Before the internet updating, how did game developers handle bugs?

could not complete the save as command because there is not enough memory (ram)

Good question.

,In the good olu2019 days (1980s through the 1990s), you had two major classes of platforms: home computers and video game consoles.

Letu2019s address them separately.

,Home computersThe good olu2019 Apple II! These were wildly popular back in my olu2019 stomping grounds of Silicon Valley (image credit)As Yamen Ou2019Donnell notes, there was less going on with computers back then.

This doesnu2019t mean they were simple, but generally game developers didnu2019t usually have to worry about exotic hardware.

They didnu2019t have to worry about multi-threading, or 3D graphics cards or any other host of problems they encounter today.

They just made their game, tested it, and out it went!,The scale of games back then was miniscule compared to today.

One of the more popular RPGs, Wizardry, contained just a single dungeon.

Also the number of things you could do was small.

You could generally move around with a joystick and/or type a few characters, but the game wasnu2019t rendering 3D worlds with megabyte sized textures.

,There were so fewer things going on that testers could generally find most of the class A bugs.

While games werenu2019t bulletproof, most of the showstoppers never made it through to customers.

,Occasionally problems did crop up.

Looking back at Wizardry, it was developed for the Apple II and Apple II+, both of which only displayed 40 columns of characters horizontally.

The Apple IIe could take an 80 column card, which doubled the number of characters the screen could display horizontally.

Most Apple IIe owners had one; it was almost essential for word processing.

,But while it didnu2019t contain a bug per seu2014it worked fine on the Apple II and Apple II+u2014it whacked out a bit on the Apple IIe, if the user had an 80 column card.

Instead of displaying text 40 columns across in big, bold letters, it looked like this:,Thereu2019s a space before every character; thatu2019s wrong! (image credit)It was still legible, but it was shocking to my 14 year-old eyes.

I had seen it on my friendu2019s computer and I knew that just wasnu2019t right!,So to handle situations like this, most games came with an instruction booklet and a phone number for Customer Support.

If a player had a problem with the game, they could call and get technical help from a real, live person.

,Back then, most games came with a u201cUser Registration Cardu201d.

It asked for the useru2019s name, address and phone number.

Though Iu2019m sure many people threw them away, they actually were important.

If a big bug slipped through, users would be asked to mail their disks back to the developer and they would mail them a new copy, with all the bugs fixes.

This was rare, but it did happen.

,For most issues, though, a quick call to Customer Support sufficed.

,(The fix for the 80 column card issue was to just remove the 80 column card.

I figured this out myself; I didnu2019t need to call Customer Support.

After I figured it out, I just left it in.

It wasnu2019t a huge issue since it soon switched to graphics mode, which worked fine.

),But back to Wizardry, it had a common issue.

When playing in the dungeon, the players might encounter enemies so hard that they kill the characters.

When this happened, it would immediately write this information to disk.

It wasnu2019t hard to tell that this was happening.

All floppy disk drives had a red light that went on when they were reading or writing.

Seeing your characters die and then see the floppy drive whirr to life, it wasnu2019t hard to deduce what was happening.

,Then the player had to start all over with new characters.

This was unacceptable to many players who had spent scores of hours building up their characters.

So theyu2019d flip open the floppy drive if their characters got killed.

,See that little black rectangle in the middle? Thatu2019s the floppy disk door.

When closed (as seen) it could read and write to the floppy disk (image credit)Unfortunately, this often corrupted the floppy disk, and in addition to their characters getting killed, their game was too.

The instruction book said, u201cPlease donu2019t open the floppy disk drive unless instructed to.

u201d If customers did, it said, it could corrupt the disk.

But if it didu2014you guessed itu2014mail it to them and theyu2019d attempt to repair it.

,Floppy disks were expensive back then, so they actually repaired the very disk you sent them instead of just swapping it out with a new one.

Usually the playeru2019s characters were intact, and all was right with the world.

But I shudder to think how many copies of the game Sir-Tech had to repair this way.

,So that was it.

Theyu2019d either:,Fix it with Customer Support, or,Fix the bugs and send everyone new copies of the game,Video game consolesEven today, video game consoles have one big advantage over computers: homogenous hardware.

Except for the display, every user had the same hardware.

No one had the dreaded 80 column card, no one had printers, no one had too little RAM.

All the consoles were the same.

,But occasionally bugs slipped through.

,In this event, they could do two things:,Have customers return the cartridge to them via mail for a new copy,Absolutely nothing,You canu2019t update customeru2019s cartridges, many of which couldnu2019t even be written to; it was all ROM!,Here are some real-life examples of issues that came up and how developers handled them:,I started my career in the video game industry in Customer Support for Accolade.

Remember Accolade? Of course you donu2019t.

