A Proof of Concept Port, Calling for Apple to Open its Platform, Puts Quake II on the Apple Watch

"A glimpse into the untapped potential" of the wearable platform, its creators say, if only Apple would provide access to the GPU.

Gareth Halfacree
11 months ago β€’ Gaming / Wearables / Retro Tech

Pseudonymous developers and gamers "ByteOverlord" and "IdeaVoid" have brought Id Software's classic first-person shooter Quake II to an unlikely platform: the wearable Apple Watch family of devices.

"The primary objective of this project was to demonstrate the remarkable capabilities of the Apple Watch, even when operating in software rendering mode," IdeaVoid writes. "This project serves as a glimpse into the untapped potential that could be unlocked if we were granted access to the device's GPU. Just envision the possibilities that could be achieved with such resources at our disposal."

Released by Id Software in 1997 as a follow-up to the original Quake, though originally developed as a standalone game in a novel universe and boasting an entirely new game engine, Quake II raised the bar with larger levels and a mission-based layout with significantly more story elements β€” though the shift from a Lovecraftian atmosphere to a sci-fi aesthetic was undeniably jarring. At the time of its launch, you needed a relatively beefy computer β€” ideally with a supported 3D accelerator card β€” to play the game; now, a wristwatch is good enough.

The original version of Quake II required an Intel Pentium or equivalent running at 90MHz or more, at least 16MB of RAM, 25MB of hard drive space, and a quad-speed CD-ROM; the Apple Watch Series 8 family can meet all of those requirements hands-down, bar the CD-ROM drive, with a dual-core Arm-based Apple S8 CPU, 1,024MB of RAM, and gigabytes of eMMC storage. The only difficult part: getting the game ported across.

ByteOverlord already had experience with doing just that, having previously worked on expanding Tomas Vymazal's earlier Quake Watch port of the original game to the same platform. The move to a different engine brought some challenges β€” "ByteOverlord made commendable progress early in the porting process," IdeaVoid writes, "but crashing issues persisted" β€” but have resulted in a fully-functional and surprisingly playable port of the game.

The port uses the watch's crown as a scroll wheel for menus and to control forward and backward movement, with tap and swipe gestures for aiming, shooting, and all other movements. It's compatible with Apple Watch Series 4 and upwards, though somewhat power-hungry: a test on a Series 5 44mm model saw the battery drop by 33 per cent after an hour's playtime.

Anyone with an Apple watch eager to try the port for themselves can find it on ByteOverlord's GitHub repository, under the reciprocal GNU General Public License 2; you'll need to supply the Quake II game files yourself.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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