Open Source Mac Gaming

by Robert Daeley

In Is Mac gaming still a punchline? I mentioned that 'there is some hope to be found in open-source games.' Today I'm going to point out some of those bright spots. This isn't an exhaustive list of open source games that work on Mac, just the ones I've had a chance to play and enjoy. I'd invite you to list other favorites in the comments.

A caveat: like many open-source projects, these are not as polished as would be commercial releases. On the other hand, if you have the programming stuff, you can make changes yourself. Also, if you're not comfortable in X11 or on the command-line, you might want to stick to the for-money world for now.



Appropriately enough given the inspiration for my earlier post, the first game is Freeciv, a Civilization clone that has an old-school feel to it. If you've played Civ, you'll be right at home in Freeciv. There's also an active developer and player community, always a plus.

The project didn't try to replicate an old Civ experience: they've actually one-upped the original by including multiplayer and alternate rulesets.

Warning: Freeciv is just as addictive as its inspiration. Do not start the game if you have anything else you need to get done over the next few days.


Scorched 3D

Video games with artillery pieces lobbing things at each other have been around since forever. Over the years, the concept has moved from arcade to console to home computers and back again. Entertaining examples on Mac: DomeWars and Treads of Fury. The long-time popular favorite, however, was the old DOS game Scorched Earth.

Nowadays we have the thoroughly awesome Scorched 3D, where multiple players (bots or online opponents) fire tons of different kinds of weapons at each other over destructible island landscapes, gorgeously rendered in OpenGL. If you're going to have a bunch of destruction, it should be easy on the eyes. ;)

One tip: if you run it in windowed mode (as opposed to fullscreen), choose the 'Invert mouse y axis' option to get the cursor moving correctly.



Back to the strategy genre and another title with board-game roots. Axis & Allies recreated WWII from an abstracted grand-strategy perspective, a casual family game rather than a hardcore simulation. (An official computer version was released a while back.)

TripleA is not technically a clone of Axis & Allies, but more of a 'gaming framework' that you can use to create all kinds of different game experiences, simple or complex. One of those is a re-creation of A&A. It is Java and fairly polished, but there are some glitches and strange behavior.

You can play locally, over a network, or (and I love the fact they added this) via play-by-email. They are working on an AI, but it was not enabled in the last stable version I tried (


Vega Strike

Do not download Vega Strike. Do not install and configure it. Whatever you do, do not launch it and begin playing. Do not buy and sell resources. Do not get involved in epic space battles. Do not warp from system to system, trying to avoid (or get involved in) the space-opera backdrop of conflict among a dozen different groups. Do not marvel at the gorgeous 3D graphics.

If you fail to follow my advice, you will be sucked into an endless cycle of enjoyment, from which there can be no escape.

Did I mention there's a Star Trek mod under development? Don't download that either.

Think of the children. Or, if you're like me, and the 'child' is 18 and taking care of himself, think of the dog, who will be standing next to you whining pitifully for a walk. ;)


Given the popularity of the first-person shooter (FPS) genre in the commercial gaming industry, it's no surprise there's a lot of development happening in this arena (so to speak). I'll just highlight three here, which are in various stages of development and quality.


Networked deathmatch is what the developers are going for with Nexuiz, bringing it back to basics. They're also intent on not requiring a high-end gaming rig to play, so that's a definite high point. Checking out the screenshots, you can see they haven't skimped on graphics quality.


Cube is intriguing as much for its engine as for its game play. From the website: 'Cube is a landscape-style engine that pretends to be an indoor FPS engine, which combines very high precision dynamic occlusion culling with a form of geometric mipmapping on the whole world for dynamic LOD for configurable fps & graphic detail on most machines. Uses OpenGL & SDL.' What that means for you is that they're going for a good-looking environment to run around in, shooting stuff. This isn't the latest Doom3-based crazy-graphical experience, but it's fun for a distraction.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is based in the Return to Castle Wolfenstein world. This isn't an open-source title from what I can tell, but it is free and there's an active 3rd-party developer community.

It's a little confusing the various related websites and whatnot, but basically from the official site's Flash interface, you can get info about Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory which is described as 'a free stand-alone, downloadable multiplayer game in which players wage war as Axis or Allies in team-based combat.' W:ET is developed by Splash Damage. There's also the players Resource site.



Finally, there's a game in a genre that has a special place in my heart: FlightGear, a flight sim. This is rough around the edges, and you'll be challenged getting used to everything, but there is great potential here. Considering how much commercial alternatives cost, slack can be given with relative ease. ;)

Do you have your own favorites? Is open-source worth the trouble? What's your take?


2005-11-22 00:47:02
Other Open source Mac Games
Two other great open source games for Macintosh are BZFlag and Armagetron Advanced

BzFlag is a first person, multiplayer online tank shooter.

Armagetron Advanced is a Tron lightcycle clone in 3d. It could be classified as a multiplayer (you can play either online or against bots) strategy game, but it is also fast paced and tremendously exciting.

both are very fun and very addictive games.

2006-03-27 12:18:53
Another awesome OSS Mac game is Battle for Wesnoth. It's a turn-based fantasy strategy game, and it's very highly polished in terms of gameplay, graphics, and sound. Check it out:
Roy Tinker
2006-04-01 22:55:47
Tux racer is a lot of fun. Originally created for linux, someone ported it to Mac OS X recently. Check it out!
Note: the guy's page is down (probably because his .mac account was exceeding bandwidth limits). There's a mac games site that is also hosting it... you'll have to google it, since it's not at the tip of my tongue (fingers, rather).
marco mkc
2006-05-31 11:53:50
Do you know if someone is working for the mac version of glest?
You can find glest at