?
"I know that Apple cares about gaming on Mac, you can see that with support for Metal 3 and things like Metal FX Spatial and Temporal. The new Apple silicon has incredible performance and energy profile. There are an awful lot of Macs and Macbooks out in the world, and whilst maybe not everyone considers themselves a gamer, pretty much everyone does play games. I don’t see why it needs to be a niche.
Our small contribution is to bring our game to Mac to the best of our ability, to offer it for free to our large player base, and to start the journey there. We’ll listen to the community and continue to update the game on Mac, just like every other platform."