Playing Portal on a Silicon Mac

It’s been a while since my last tech post. Time for another one.

The games Portal and Portal 2 are two of the best video games ever made.

They’re both basically puzzle games. What makes them different from other games?

  • The clever use of space.

    The key tool of Portal is the “portal gun”. It instantly connects you between two surfaces. Learning how to use this ability creatively is the key to solving the puzzles.

  • Your “antagonist” GlaDOS, a sentient computer that (within the story of the game) is creating the puzzles for you to solve. GlaDOS, voiced by Ellen McLain is beautifully passive-aggressive. It’s a delight to listen to her remarks about your progress even as it appears that she’s trying to kill your character.
  • The music. Both games end in a song written by the noted genre musician Jonathan Colton.

    The songs (sung by McLain, who is an operatic singer in addition to being a voice actor) capture the personality of GlaDOS with such perfection. They wrap up the game in a distinctive and memorable way.

    If you’re hanging around a group of SF/gaming fans, and say “It was a triumph. I’m making a note here: Huge success!” everyone else will chime in with “It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction…” and keep going. In some ways the songs are as popular as the games themselves.

I’ve returned to the Portal games periodically over the years. I first played them on my Mac, then on my PS3, then on my Mac again. The first game takes about 2-4 hours to play, the second about double or triple that. The experience is a blend of nostalgia, re-solving half-forgotten challenges, and basking in GlaDOS’s insults.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many gamers feel that no computer-gaming resume is complete without having played the Portal games.

These days you can purchase the Portal games via the computer-game service Steam. If you play on a Windows systems, or on a Nintendo Switch, there’s no problem. However, the last versions of the Portal games that were Mac-compatible were written for the 32-bit Intel architecture. They can’t be played on versions of the Mac OS past Mojave; later OS versions are based on 64-bit Intel chips or the current M-series from Apple and won’t execute 32-bit Intel apps.

Today I finally figured out how to play these games on my Apple Studio M1. While I figured it out using clues scattered in various web sites, there’s no coherent recipe. I’m going to try to remedy that.

Warning: At least a part of this requires familiarity with the MacOS command line. If you don’t know that a Terminal program exists on your Mac, this may be a bit much for you.


The first step is to install Homebrew, a package manager for Mac systems. Click on the link in the previous sentence and follow the directions.


The next step is to use Homebew to install Wineskin, a tool for executing Windows applications on MacOS. Open the Terminal program (it’s probably already open if you’ve just installed Homebrew) and execute:

brew install --no-quarantine gcenx/wine/wineskin

This will put a program named Wineskin Winery in your Applications folder. Double-click on the app to open it.

What I did next is probably overkill, but I wasn’t sure which emulator to use:

  • I clicked on the Update button to upgrade to the latest version of Wineskin.
  • I clicked on the Install New Engine button repeatedly and installed all the available engines. Chances are I only needed one of them, but their names are so similar and there’s so little documentation available that I decided to play it safe. After downloading them all, the one I selected in the pop-up menu was WS11WineCX64Bit23.7.1_D3DMetal.

Then I quit the program; once the engines and wrapper are installed, Wineskin does not have to be left running.

Porting Kit

The next step was to install Porting Kit, a tool for installing Windows programs on the Mac. Again, just click on the link in the previous sentence and follow the directions.


  • Wineskin will let your Mac run Windows programs, but it doesn’t install any Windows programs for you. That’s what Porting Kit is for.
  • The Porting Kit documentation says that it’s not necessary to install Wineskin, that it will automatically do that for you. That was not the case with me. It’s possible this was because I had a very old version of Wine (from 2012) installed on my Mac, hanging out uselessly in my Applications folder.

    I tried deleting that app, then deleting and reinstalling Porting Kit, but the Porting Kit’s Tools menu continued to say that I did not have an appropriate version of Wineskin installed. Only installing Wineskin explicitly worked for me.

Install the Windows version of Steam

When you start Porting Kit for the first time, it prompts you for connection information to GoG and Steam. There’s a security risk associated with this, of course. However, it was my impression that Porting Kit is popular enough among gamers that it’s not a dodgy method of capturing credentials for these gaming services.

For my part, I used a password manager to generate individual random-text passwords for each service like this. I suggest you do the same.

However, just providing Porting Kit with your Steam profile URL is not enough. You have to install the Steam application for Windows. Within Porting Kit:

  • In the left-hand panel, click on All games under Games.
  • In the Search field in the upper right-corner of the panel, type steam.
  • You’ll see a few versions of the Steam app. I picked Steambuild 32/64bit Metal.
  • In the panel that opens, click INSTALL.
  • After the installation process completes (it takes a while), that same button will change to PLAY. When you click that, the Steam application will start.

Install the Windows versions of Portal and Portal 2

In my case, because I’d purchased the Mac versions of Portal and Portal 2 years ago, they were already in my Steam library. I clicked on LIBRARY near the top of the screen, clicked on the program I wanted to install, then clicked the INSTALL button.

If you don’t already own the games, you can use the Steam app to purchase them.

Play the games!

After I installed the Windows version of Portal, I clicked on PLAY within the Steam app. I was shortly greeted with the familiar Valve logo and the Portal startup screen.

I have a PS4 controller attached to my Mac via USB. Although I received various warnings about controller compatibility issues as I went through the above steps, there were no problems when I actually played the game.

Pedal to the Metal?

If you consider some of my choices in the above recipes, you’ll see that I picked the Metal versions when I had a choice. This enables support for hardware-accelerated graphics. If you’re running an older Mac, it may be that these are not the right choices for you. Or you may have games that don’t support a Metal compatibility layer. You may have to play around with these choices until you find one that suits you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. William Seligman

    I may have spoken too soon. I was doing fine in Portal until I got to test 18. In roughly the middle of the test, the game started sputtering and crashing. I got a little farther within the level by restarting my Mac, but it started crashing again.

    I may try Portal 2 to see if things get any better. I have a sneaking suspicion that the problem is when too many graphics/sound elements occur at once, but I don’t have enough hard evidence yet.

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