A sad farewell to 32-bit iOS apps

I grew up in the so-called golden age of gaming. As a kid I spent every last quarter at an arcade, and a lot of my free time playing NES, Master System, SNES, and Genesis games. I dreamed that one day I’d be able to make my own.

But by the time the PlayStation and first generation of 3D consoles came out, I had found other interests like making music, beer/pot, writing, computers, girls, and traveling. Aside from the occasional PC title like StarCraft, gaming lost my attention.

Mid-2010, my interest in gaming was to be re-ignited. Shortly after getting an iPhone 3GS, while hunting for apps I discovered some hidden gems: independent game developers like Poppy in Japan releasing simple retro-styled games meant for play in short bursts.

It was inspiring, and a lightbulb moment for me. It reminded me of my days growing up playing NES games, and also seemed to combine all of my passions in one: technology, design, music, and storytelling. Most importantly, making small retro-styled games like these seemed accessible for an inexperienced developer like myself.

I wanted to be a part of it and make my own apps and games.

I dived into learning how to program in Objective-C, work with Xcode, and then use the cocos-2D for iPhone framework. I spent virtually all of my free time doing this.

After a few months, I released my first game. The code was a disaster, but it worked, was stable and people liked it. I then developed another game. Then I worked with my brother (also a developer) to put together a reference app for old wacky video game quotes from classic games.

Now 2017, I’ve developed about a dozen apps and games overall since those original three.

So it’s kind of a bummer today to find out that the iOS 10.3 beta shows the writing is on the wall: Apple plans on purging apps from the App Store that have not been updated to support 64-bit devices. Including my first three apps.

In all fairness, I haven’t updated these legacy apps or maintained them over the years. Partly because the code is a mess of spaghetti, and partly because it’s always more fun to focus on building something new. But also because – despite not being optimized for the latest displays and hardware – these apps still work. Trying to go back and make them compatible now for 64-bit would be difficult – if not impossible – without a complete re-write.

So while I completely understand what Apple are doing and why they are doing it, it kind of sucks to realize how disposable my work is. I put many hours into making these titles, and soon they will be purged from history. Unlike the games I grew up with that I still enjoy now through emulation, there will be no way to go back and play these games I made, or show them to my hypothetical grandkids aside from some screenshots and videos. (Note: After writing this it looks like my favourite game from Poppy has already been purged from the App Store.)

It sounds overly dramatic, but it’s presented me with a bit of an existential crisis and made me question all the time and effort I’ve put into software development on mobile over the years, at least for this platform.

I want to build things that nobody can take away from me.