Half-Life should have existed on the Mac. To be fair, it does, and it did, but it could have much sooner. This an adapted script to a blog post. Below is the original video. This written version includes entire quotes whereas the video version includes more interview clips and actual captured gameplay footage of Half Life.

Half-Life has a strange relationship between OS X and macOS. During the hey of Mac Gaming, popular franchises routinely were ported to the Mac, and of course, Half-Life should be one of those games. In gaming, there are few PC games as critically acclaimed as Half-Life. While it may not have been revolutionary, it certainly represented the evolution as it exhibited a level of polish games rare for the games of its era, where cutscenes were largely integrated into the game through scripted segments, environmental storytelling, subtle cues to enhance immersion and featured fully voiced characters. It even considered pacing as it featured puzzle breaks between action sequences. While it wasn't the first story-driven first-person shooter or the first cinematic game, it encapsulated the best game design of 1998.

It was natural for the game to be ported to Mac OS and OS X, as other high-profile first-person shooters from the era, like the Doom series, Hexen series, Quake series, Dark Forces, Deus Ex, Duke Nukem, and Unreal series, were all ported to the Mac.

Announcement and Cancellation

In April 1999, Logicware under Sierra Studios announced that a Mac OS version was in the works, but by October it was completely canceled. The official reason why the port was axed was given by Gabe Newell, president of Valve, citing the lack of Team Fortress Classic and multiplayer with PC users and fear of releasing an inferior product.

Gabe said the following:

There's been a lot of speculation about Half-Life for the Macintosh - its feature set, its compatibility with the PC version, and so on. Andrew Meggs at Logicware has been doing a good job on the port, and it's mostly done. At this point we've spent a bunch of money on the Mac product and have spent a lot of time thinking about what we need to do to make sure Macintosh users are happy with it when it ships.

Which is why we are canceling the Macintosh version of Half-Life.

When we started Mac Half-Life, there was a lot of optimism about the opportunity for Macintosh games. As someone who worked on Macintosh software starting in 1983 before the 128K Mac had shipped, it was pretty exciting to think that there was going to be a resurgence in the Mac gaming market.

However, as we got closer to shipping the product and reality set in, it was increasingly obvious that in order for us to break even on the Mac version, much less be profitable, we were going to have to cut some corners. OK - I guess we won't have Team Fortress Classic available at shipment. Maybe people will accept it if we update them with TFC later. OK - I guess I understand why we don't have an automatic update facility. Maybe people will accept that they have to manually update. OK - I guess I understand why we might carve out a separate multiplayer space for Mac users from PC users because of the on-going interoperability issues. Maybe that won't be the disaster I think it will be.

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that this was nonsense. Our existing Half-Life customers are really happy with us. They were happy with the original game, they were happy when we released TFC, they were happy with our on-going investment in Half-Life, and there's even more coming for them in the next couple of months. They are happy because we do our best for them, and that's what they expect from us in the future. Given the realities of the Mac gaming market, our Mac customers were always going to be mad at us. They were always going to be second-class customers where we couldn't invest to the same degree in the Mac version as we did elsewhere. I don't want to be in that business. I would much rather we just eat the money we've spent so far than take money from Mac customers and short-change them.

It's disappointing to me on a personal basis that we won't ship Half-Life for the Mac. Everyone here, and I'm sure the people at Logicware are disappointed. The Mac gamers who were looking forward to Half-Life are undoubtedly disappointed as well. However that's a lot less disappointment than what would have happened if we had tried to get Mac gamers to accept second-class treatment on an on-going basis.

Source: Mac Half-Life Cancelled!

Logicware did shed some light on the situtation the next day. I understand that previous names can be a sensitive topic but I need to clarify in the sources to avoid confusion, the quotes are attributed to Bill are Rebecca. Rebecca of Logicware briefly spoke on the issue, releasing the following statement:

Sigh. Yes, Half-Life for MacOS is cancelled. I'm very disappointed that all the work that was done will not see the light of day or the Mac communities screen across the globe.

Sierra was a pleasure to work with. They have been very helpful and supportive through the entire project and I look forward to doing work for them in the near future.

I still have a glimmer of hope that Half-Life will eventually be on Macs, but for today that hope does not exist.
Please don't ask us for a copy of Half-Life. Please don't ask us to "finish" it. The game belongs to Sierra, not us.
I want to thank Jeff Pobst at Sierra for all the work he did in this project, and Andrew Meggs for all the tireless hours he put into this project to make Half-Life a true Mac experience.

We are still on track for Aliens vs. Predator and this does not affect the project in any way.

And after that:

Then I'll say it -- the game was nearly done. Sierra had labeled the most recent build as beta. Single player had been done for some time. We played on a PC server some weeks ago, and had been playing on a Mac server (with both Mac and PC clients) for the last week. The only things left to do were to add some UI screens in the launcher, get the memory usage under control so it could play on a 32MB iMac, and fix outstanding bugs.
Obviously, I can't release the code. It belongs to Sierra and to Valve. If you want to get together a petition to send to them, that's your business, but knowing the full situation I think they would respond mostly with annoyance.

