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Is Metal a game changer? An interview with Feral Interactive

When Apple announced Metal for macOS at the 2015 WWDC keynote, I was super excited.

Metal was a set of 3D tools that should optimize GPU usage and maximize the graphics potential of your Mac. It sounded like a dream come true for gamers and developers alike. The thing that could take Mac gaming to the next level.

But then the year went by and nothing happened. Metal for Mac was never mentioned during 2016’s WWDC keynote and over a year in (a Mac Metal version was first introduced with El Capitan), not a single game supported it.

It all started to sound like a marketing gimmick that wouldn’t change a thing.

Until Blizzard updated World of Warcraft to support Metal and performance took off (61% faster to be exact). Soon after, Feral Interactive confirmed Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will support it too. It seems Apple just needed a little more time and Brianna Wu from iMore was right all along: Metal for OS X is huge.

But to better understand how important Metal can truly be for gaming, I decided to sit down with Andy Wood, Head of Commercial at Feral Interactive, and ask a few questions.

After all, who knows Mac gaming better than Feral Interactive?

Deus Ex Mac Metal support

Q: With Sierra, do you think Metal will finally have the features to replace Apple’s aging OpenGL engine?

A: Metal has developed quite a bit in the last few months. Sierra includes many of the key features that new games need, but currently it still requires a fair bit of engineering from us in order to get the games over the release line.

Q: By the way, would you say Apple’s aging OpenGL is starting to be a real problem for developers?

A: It has been a challenge to work with OpenGL for some years now, especially with the advent of new graphics technologies. For example, we weren’t able to release F1 2015 on Mac because OpenGL didn’t have the necessary features. But don’t worry, we have some racing projects planned to make up for that!

Q: Do you have active plans to move your games (new and / or old) to Metal?

A: Absolutely.

Q: If so, could you tell us more about your current projects (which game, ETA)?

A: We are excited to share that Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will come to Mac using Metal, and will be available this year!

Q: Would you say these new features will make Metal much easier to use for development?

A: It’s not about making development easier exactly, but the new features in Metal certainly make more games feasible on Mac. Without these features, many modern games just wouldn’t be viable. With Metal, we have much more possibility to bring them to the Mac with good performance.

Q: Are you in contact with Apple regarding Metal (feedback on current state, new features, etc)?

A: If we told you that we’d have to kill you.

Classic Feral 😉 Thanks Andy.

Feral’s answers are reassuring. It’s great to hear that Metal will open more possibilities and that Apple is indeed working on it behind the scenes. But the real question remains: Will it help bring more and better games to Mac?

Metal is supposed to be better than OpenGL, but OpenGL is open source and developers can use it to work on Mac, Windows and Linux ports. Metal is exclusive to Apple and many fear this will work against what we all want: more cross-platform games.

I understand why many Linux gamers worry. In a perfect world, developers would use a set of tools that works on all platforms: Mac, Linux and Windows. That would greatly reduce the barriers to support multiple platforms and we would all get more games.

Vulkan was supposed to be that tool, but with Metal, the dream is over.

What do you think? Can Metal truly take Mac gaming to the next level or will it hurt it by complicating cross-platform development?

  • Wolf Ulmanen

    Great news that Metal is being used, hopefully more games will use it in the future.

  • Angry Penguin

    I think Apple make mistake. First, they not update OpenGL to latest version. So they still stay on OpenGL 4.1 – so many games can’t be ported to Mac. For Linux and Windows is available latest 4.5 – so Mac is for now in worse position. Also Windows, Linux and even Android gets new low level API – Vulkan and again Apple make mistake (in my opinion) because they “invent the wheel again”, starting developing Metal. So, Windows have exclusively Direct3D and share new OpenGL and Vulkan, Apple have exclusively Metal and old OpenGL and Linux have fresh OpenGL and Vulkan.

    So I think its not OpenGL fault, that porters like Feral can’t deliver games like F1 2015 to Mac – because Linux gets it with OpenGL. But this is only Apple fault.

    • Mike Erwin

      Totally agree. The only reason OpenGL was becoming painful on Mac is because Apple neglected it in favor of Metal. Instead of Vulkan, they decided to do their own thing.

      “Vulkan was supposed to be that tool, but with Metal, the dream is over.” For Mac gamers the dream is over. But for everyone else the dream is very much alive! It simply doesn’t include Apple platforms.

      I work on cross-platform 3D software and we’ll be using OpenGL today, Vulkan next year, and Metal *maybe* in the distant future.

  • Lay

    I think the real problem is not vulkan support. many developer in 2016 use unreal engine or unity3d and both support vulkan and metal at the same time. A software house that decide to use a good game engine don’t actually need to worry about the API if the API is on par in every platform (and directx 12, metal and vulkan are on par)… a developer just need to write the code one time and export it to multiple platform (it is the graphic engine that decide what API to use depending on what platform is selected by the developer).
    before metal apple used to update opengl once in a while… to make opengl compatible with osx they used to update it to an already old custom version and the stability was bad… so bad that the UI of the system was laggy (and that is bad for everyone not just for gamers).
    Finally Metal it is also used in iOS, so if a developer create a game for mobile with xcode it is easy to port it to mac (I know right now there are few good games on iOS and many of them are pc port… but in the future mobile will be really important).

    Right now the UI of the mac is not laggy anymore, the main graphic API is always updated and mac and ios gaming are connected like never before… and Unreal Engine and Unity3d already support Metal. This is the reason why I think that Metal is better than an update to OpenGL 4.5 when everyone else is using Vulkan…. at least for mac gaming.

  • David Goucher

    It would be nice to see Metal used for X-Plane (the most significant flight simulator available for Mac). The best spec’d iMacs lag a fair bit in performance compared to similar Windows machines. I suspect the need to continue cross-platform development for Mac, PC, Linux will result in Laminar (X-Plane’s development) opting to stay with OpenGl for the foreseeable future — too bad !!