Tag Archives: Microsoft

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point.  Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard.  There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.

Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off.  It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention.  It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.

In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles.  I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers.  Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.

So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3.  Except, of course, I am not.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise.  As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.

But there are a few issues for me.

The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash.  After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it.  It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.

I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same.   Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.

But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.

Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:

  • Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
  • Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
  • New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
  • Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.

Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year.  When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.

Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?

What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?

I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point.  Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.

The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.

Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.

However, even that move gives me pause.  Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam?  Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights.  If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.

I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it.  It will likely still be there in your library.  But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.

Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.

I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam.  Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.

Friday Bullet Points about Minecraft

It has been just over four years since Microsoft paid Markus “Notch” Persson 2.5 billion dollars for Mojang, the company he founded.  Of course, what Microsoft was really buying was Minecraft.  Notch had been forecasting doom when it came to Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8, but it turns out that a couple of billion dollars can change your mind when it comes to monopolistic practices.

Notch said at the time that the deal wasn’t about the money.  And I am sure he was right.  It is never about the money, it is about what the money can buy.

Anyway, four years down the road and it seems like Microsoft hasn’t managed to screw up Mojang and Minecraft.  I was concerned at the time as there is a long history of big companies buying small studios and then destroying them by not understanding what they really bought.  But Microsoft has managed to avoid that fate, in large part I imagine because they have mostly left Mojang to focus on what it does best, while pushing a few smart ideas of their own that their size and muscle allowed to be a success.

There has been some news out about Minecraft this week, which I am going to mix in with a couple of items of my own for a list of bullet points about Minecraft.

  • A Lot of People Play Minecraft

In a recent interview the head of the Minecraft business group at Microsoft, Helen Chiang, said that more than 90 million people play Minecraft every month, up from 74 million at the start of the year, and more than 150 million copies of the game have been sold, up from the 100 million mark back in mid 2016.

This is no doubt related to the fact that Minecraft is available in some form on a lot of platforms.  I was going to compare to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for most platforms supported, then I saw Minecraft was available on things like Apple TV and the Nintendo 3DS and started wondering if we were getting into Tetris levels of platform support.

  • No Minecraft 2

Also in that interview the question of a sequel came up and the idea of a direct sequel for the core Minecraft product was dismissed.  Microsoft gets it.  If you have a popular product with 90 million people playing it every month, you don’t yank the rug out and force them to decide between what they currently enjoy and some new item.

While Club Penguin didn’t have that level of popularity, things would have likely ended better had Disney not tried to force its player base onto the now discontinued Club Penguin Island.

So while Microsoft will use the Minecraft IP for other games, it won’t try to replace the core game.

  • Minecraft Dungeons

And speaking of using the Minecraft IP, at MineCon this past weekend a new spin-off was announced in the form of Minecraft Dungeons.

Described as something of a cross between Minecraft and Diablo, this will be a multiplayer dungeon crawl experience.  I have actually wondered about a Minecraft dungeon crawl experience in the past, though I would like it to be in the world where I can also build stuff.

Here is the trailer:

This could be interesting if done right.

  • Minecraft Realms

Not in the news, but something I want to mention as an item Microsoft got very right.  Part of what Minecraft does well is a shared experience.  You can play with your friends.  Minecraft is a power in online gaming that people often don’t even consider.

For a long time there was a plethora of third party hosting services for Minecraft and then Minecraft RealmsRealms didn’t offer any of the customization options that the third party hosts did and was much more expensive to boot, at least if you just wanted to play with a few friends.  It was pretty much a non-option when I first went looking for a place to host our Minecraft world.

Somebody at Microsoft figured out that if they couldn’t do quality when it came to features, they could easily do quantity based on a much lower price.  So they dropped the price and added in support for the various editions of the game, and kept it all easy to manage.  The UI for Realms is built into the Minecraft client.

You still can’t run mods and such, but for $7.99 a month it is an easy, no hassle way to put up an invite-only world that you and your friends can use.

It sure as hell was a better plan than that whole Mineserver fiasco.

  • Cuteness Overload

Also announced at MineCon was some of the plan for the next Minecraft update, which will be version 1.14.  Core to this will be Pandas.  There is a video.

There are also new NPCs planned, called pillagers, but this will be known as the panda update.

This is the sort of thing that will keep people coming back to Minecraft.

