There are some good games for Apple Silicon Macs that run both natively and through Rosetta 2, but there’s no question that the selection is limited. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to play some of the best old games on your Mac while enjoying modern enhancements and visuals.
Play Older Games with Native Mac Source Ports
This is all possible through the use of source ports, which are community-led efforts to maintain modern methods of playing a game. These are often derived from the game’s source code, many of which receive open source releases, years after the game’s initial release.
Much of the time, source ports are built from the source code for a game’s engine and exclude the content that makes up much of the original game. The engine refers to the technology that powers the game’s foundations, while the content makes up much of the in-game experience including levels, textures, music, and other copyrighted material.
id Software, the developer who created classics like doom has open-sourced the source code to the majority of the engines used to power its games over the years. Despite this, doom (the game) is not open source in that you still need to purchase the game to play it (even with a source port).
Playing these games (and others like them) using a source port is arguably the best way to enjoy them on modern hardware. In addition to being able to play them natively on a variety of platforms (like ARM-based M1 and M2 Apple computers), many source ports introduce bug fixes, graphical enhancements, new rendering techniques, and more options for multiplayer gaming.
There are gigabytes of free content available for many of the source ports that exist today, including standalone projects like freedoom which aims to recreate the first-person shooting experience from entirely free and original assets, to those that modify existing content like the bloodbath that is Brutal Doom, And so far we’ve only touched on doom,
You May Need to Bring Your Own Data
Many source ports exist as game engines only, which means you’ll need to bring your own data to play commercial games. This isn’t a difficult task and usually only involves copying a few files or folders into the source port directory before you can play.
In the case of free projects, this is a simple case of downloading what you need from the website and putting it in the right place. Some source ports include the ability to download projects within the app, without any copying and pasting required on your part.
But when it comes to classic, commercial titles like doom or Quake, you’ll need a legitimate working copy of the game from which to copy the data. You can either supply this using an original disk or use a version purchased from a digital storefront like Steam. If you are going to buy older projects to enjoy them on modern hardware, the DRM-free retro game storefront GOG.com is probably the best place to go.
Even if you purchase a game from GOG that is designed for Windows (rather than Mac) there’s still a good chance you’ll be able to extract the files from the game. You can do this using a free tool like Extractor, which is designed with GOG-based Windows installers in mind. If you don’t have any luck, GOG offers full refunds for 30-days.
Fortunately, not all games require data to run. Some source ports are essentially entire games that have been open-sourced.
Some of the Best Mac Source Ports
Many of the builds listed below are possible thanks to the work of Tom Kidd at the MacSourcePorts project. Their work builds on the mountain of work already performed by the original source port authors. Thousands of hours of work have already gone into making these stellar recreations of faithful classics, and the MacSourcePorts project has contributed more time by adding many native Apple Silicon builds that are absent in the official releases.
Not all of the builds below are maintained by the MacSourcePorts project, but many are. Some have already been included alongside official releases, and others will follow as Apple Silicon hardware becomes dominant in the Mac ecosystem. These projects use “Universal 2” apps which run on both modern Apple Silicon machines and older 64-bit Intel models.
Having a native Apple Silicon build means that the full power of your M1 or M2 chip (and their variants) will be used while playing these games. There’s no need to go through Rosetta 2 for compatibility and potentially leave performance on the table or encounter games that simply refuse to run. You can find more information and downloads on the MacSourcePorts games list.
Doom, Doom II, Final DOOM, and More
Play doom, hexen, Heretic, and more on your modern Mac with full support for OpenGL, user-created mods, and advanced mapping and scripting features. The project includes enhancements to movement like jumping, swimming, flying; crosshairs for aiming, online play, gamepad support, free look, and more. Powered by GZDoom.
id Software’s moody follow-up to the original doom games, vkQuake is a source port that has been written to allow the engine to take advantage of Vulkan rendering so you can enjoy the original at high resolutions and smooth framerates.
Duke Nukem 3D, Ion Fury
Play the 3D Realms classic Duke Nukem 3D using hardware-accelerated OpenGL with support for advanced scripting, code and stability enhancements, and new control methods. You can also use this project to play the modern BUILD Engine shooter Ion Furyreleased in 2019. Powered by EDuke32.
Quake III: Arena
Play the original arena shooter and follow up Quake 3: Team Arena plus Q3-based mods with high resolution textures on modern Apple hardware. Powered by ioquake3.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
id Software’s 2001 first-person shooter did the Wolfenstein license justice with an all-new modernized shooting experience, based on a modified version of the Quake III engine. Powered by iortcw.
One of 1998’s best games, Roman city-building sim Caesar III never received a sequel but can still be played today using two source ports, one that delivers enhancements to the experience and another that aims to be true to the original. Powered by Julius and Augustus.
RollerCoaster Tycoon 2
Few games capture the joy of running your own theme park quite like RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, Despite the release of numerous sequels, RCT2‘s timeless aesthetics and simple isometric design make it a joy to return to time after time. Powered by OpenRCT2.
Marathon, Marathon 2: Durandal, Marathon Infinity
Most people know Bungie for its work on Microsoft’s famed Halo franchise, but the company earned much of its reputation making Marathon games for the Mac. Now you can play them on modern systems with the Aleph One source port.
Gaming on a Modern Mac
While a high-end Mac like a MacBook Pro is a poor choice if games are your main priority, that doesn’t mean you can’t still blow off steam once in a while. Modern source ports let you relive the games of old on modern hardware, and there are plenty of titles released with Mac-specific versions you can enjoy.
If you’re looking for even more ways to play games on your modern Apple hardware, take a look at the best emulators with native Apple Silicon support.