Source: Logicware Staff on Half-Life Cancellation, Part II, Inside Mac Games

The Real Reason for Cancellation

For years, this was the accepted narrative. The port was nearly complete but didn't live up to Valve's high standards... that is, until recently, when Rebecca Heineman spoke on the Retro Tea Breaks podcast, covering the ill-fated original port of Half-Life. Below is a transcript of Rebecca speaking about Half-Life.

Apple pissed off Valve. That's the long story short. Because we did such a great job on Quake II, Sierra approached us. Valve was interested in porting Half-Life to the Mac because they had a conversation with someone at Apple, a games evangelist, who said they would sell 500,000 copies on the Mac. Valve thought it was a great market opportunity and decided to commission the port.

They came to us, we looked at the code, gave them a price, and they agreed. They even threw in an early completion bonus: if we finished the game by a certain date, we'd get an extra 20K. So, I dedicated three people to the project. We were all excited about working on one of the top franchises ever and getting it onto the Mac.

Then, three weeks from shipping, when the game was done and we were just fixing bugs, I got a phone call from Sierra. They told me they were canceling Half-Life for the Mac. I was shocked and wanted to know why. They said they couldn't sell the rights at any price but appreciated our work and would pay us in full, including the early completion bonus, on one condition: our silence.

I recommend watching the entire interview with Rebecca as she was formerly the lead developer for Interplay, and worked on games such Wasteland, The Bard's Tale, Out of This World, Wolfenstein 3D ports to the Mac, 3DO and even Apple IIGs. She also was responsible for the Linux port of Doom Legacy and Apple IIGs port of Sim City.

Valve didn't want the bad publicity and preferred letting people think the port was bad rather than revealing the real reason. The truth was that an Apple representative had initially told Valve they would sell 500,000 copies. But as the game neared completion, the actual pre-order numbers from retailers were only 50,000. The Mac gaming market wasn't healthy, and 50,000 copies were considered good.

Valve felt misled by Apple, especially since the original representative had moved to another company. The new Apple rep denied ever quoting potential sales numbers. This angered Valve, leading to an internal policy that no Valve title would ever be ported to the Mac.

We didn't know about this policy and neither did other Mac game companies like MacPlay and Aspyr. They tried to negotiate with Valve, but Valve demanded nothing less than a million dollars, effectively pricing their games out of the Mac market.

We archived everything, and there's a disc in my archives labeled "verboten." If someone finds it, they'll see familiar files and an executable for the 1999 version of Half-Life for Mac. Maybe one day it will see the light of day.

So, if you take Rebecca at her word, Valve canceled Half-Life on the Mac over sales figures quoted by Apple, a misrepresentation by a factor of 10x. You can watch the entire interview above. Rebecca's career is impressive as she was also formerly the lead programmer for Interplay, and very much worth the watch.

Other Canceled Ports and Later Developments

Interestingly, it was not the only canceled port of Half-Life as the Sega Dreamcast also faced similar treatment, except unlike the Mac version, it leaked online.

Dreamcast Half-Life

The reason given for its cancellation was changing market conditions, but it had already been delayed more than once. The near-complete versions of the port featured inconsistent frame rates and long load times.

It featured a sub-campaign, Blue Shift, that would be folded into future releases of Half-Life.

However, Half-Life wouldn't stay away from the Macintosh platform forever, as in 2013, Valve finally released Half-Life for the Mac.

Valve and Apple: A Rocky Relationship

A few years later, Valve again soured on Apple. Famously, Valve originally intended to release Proton for macOS. For those who aren't familiar with Proton, it is a compatibility layer that translates Microsoft's DirectX graphics library to Vulkan instructions, allowing Windows games to be played on Linux. It powers the SteamDeck and has ushered in a new era of Linux gaming.

Andrew Tsai has an entire video on the subject, in the description. Apple and Valve went as far as to feature SteamVR in the WWDC 2017 keynote, but then the relationship soured again due to Apple's moving goalposts. Apple dropped OpenGL and 32-bit support and did not adopt Vulkan graphics API. Valve wasn't alone in this complaint, as Apple has never been able to amass a library of games due to constant breaking changes in OS X and macOS.

Playing Half-Life on the Mac Today

You can experience Half-Life on the Mac today using Mac Source Ports - Xash3D FWGS. However, it requires a copy of the "valve" folder from a PC install of Half-Life to be placed into "~/Library/Application Support/Xash3D". This will work on modern macOSes.

  • Intel Mac owners running 10.9 - 10.14 can install the official port of Half-Life on Steam.
  • Intel Mac owners running 10.5 - 10.8 can install the legacy Xash3d port on Macintosh Garden. However, this port will not work under modern macOS.
  • PowerPC Mac users can install the Xash 3D alpha on 10.4 - 10.5. It has a few asterisks as there are some texture issues and it requires an OpenGL 2.0 compatible card.

Mac Half-Life port guide

Xash3D isn't the only way to experience Half-Life on the Mac. With Crossover, you can play Half-Life and it's less picky about which version you use.


It's unlikely we will ever see the official port of Half-Life that was done by Rebecca and her team, which is sad. Due to the relationship between Apple and Valve, I wouldn't count on Valve making official Half-Life ports again.

If you're into retro Mac gaming, I've made a video about a cursed port of Grand Theft Auto 3 for PowerPC Macs and one about the history of Connectix Virtual Game Station, embedded below.

Additional Mac Gaming stories