They gave us such classics as this:,As seen in The Princess Bride! (image credit)Back in 1993, they had a Customer Support department, and I fooled them into hiring me (not really; even back then I was Awesome).

They had released a version of Hardball for the SNES.

The SNES normally couldnu2019t save anything to the cartridge.

If a player wanted to stop a game and play later, it would give them a code, like:,A A F 7 0 9 D Q T T 2 5 F F R 7 9 9 2 4 4 N S S,Then they would type in the code when they wanted to play again, and it would (theoretically) pick up right where they left off.

While it was a pain for the user to type inu2014especially with a gamepadu2014it didnu2019t even always work.

Sometimes it would just say, u201cSorry.

Code is not recognized.

Try again.

u201d Then theyu2019d have to type it in again and hoped it worked.

Sometimes it never did.

,Cognizant of this issue, the outside developer introduced a new technology: a battery.

The cartridges were equipped with a button-sized battery that would save games.

Since this wasnu2019t a standard feature on cartridges, the batteries had to be soldered to the cartridges by hand.

,Occasionally customers would call us in Customer Support and complain that their games werenu2019t being saved.

We didnu2019t know what to tell them; it worked fine for us.

,Digging deeper, weu2019d ask them if they saw anything else.

They said that when the game started, theyu2019d see a message that said something like u201cF7 check completeu201d.

The SNES didnu2019t have function keys; they didnu2019t know what it meant.

Since the games worked fine afterwardsu2014apart from not saving their gamesu2014they ignored it.

,The only thing we could do was have them mail the cartridge back to us and weu2019d send them a (hopefully) working cartridge.

,But it bugged us that we even needed to do that.

It was slow and didnu2019t give customers a Warm Fuzzy.

So when weu2019d get one of these cartridges back, weu2019d try them out; sure enough we saw the same message and they didnu2019t save the games.

,To make a long story short, the batteries were dead.

See, the hand soldiering process was new.

No other games did it.

So it was untested.

It turns out that sometimes that soldering process drained the battery.

That mysterious message indicated that it was dead, though it wasnu2019t a clear error and, in fact, was just a side effect.

It wasnu2019t ever intended to be seen by users and was just for the developers.

But weu2019re lucky it did appear, because it helped us with a New Process.

,From then on, we checked all cartridges before sending them out.

If we saw the cryptic message appear, we set it in the Defective pile.

In all, about 10% were dead.

We figured that wasnu2019t bad for a new technology.

,Back to home computers, Accolade sold a number of expansion packs for their popular Jack Nicklaus golf games.

The disks contained additional real-life courses.

,You have to hand it to the 90s.

They really had much better graphics than today (image credit)For one expansion, we sent the files to the manufacturer as .

zip files.

They were supposed to unzip them and then copy them to the disks.

They didnu2019t.

Initially they just copied the .

zip files directly to the floppies.

,Luckily, they caught the error before too long, after only a couple hundred had been manufactured.

But most of those copies had already been sent out, sou2026,Customers would get the expansion packs and they wouldnu2019t load; the game wasnu2019t looking for .

zip files.

So theyu2019d call us.

,The u201capproved procedureu201d for dealing with this issue was to have the customers mail the disks to us and then weu2019d mail back working disks.

This was fine, I guess, but I put myself in the customeru2019s shoes.

Iu2019d be really disappointed to slap down $25, just to have a broken expansion.

,There was enough room on the disks for the zip files and the unzipped files.

So I figured Iu2019d just walk them through how to unzip the files themselves, and save them the postage hassle.

So I did.

,I had to recite the commands from memory, but I was a geek even back then and had done similar unzippings dozens of times, so I was fairly comfortable with the procedure.

Iu2019d walk them through it over the phone.

A few minutes later, voila! Working expansion!,I didnu2019t get permission to handle it this wayu2014and I still gave them the option to mail them back insteadu2014but customers loved it.

,One lady gushed for five minutes over how intelligent I was to know how to do that.

I thought it was a little undeserved, but it was still nice to hear.

One guy wanted us to pay him for having to do that himself.

Um, what? He said heu2019d take some free course disks instead.

,He got nothing.

He probably didnu2019t realize (or care) that Accolade had already lost all the money on their sale of the expansion to him by needing to employ me to help him.

,One last customer said he lost his copy of Jack Nicklaus in a recent move and wanted us to send him a replacement disk.

I told him the standard replacement fee was $15.


,He flipped.

He said he already paid for the game.

He just wanted a replacement for crying out loud.

Again, I repeated the replacement fee was $15.


He shouted some more and vowed to trash us where ever he could (this was pre-Internet).

Heu2019d go to the papers! u201cAccolade doesnu2019t support their customers!u201d He hung up and never paid the $15.