The MineCon announcement summary has been posted.

Would EA Be Better if Microsoft Owned Them?

I saw a news item over at Game Informer earlier this week about a rumor that Microsoft might possibly, maybe, sort of be eyeing Electronic Arts as an acquisition target.

I am no huge fan of Microsoft.  Leaving aside past bad corporate bad behavior, operating system hegemony, and the “no bloat is ever enough” aspect of Microsoft Office, which was perfected at some point in the mid 1990s, when Word 5.1a would fit on a single 1.44mb floppy disk, but which keeps getting yearly upgrades because it is a cash cow only second to Windows itself and they have to have something to sell, their sense of how things should be done has always felt off.

There was a classic video from a decade back about how Microsoft would have designed the original iPod packaging, which is hilarious in its plausibility, taking cues from actual Microsoft packaging and pushing the idea just a little bit further, that illustrates some of that.

But I never really developed any sort of hate for Microsoft, even when I was working on products for the Macintosh.  My attitude has generally been more one of exasperation in a “I see what you were trying to achieve here, but why this?” sort of way.

I don’t have any stock images I threw together to indicate how I feel about Microsoft, no dripping blood, or satanic symbols, or Latin phrases on their logo to indicate my displeasure with them.

This is not the same for Electronic Arts.

Fun created here… on an Orca graveyard!

Which, of course, makes me wonder if Microsoft buying EA would necessarily be a bad thing.

They haven’t done horrible things to Minecraft since they made Notch a very rich man by buying it from him.  They also seem to be embracing a bit of the nostalgia thing with Age of Empires, even if they have locked me out of it for now.

Does not work on my device!

At least they might consolidate Origin with the Microsoft Windows Store.

Then again, Microsoft games always feel very much driven by the whole XBox side of the house.  Would that disrupt EA’s trajectory or would Microsoft leave well enough alone?  And would one or the other be preferable?  Microsoft seems to be better with their studios than EA, which has a penchant for closing them down.

And then I wonder about what more market consolidation means in a world where there are already only a few players in the market that can afford to make AAA level video games.

Overall my gut is that Microsoft is more likely to be concerned about end users that EA seems to be.  But I am not sure how much of an endorsement that really is.  How far does “better than EA” really get you?  It seems like a low bar to me.

Anyway, in the end, it will be shareholder value that dictates whether this happens as opposed to whatever gamers might think.

Friday Bullet Points Dipped in Nostalgia

It is raining again… which is a good thing in California… and a spate of different things have rolled across my screen, all of which interest me but which don’t quite warrant a full blog post yet, so we’re back to Friday bullet points.

Age of Empires Restrictive Edition

I was keen as mustard when it was announced last June that Microsoft was working on a remaster of the original Age of Empires.  While I was always more of an Age of Empires II – The Age of Kings fan… and I own the remaster of that already… I was still in for the original.

Age of Empires

After a long stretch of silence, there was finally some news about the game.

On the upside of things, the remaster will be available come February 20, 2018, so it will be here soon.

On the down side, the game will ONLY be available through the Microsoft Windows Store.  Leaving aside the whole “I don’t need another goddam Steam clone” and my lack of trust in Microsoft, the store itself tells me it won’t be available until the end of 2018 and that it won’t run on my device.

Also, it may require certain hardware

So I guess that pretty much lets the air out of any Age of Empires nostalgia I had as well as being a bad sign for any possible hope I had in their whole Age of Empires IV plan.

Rift’s Prime Number

From there we head over to Trion Worlds where their 2018 Rift On! producer’s letter.

Not a dye nor a floor wax

Trion looks to be eyeing the green fields of nostalgia as well, taking a card from Daybreak’s deck and promising something called Rift Prime, a subscription only version of the game that will come with a fresh server, reduced cash shop options, progressively unlocked content, and NO lockboxes.

I have said in the past that the one thing that would surely get me to roll on back to Telara was a retro server of some sort, so this sounds like it might be the time.  The instance group in pre-Storm Legion expansion Rift was one of my MMO high points.  Still, there are some mixed messages.

We plan to present RIFT at its roots as much as is possible to do, and look forward to sharing details over the coming weeks. The PRIME server will progress at a faster pace than the original launch and will eventually come to an end in spectacular fashion.

