When Games and Junk first started, putting classic video games on the iPhone seemed absurd. The screen on the iPhone 4 seemed too small to be able to properly enjoy Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and even the original Final Fantasy. I could only imagine playing these inferior ports turning people off them. All it really took to turn my opinion around was the release of the iPad shortly after Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions came to iOS to convince me it was a plausible way of playing these classics. Here we are, five years on from that, and the introduction of the larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus has had me playing games that I never really thought as viable on a mobile platform.
iOS 11 might be bringing some of those experiences to an end.
When iOS 11 releases later this year, it will be ending support for any games that are 32-bit. Developers are left with the choice of updating their games to 64-bit so they’re compatible with the platform or leaving them behind with users no longer able to access them once they’ve updated. While some larger developers will likely update their games, smaller studios might be left with little choice but to let them go.
You can’t entirely blame Apple for this. Some of the coding used to make these games is more easily updated. Others require nearly rewriting the game from scratch. Companies like Square Enix will likely put the time needed into updating any of their better selling titles that likely see a steady stream of purchases that haven’t already been updated. Even then, there are still plenty of titles that Square Enix has put out that might not be making the jump forward. Still, there are titles of theirs that are still potentially on the chopping block. If a company like Square Enix might have to pick and choose, imagine how much harder these decisions are for studios with considerably less capital and staff? It’s making what was once a booming market an even tougher place for developers and publishers.
I don’t have a conclusive list of what’s being left behind, but some of the ones I own are 2600 Magic, Queen’s Crown (one of the first games I bought when I got an iPhone), Guardian Saga (a cute Dragon Quest type game that my daughter rather enjoys), Chaos Rings, Chaos Rings 2, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, and the aforementioned Chrono Trigger. I feel like Final Fantasy Tactics might be the one that stings the most at the moment, but having no other way of playing the first two Chaos Rings and Queen’s Crown (just a simple nostalgia thing) might sting more in the long run. Hell, long time listeners of the podcast will remember when I used the Space Invaders Timer app to keep us succinct, and that’s one that’s not coming along for the 64-bit ride.
Not only will iOS 11 be bringing an end to 32-bit support, but iOS 11 will also be leaving behind some of their older hardware. Anything older than the iPhone 5 and 5C and fourth generation iPads won’t be able to make the jump, leaving those generations of devices with iOS 10 and the 32-bit infrastructure. That doesn’t mean they’ll be able to download the 32-bit versions of games once the new version of the App Store rolls around, as those games will be removed from the App Store altogether.
This isn’t an unheard of practice. How many consoles have left their previous generation of games behind? Despite the infinitely more powerful machines that today’s even most basic PC’s offer compared to the ones released even a scant 15 years ago, a quick trip to sites like My Abandonware will show the literal thousands of games that time, and the industry as a whole, has forgotten. It’s an odd side effect of technology moving ever forward: things of the past are bound to be lost to the general public.
As an owner of an iPad and iPhone that are able to make the leap, I might be leaving iOS 10 on my iPad and the 32-bit games I have installed on it indefinitely. Hell, as my time to upgrade is coming up, perhaps I’ll leave both my iPad and my soon-to-be replaced iPhone 6S Plus with iOS 10 so I can continue to play the games that are going to get the axe when the mood strikes me. It’s a weird thing to think about, keeping an old phone simply to play games, but, as someone who’s seen XBLA games go into the ether without any way of purchasing them, the fact is that buying something digitally, no matter what ecosystem you’re using, isn’t a guarantee that those purchases will be around for your indefinite use.