Newton Blog
By Thomas Brand

1st Jan 2022 Mac Source Ports

Video games were a big part of my adolescence. And although my memories of playing these games as a child will never die, far too often the chance to replay these games is tied to obsolete hardware that is both hard to come by and difficult to preserve.

Not true for source ports!

Source ports are projects derived from a original game's source code, designed to extend the game's capabilities while providing compatibility with modern hardware like Apple Silicon.

For example, id Software released Quake III: Arena in 1999. In 2005, after the game and engine’s commercial life was over, they released the source code freely under an open source license. Shortly thereafter the ioquake3 project was born and has been maintained ever since.

In this case, Quake III: Arena is the game, and ioquake3 is the source port. Although the original executables for Quake III: Arena have long since stopped working on modern Macs, source ports like ioquake3 have seen constant maintenance so they allow you to continue to play on modern Macs.

Mac Source Ports is a new website by Tom Kidd, designed to make playing popular source ports on modern Macs easier. He does this by curating a growing list of popular source ports, optimizing them for Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, and signing/notarizing the code when necessary to provide a near seamless Macintosh gaming experience.

In some cases source port projects make their own builds and we link to those here as well, but oftentimes the projects don’t have the resources to do it themselves. Code signing is relatively new and sort of tedious, notarization requires a paid account which not everyone is interested in obtaining, and not everyone even has a Mac in the first place. Windows machines are everywhere and Linux can be installed on anything but you have to buy a Mac to have macOS. And every so often Apple changes things, like the recent shift to Apple Silicon, so even people who do have a Mac have to buy new stuff.

Right now the number of source ports is small, just a single page of first person shooters based on game engines developed by id Software and 3D Realms. But Tom hopes to expand the Mac Source Ports collection soon.

I’m getting to it, provided it has source code and an actively maintained source port. If the source port is already doing the work of making the signed and notarized builds, I'll link to them here, otherwise I'll see if I can figure out how to do it myself. If a game doesn’t have an actively maintained source port it might require more work. If it doesn’t have source code available I can’t do anything with it (so, for example Quake 4 never released source code so I can't do anything with it).

Tom takes the hard work out of source ports by maintaining, compiling, signing, and notarizing the available source code. But in order to play the game, source ports need data files like character models, maps, sounds, and background music. Because these data files are copyrighted they cannot be distributed as part of the game's original source code. Players must acquire these data files elsewhere; either from a physical copy of the game or by purchasing the game from an online retailer like GOG or Steam.

It is because of copyright laws that source ports cannot be distributed in the Mac App Store.

For example, I can’t put the full game of Quake on the Mac App Store because I don’t have the rights to do so. I could conceivably try to put a port of vkQuake on there without data files but anything you put on the App Store has to go through a vetting process and it’s not clear whether the staff has the ability to go through the process of acquiring the game data and running through the process themselves. And it’s unlikely I could call it vkQuake, so I’d have to name it something else and use a different icon which would confuse people.

Thankfully Mac Source Ports makes installing the data files easy, with installation instructions for every game in the collection. Tom is even working on way to extract the data files from a Windows installer without the use of a PC.

Quake, Doom, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein are some of my favorite video games of all time. I have been playing popular source ports like ioquake3, dhewm3, and iortcw since there inception. But compiling all of my favorite source ports for Apple Silicon is beyond my abilities. I am glad to see that Tom Kidd, who has a long history of porting id Software's back catalog to iOS, turn his expertise towards Macintosh gaming. Here's hoping the future of Mac Source Ports looks bright in 2022 and includes many more popular source ports like OpenRA, DevilutionX, and Super Mario 64 PC Port just to name a few. Everyone with a Apple Silicon Mac, who likes playing video games should buy Tom Kidd a coffee!