So back to the roots is good, and I expect that the servers will have to progress… by which I assume they mean unlock expansions… more rapidly that than the first time around.  I am curious as to what the spectacular end will be.

But then there is also this to wrestle with.

As a small teaser of what’s to come, dynamically matching characters to their current zone’s level, dungeons dropping loot specific to your character’s true level, caps on the number of professions available to a single character, and participation awards that carry over to your characters on existing servers.

Many upcoming live content changes that apply to existing servers will also apply to the new PRIME server, assuming they’re not restricted by progression locks.

That doesn’t sound very much like Rift at its roots.

Anyway, the current time frame is “spring” for Rift Prime which, as we recall from the Landmark launch, extends out to the first day of summer in the back half of June.  Syp goes on about the Rift Prime server idea at length, but I am waiting for more details before I crank up the thousand word minimum post-o-matic opinion machine.

Legendary Pokemon Return.. Again

It is an even numbered year so Nintendo is having Pokemon events to give away legendary Pokemon.

Didn’t we just get some of these?

Getting people to come to events to make Pokemon a more social game has always been part of the Game Freak/Nintendo plan, but didn’t we just spend 2016 having monthly legendary events?  And isn’t the ability to catch a bunch of these part of the sales pitch for Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon?

Oh well, if you missed out and don’t have the wherewithal for end game Pokemon, another series of events are coming for 2018 starting with a Dialga and Palkia event in February at your local GameStop.  In order to participate you must have a copy of Pokemon Sun, Moon, UltraSun, or UltraMoon.

Also coming up in February for Pokemon nostalgia buffs is Pokemon Crystal on the 3DS Virtual Console.

More on the Expense of Video Games

In something of a follow up on the raging discussion back at the end of November about how expensive it is to make video games, Raph Koster has returned with a new presentation and discussion about the cost of making video games.  So more charts and graphs and a list of suggestions await.  If nothing else you can bask in how little we pay per kilobyte of video game software these days I suppose, a measure which makes those old 143KB Apple II floppies seem like something of a gold mine.

Where Have All Our Video Cards Gone?

And finally, we can wistfully recall the glory days when we were able to go down to Best Buy and purchase a goddam video card.  Ars Technica has an article up about how all this Tulip bubble crypto currency boom is soaking up all the high end video cards.  I guess I will be stuck with a GeForce GTX 960 until this whole thing collapses.

Anyway, those were my bullet points for the week.  If you want more there are some over at Endgame Viable, most of which are not duplicates of items on my list.

Minecraft Grand Unification Theory

I do not pay much attention to E3, primarily because it tends not to focus very much on my genre of choice and what it does generally focus on is consoles and console titles from a few large companies.  Not really my thing.

So I let the news from E3 flow by.  I watch is stream past on Twitter and glance through the headlines in Feedly, but do not it much mind except when somebody does something silly. I think I posted about Sony’s PlayStation 4 demo and how they tore into Microsoft’s Xbox One demo the day before on topics like price and used games.  But used games were a burning issue back then, until the industry admitted aloud that being able to trade in used games at GameStop was likely inflating new games sales and so benefiting from the arrangement despite all their bluster about used games being morally equivalent to theft.

This year a tidbit of info actually caught my attention.  Microsoft actually had something to say about Minecraft.

Microsoft has owned Minecraft for a while now, having paid creator Notch $2.5 billion back in late 2014.  This got them the two branches of Minecraft, the Java version, the original, which runs on PCs and which allows you to host your own server and has mods from here to the moon and back, and the console, pocket, Win10 version, which only got shared server hosting relatively recently and which makes money via a cash shop for special skins and such.

Basically, there is the “would have been amazing and lucrative if they had just stopped there” Java version and the “OMG! The cash shop train has no brakes!” money machine console branch.

Microsoft seems to have pledged to unify these two branches into a single product line.

New World Order

This has me a bit concerned.

I would have been more concerned a year or two ago, when the console version was nowhere close to feature parity with the Java version. Microsoft seemed to be heading towards “we’ll just cripple all the hosting and flexibility and mods you love” path a while back with its Windows 10 version of Minecraft.

The two branches have grown a bit closer since then, but it is still an open ecosystem of mods and server types versus a controlled cash shop ecosystem, so Microsoft’s.   So when Microsoft says that the basis for this unification plan is the XBox Live service it is tough not to cringe.

