Friday, January 19, 2018

Patching of Games and the Implications

A friend brought it to my attention that Monster Truck Power Fantasy, among other Game Maker: Studio games I've made, would display a black screen on his computer running Windows 10. This appears to be a rare bug, but it's one I've since fixed. Monster Truck Power Fantasy, Gewgawlicious, Bloodjak, and Digital Toilet World should now run on Windows 10 with no problem.

The Morphine Western Revenge already had the fix applied, most people shouldn't download and play Darcy's Yurt Adventure, and Empty Chambers and How to Fly were made in Game Maker 8, so I ain't touching those anymore. Everything else was made in Unity or Twine. 

I know I'm late to the conversation about the permanence of software as a medium, but I'm becoming increasingly aware of just how fragile it is. Text can always be transcribed and preserved in a dozen different ways. Music and film can always be digitized to a playable format indefinitely. I'm starting to come to the realization that my games may no longer be playable on Windows, maybe not even ten or twenty years from now, and there isn't much I can do about it.

This particular black screen bug, from what I've read, was caused by the Windows 10 Creators Update, and it affects fullscreen Game Maker: Studio games indiscriminately. There's a simple fix that can be performed from within the program. So far, so good. It took an evening for me to go through nearly every game to perform the fix and re-upload it, but it's worth it to make sure that my games can run, let alone run well.

The scary thing, though, is that Game Maker: Studio is no longer supported by the developer, as it has been replaced by Game Maker: Studio 2. GM:S, in its final version, was capable of circumventing the bug. I certainly can't count on that being the case in the future, or on Game Maker: Studio properly running in the future.

So, it's possible to port all of my games into the new program. From what I hear, this requires the games to be reprogrammed, to an extent. I've made six Game Maker: Studio games so far, and it would take some serious time and effort to port them in Game Maker Studio 2 to make sure everything continues to work on current software and hardware. Not to mention, every time I have to make a change to fix a bug across all of my games caused by, for example, a Windows update, I have to fix and re-upload all of my games.

I make about two or three games every year. Let's say Game Maker Studio 3 comes out in five years. By the, I would hopefully have at least 16 games that I would need to port into that program... the workload required to keep my work current will snowball over the decades.

Of course, who knows how long Game Maker will exist as a program in any iteration? Nothing lasts forever. Maybe the last version is released, say, fifteen, twenty years from now, the company goes bankrupt, and I lose the ability to make any changes to my games' source code?

Of course, you can run any outdated Windows program in compatibility mode, and it should run correctly. But whether it does or not depends entirely upon the competence of Microsoft engineers. The ability for anyone to play my games over the course of my lifetime is largely in their hands. Not to mention, it won't occur to the typical player to run a game in compatibility mode, or to run it through an emulator.

This is probably going to be a widespread problem as operating systems undergo countless iterations over the coming decades (get hyped for Windows 40), and I may be pleasantly surprised by the solutions the IT community develops, but in the meantime, it is unnerving.

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