,I still think about how ludicrous this guy was:,We had no evidence he actually bought the game in the first place,If he had lost his VHS copy of Gone With the Wind, would he expect MGM to send him a new copy for free?,Anyway, thereu2019s a smattering of some issues game developers faced in the olden days, and how they dealt with them.

iPad Photoshop not enough RAM

I think their ultimate differentiation strategy is unification.

,For one, look at Appleu2019s business today.

Their macOS business is less than 10% of revenue, and itu2019s an expensive 10%.

They have to make all sorts of different models, versus essentially two iOS models in one year, plus tweaks.

They have to make an OS for 15u201320 million macOS machines per year, versus 200+ million iOS machines.

,Shall We Danceu2026 Forever!At some point, it makes sense to make them just one thing.

,Itu2019s taken some time.

Appleu2019s latest iPad Pro offerings are certainly performance-comparable to laptops, and Appleu2019s pushing the keyboard because they want these to replace laptop computers.

Even theirs.

,Part of that is for 3rd party support.

Adobeu2019s interest in the typical iPad/iPhone apps got you Photoshop Express, not Photoshop.

They have to be convinced thereu2019s a professional(ish) market for complex iOS applications.

So in fact, you canu2019t currently buy real Photoshop for iOS, but Adobe did announce it, and hopefully it will be real Photoshop and not another u201cscaled down for tabletu201d offering.

,Apple can probably get x86 apps to run on ARM, but theyu2019ll be very slow.

They can certainly get iOS and macOS to work as one on one computer u2014 they control the OS, the CPU, etc.

But they arenu2019t wizards.

Pros arenu2019t going to be happy running number-crunching macOS apps like Photoshop in a slow-ish emulator.

So they want native apps ASAP, and they can use the unified OS and emulator to pick up all the missing pieces, all the small company code that might not be updated to fat binaries that include ARM.

,The CPU Jumpu201cWhy buy a Macbooku201d is a pretty reasonable question to ask, anyway, given how small a share of the desktop OS market is Appleu2019s.

But some people love macOS.

They probably also love iOS.

,Technologically, Appleu2019s got more experience jumping processors in consumer space than anyone, and theyu2019ve been freakishly successful at it.

They moved MacOS from 68K to PPC and PPC to x86 with amazingly few hiccups.

,Tablets arenu2019t going to replace big workstations.

But Apple has been u201ctryingu201d to kill off their high-end pro business for years.

They rarely release new Mac Pros u2014 theyu2019re interesting for six month, and behind-the-times for 2u20134 years before they get upgraded again.

The iMac crowd is using low to midrange desktop CPUs, sometimes even laptop CPUs.

The A12X SOC in the new iPad Pros is a fair match for Appleu2019s laptops, at least if you only run Geekbench.

But probably on other things as wellu2026 thatu2019ll come out this year.

,Cage Match: Laptop vs.

TabletMy preference for a work environment is a desktop computer.

The one at home (Iu2019m typing on it) has a 6-core i7 processor, a 1 TB SDD boot drive, a 6TB RAID, 64GB of DDR3 memory, a mid-range desktop GPU and three 1440p monitors.

For work, since I do computer design, I need lots of screen real-estate.

Thatu2019s a schematic editor, a PCB editor, lots of PDF data sheets, etc.

all at once.

And because of this, I pretty much want lots and lots of screen that I can actually read.

Not microfiche.

,So on to my laptop.

I have a 4-core i7 laptop with 16GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB PCIe SSD, UltraHD quantum dot LCD, etc.

The problem is, just one screen.

Not good for CAD, and ok, 16GB can work, but itu2019s limited.

For photography, the display is great, but for photo compositing, itu2019s too slow and doesu2019t have enough RAM.

,But I also have a tablet, a Samsung Android tablet.

Itu2019s far better than a laptop for many things.

For one, the battery really does last all day on a charge.

Itu2019s far more useful than a laptop for note-taking, the built-in Wacom digitizer plus pen lets me take the same kind of notes I would by hand.

With a keyboard, itu2019s just as good as a laptop for writing.


heck, I could even develop code on it if I wanted to.

No, it doesu2019t run Altium, do it canu2019t really replace my laptop entirely.

But I usually leave the laptop home.

,So thatu2019s more than likely what Appleu2019s been discovering: thereu2019s a narrow range between the jobs that work perfectly on a tablet and those that need a laptop but donu2019t become problematic off the desktop.

So if they push the tablet plus software as a laptop replacement and back it up with a few must-have apps (which may already exist, I canu2019t say), they might well start to make people believe.

,Apple probably doesnu2019t care if you buy the Macbook, iMac, or iPhone as long as youu2019re spending.