I wouldn’t mind some improvements to the PC version of Minecraft.   Being written in Java gives it flexibility, but also hinders it on the performance front.  And optimized version written in C++ with better file handling would be a good thing.  But if the price is giving up all mods and the ability to host your own server and create things like Wynncraft and such, I would probably stick with the Java version and its stone age file structures.

Fortunately, despite that splash screen from their presentation, the single unified Minecraft platform seems to be well off in future, if it is actually planned at all.  The early reporting I saw from sites at the presentation said Microsoft would be pulling “all versions of the game” together.  I don’t know if that was bad reporting, a bad presentation from Microsoft, or sloppy terminology somewhere along the line, but the statement on the official Minecraft site seems less dramatic.

Over there the line is that they are unifying all of the versions sharing the C++ code base, shedding all of their various names (e.g. Pocket Edition, Win10 Editions, Xbox) and renaming them all as just Minecraft, while the original, open version on PCs will now be called Minecraft: Java Edition.

The official site also indicates that the coming graphics upgrade will also skip the Minecraft: Java Edition, leaving us to our classic look, though there are enough graphical mods out there that you’re pretty much covered if you want fancier views. (The PlayStation versions seem to be in limbo on where they will end up though.)

Of course, that tilts worry the other direction.  Is Microsoft putting the Java platform version of the game out to pasture?  Is it better to be on the neglected track or to have Microsoft unifying the Java platform?

Either way, nothing is likely to happen any time soon.  We just got the 1.12 update for the Java version, so we’re still in that waiting period where all the mods and special servers have to work to catch up. (Even though our server doesn’t have any mods, I am waiting for Minecraft Overviewer to catch up so I can render updated maps.)  I am more likely to get my Mineserver delivered before anything drastic happens, and once I that happens I need never upgrade versions again.

Still, for a little while I was intrigued with the idea of being able to use the iOS Minecraft Pocket Edition on the iPad to log into our server.

Friday Morning in a Hot Spell

It has been close to 100 degrees here almost all week… which is actually pretty normal in Silicon Valley at this time of year.  My memories from childhood and the start of school always included some really hot days a week or two into things, just in time to find that the air conditioning in one building or another had broken down over the summer.  And so my daughter gets to experience the same.

So in the cool of the evening I am throwing together a few items too short for posts of their own.  The return of bullet point Friday!

  • Asheron’s Busy Signal

Asheron’s Call was put into unsupported limbo, being free but essentially unsupported, by Turbine some time back.  Now we are getting a taste of what that might mean in the long term.  MMO Fallout reported earlier this week that the game had been brought down for maintenance a couple weeks back and failed to come up again and has been unavailable ever since.

asherons_call_full_logoThe thread reporting the problem has been updated and indicates that moving that transferring the Asheron’s Call to Turbine’s new data center, where the LOTRO servers are going as well, would be expedited, but that the game would not be up again until that happened.  The statement was that the game should be up by Friday.

They just did not say which Friday.

However, it appears it might be today, as people at the end of the forum thread are reporting that they can log in.  There has been no official announcement or update since August 31.

Addendum: Turbine posted about the servers being up on Facebook, though no word yet in the official forums, where players are looking for compensation for the down time.  I say refund them double their money!  Wait, the game is free?

  • The Wonder about Drunder

Daybreak announced their isle of misfit players, the Drunder prison server, back in August.  However, we haven’t heard much since.  Over at Atheren’s Adventures there was a report of a thread about the new server over on the Daybreak forums.

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

The thread kicks off with a post from somebody who has been banished to the new server and has found that it isn’t actually working yet.  How do you open a ticket on a server where you have been denied all support?  Anyway, there is clearly a hole in the system if people so banned can still post on the forums.  The rest of the forum thread is mostly scorn for cheaters, questions about what gets your there (as opposed to just outright banned), and why Daybreak has bothered with this at all.  Key comment from the announcement thread:

Update from drunder: server was a complete flop, no one plays there. Banned people continue to just make new accounts.

Still some of the old SOE “Hey, let’s just try this!” moxie left in Daybreak I guess.

  • Transfers Begin in Middle-Earth

The server consolidation effort for Lord of the Rings Online, which was referenced at the beginning of the year in the Producer’s Letter and for which we finally got some concrete details early last month, looks to be kicking off next week.

There is a post up on the forums indicating that the first two servers up for free, one-way transfers will be the US server Elendilmir and the EU server Estel.

Players on EU servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Belegaer
  • Evernight
  • Gwaihir
  • Laurelin
  • Sirannon

Players on US servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Arkenstone
  • Crickhollow
  • Gladden
  • Landroval

The US server Brandywine remains off the list of possible destinations for the time being.

  • Saying No to Windows 10

Long gone are the days when I would install a new operating system on day one or, heaven forbid, during beta.  I think the last beta OS I installed on a machine I owned was Mac OS 7.1, part of the System 7 chain of releases, and I regretted it.  I don’t even want to  get into the pros and cons of Windows 10.  I am happy and everything is working on Windows 7, so there is no reason to change.  I’ll move when I need to.

However, Microsoft seems quite intent on telling me about Windows 10 every day when I start up my system.  I am not interested in a “free” copy of Windows 10.

This, every single day

This, every single day

Finally sick of that, I decided to try to at least do away with that notification.  As it turns out, Microsoft slipped that in as part of the Windows Update cycle as KB3035583.  Uninstalling that update removed the daily reminder about Windows 10.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is so eager to hand out copies of Windows 10 that they might be pushing it to people who haven’t even opted in.  Just what I need clogging up space on my SSD.  Something else to fix.

On to 64-Bit Gaming

A long tale that is vaguely related to video games and recent news that has been sitting half finished in my drafts folder for over 18 months.

What were you doing in 1997?

One of the tasks I had at work during that year was “WinLogo certification” for our software.  That was the term used at the time for going through the process of getting Microsoft to declare you compatible with their operating system.

Anybody could, of course, claim that they were  Windows 95 compatible.  But to get the official Microsoft Windows compatible logo on your software, Microsoft had to affirm that your software was indeed up to spec.

win95_designI think it says something that in searching for that logo the best one I could come up with was in .gif format… is there anything in that format these days that isn’t also animated?  I feel cheated that the logo isn’t moving.  Also, I feel old.

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

Moving on.

For logo you had to go through a Microsoft approved testing lab.  The closest one to us was down in Los Angeles because the Microsoft position has nearly always been, “Screw Silicon Valley.”

Getting that logo on our product was my job for a couple months, and it was kind of a big deal for the company.  We made most of our money through OEM agreements with computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, Compaq, Micron and a few other, and for them to keep their Windows logo (and be able to sell the Windows OS) they had to make sure that all of the crap shovelware fine software they included on your new computer was also Win logo certified.  So that was dropped in my lap, which was kind of odd.  I was the new guy, so I understood getting the crap assignment.  But given how much of our income was riding on it, I am not sure that “stick it to the new guy” was the optimum strategy for success.

In the end I did succeed, so I guess their trust was well founded.  And I actually enjoyed the whole thing in a perverse way sort of way.  It involved a lot of minutia and making sure everything was “just so.”  And while I have forgotten most of the arcana involved with the process over the years… I moved to enterprise level software on Windows shortly thereafter, and enterprise doesn’t really care about that sort of thing, then eventually to Linux based enterprise level software, which double-double doesn’t care about that stuff… two things stand out in my mind fourteen years later.

First, I had to fly down to LAX, rent a car, and drive out to the certifying lab because could not figure out how to run our installer.  And, seriously, it wasn’t hard.  It was in freaking InstallShield.  And we had sent them a computer all setup with the right hardware.  All they had to do was put the CD-ROM in the drive.  I don’t know how they managed to mess that up.

Anyway, I had to travel about a thousand miles round trip in a day to pretty much press “Next,” “Next,” “Next,” and “OK.”  Not the biggest travel fiasco I ever had… there was that one trip down to New Mexico with another company to figure out why we were having so many hardware defects only to find out that the guy soldering on the power connector was Red/Green colorblind… but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient method.  And it worked, so blunt force method for the win I guess.

Second was the 32-bit requirement for the certification.  In order to get that Win logo approval, your application had to be 32-bit.  No 16-bit executables or DLLs or whatever were allowed.

Which seemed kind of silly at the time, since Windows 95 would run 16-bit software just fine.  There was a ton of 16-bit software laying around, left over from the Windows 3.1 days.  Hell, Microsoft was installing some 16-bit code with the Windows 95 operating system.  And it shouldn’t have been an issue because our software was all 32-bit already.

Unfortunately, the version of InstallShield we were using was not.

Here is how the software check worked.  The lab would run a program that would scan and catalog everything on the hard drive.  Then you would run your installer.  After that, they would run their scan again, it would identify all changes to the system and list out all of the components installed.  They gave you the software so you could run it yourself in preparation for the certification.  I ran it many times.

And every time I ran it, it came back with several items highlighted in red because they contained 16-bit code.

I was quickly able to identify the offending DLLs as being part of InstallShield.  And, since there was a process for getting an exemption for 16-bit code under certain circumstances, it was deemed a better use of the company’s time to have me get the exemption than to upgrade our version of InstallShield.  Given the number of hoops we had to jump through in order to get through each computer manufacturer’s OEM process and that the installer had to support both Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95, both of which included a number of special OEM requirements, and had to do so in seven languages (I could install Windows NT 4.0 in Japanese without a hitch… eventually) I could see the point.

Of course, that didn’t make the exception process any easier.  One of the rules of any sort of exception procedure seems to be to say “No” to any first request on the theory that it will weed out those looking for an easy exit and then only those with a real need will move forward.  So on we went with that process, with Microsoft making it extremely frustrating to complete, with them responding with rejections that seemed to indicate that they had not bothered to actually read our submission.  As I recall, one of the acceptable reasons for an exception was third party DLLs that were not used during run time.  We would point out that it was just the uninstall that had a couple of 16-bit DLLs and that our software was all 32-bit.

This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that Windows 95, by necessity, had to run 16-bit software.  There was a huge library of software available and Microsoft was not at all keen to piss off its installed base… and maybe save IBM from itself on the OS/2 front along the way… by turning its back on that foundation.  So it wasn’t as though we were shipping something that didn’t work.  Our software did not even violate the rules, it was just the installer… an installer that almost no customer would ever use because our software came pre-installed.

Eventually we hit some sort of persistence threshold and were granted our logo certification.  By that point I had moved on to another company, but I was friends with the person who took over for me so got to hear the ongoing tale of getting Microsoft to grant us our exemption.

And then, for at least the next decade, actually being a 32-bit application was not all that meaningful.  I went on playing the original, 16-bit version of Civilization II for a long time on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional, and then on Windows XP.  16 bit applications were supported, and remain so, on Microsoft’s 32-bit operating systems… at least to the extent that they support anything.  A lot of apps have been broken by changes and updates over the years, 16 and 32-bit alike.

16-bit apps didn’t lose support until Microsoft got to 64-bit operating systems.  But almost nobody went there initially.  It wasn’t even practical until Windows Vista… which had its own serious problems and which was effectively rejected by the marketplace… and didn’t really start becoming a popular choice until Windows 7 came along about five years back.

By which time the market had probably weaned itself off of 16-bit applications.  Even I had to finally give up the 16-bit version of Civilization II and go with the 32-bit version, the Civilization II Gold Edition, that could at least be patched to work with Windows 7 64-bit.

That is basically the inertia of the market.  Getting millions of people to upgrade both their computer and get onto a 64-bit operating system took a while, and the groundwork for that started way back with Windows 95 and the push to get developers onto 32-bit apps.  What I was doing in 1997 was part of the many steps to get to the point where companies could make these sorts of system requirement announcements:

It is almost a requirement to have a 64-bit client to play in the big leagues these day.  The bleeding edge gamers all have 64-bit systems and lots of memory and get kind of antsy if you don’t support their hardware to its fullest extent.

But it was a bit of a surprise to find somebody actually dropping support for their 32-bit client.  Daybreak just announced that 32-bit support is on its way out for PlanetSide 2.

We wanted to let you know that with the next Game Update (tentatively scheduled for next week), PlanetSide 2 will no longer support the use of the 32-bit Operating System client. We do note, based on our internal metrics, that a very small group of folks are still using this client. We hope this doesn’t prove too inconvenient to anyone impacted, and we appreciate your understanding.

That is actually a big step and I would be interested to know how big “a very small group of folks” really is.  And I wonder if we’ll hear anything else like that at E3 this week. (Topical!)

I suppose by the time most mainstream software finally becomes 64-bit only we’ll be about ready for 128-bit operating systems.