Projects I’m Looking Forward To – XL Engine…

Projects I’m Looking Forward To – XL Engine after the break…

Projects I’m Looking Forward To – XL Engine…

Even in this day and age where we are well into the 21st century, it still comes as a surprise to a lot of people that the Microsoft corporation is under no obligation to make certain that a game created for their Windows 95 operating system works perfectly well in their later operating systems like Windows 7. While it may be argued that there is financial incentive for Microsoft to at least spit in the direction of backwards compatibility because of businesses buying productivity software like office applications, the backwards compatibility requirements for applications like spreadsheet programs and publishing software is vastly different then that for computer games. Quite simply, professional computer games are often welded to the operating system that they are programmed for and any compatibility to future operating systems is more coincidental then intentional.

Occasionally, game enthusiasts are blessed with a developer who exceeds the industry norm by doggedly updating their software so that it is compatible with later operating systems that the computer game was never intended to run upon. For instance, the turn-based strategy titles of Sid Meier are quite playable on modern operating systems despite some titles being more then one decade old.

Sometimes, a group of fanatical enthusiasts with no connection to a developer are able to finagle their favorite games to be played on operating systems far removed from the operating system that game was originally designed for. The first-person role-playing game “Vampire: Bloodlines,” for instance, has a renowned fanatical user base that has made so many third-party patches for their game that the entire history of their devotion runs the risk of parody. Fans of the first two “Thief” games have also managed to keep their beloved games alive on modern systems despite being deprived of the full source code (hint hint, EA), creating countless new missions for those games per year. iD software, the creators of the game “Quake 1,” has all but assured the immortal lifespan of that game by releasing the source code for the game engine, causing a vast array of updated engines capable of using the Quake 1 game data.

Yet, unfortunately, for most computer game players, computer games have a limited shelf life. Developers either cease operations and are unable to release the source code of their games to allow for the essential updating of their game engines or the intellectual property transfers to a publisher who just doesn’t care for updating that game so that it is playable on a computer that is less than seven years old. Most times, the developer still exists but simply doesn’t bother to update the game for a variety of reasons:

  • The individual designers of that game (the programmers, for instance) have long since left that company and no one can figure out their unique code-writing styles.
  • There is third-party software licensed in the code that the developers no longer have the rights to distribute, update or otherwise tamper with.
  • The developer simply doesn’t have the resources or the technical ability to translate the code that makes a game reliant on one operating system become reliant upon another.
  • The developers have lost the rights to further contribute towards the updating of the game code.
  • The publisher and/or the developer just doesn’t care about the game anymore and has moved on to other projects.

For those games for which the game engine has not been open sourced to the public or the developer is not gracious enough to keep updating, there are few options to continue enjoying those games. One option is to run a virtual environment inside your present operating system that pretends to be the earlier operating system. The other option is to simply have a legacy computer lying around that still has a compatible operating system installed on it. Both options, while perfectly feasible, are by no means desirable – Virtual environments are by no means a guaranteed way of enjoying your games (a lot of times, they are considered too slow and memory intensive for computer gaming) as they were intended to be played and legacy computers have all the drawbacks of being very old and prone to software and hardware breakdowns. Hard drives go bad, software systems become corrupted or messed up with all sorts of registry key foul-ups… Yes, they are options but they are nowhere near as desirable as the developer / publisher open sourcing the game engine or merely investing the time to update it for modern operating systems.

Fortunately, there are a few spirited individuals who are attempting, on their own, to resurrect older games by making them playable with modern operating systems.

“XL Engine” is an attempt to write a modern game engine that uses the game data from older first-person shooter games of the mid-to-late 1990s. So far, only four games are slated to utilize the XL Engine: Dark Forces, Blood, Elder Scrolls – Daggerfall, and Outlaws. All of these games are from the pre-polygon era where enemies were still sprites (cardboard cutouts) and levels were still constructed using programming tricks in an attempt to give those games a pseudo-3D feel (such as room-over-room architecture).

Unlike other attempts, the XL Engine is not updating the games with polygon characters or architecture but merely taking the existing game data and presenting it competently on modern operating systems. People will still need the game data of Dark Forces, Blood, Outlaws and Daggerfall to play those games in the new engine.

While the XL Engine has yet to be completed, Dark Forces (called DarkXL) is supposedly in a playable (but not completed) state at this time.

Games are not like books – Their “language” shifts too often and too severely to age gracefully like a book. Without vigorous updating and vigilance, we will lose our gaming heritage to the  ravages of time and indifference. While we must always put our leisurely pursuits in perspective, it is our artistic endeavors that inspire our non-artistic achievements. We do not operate in a society in a vacuum – Sports and recreation do not create medical cures but without imaginative recreation, where is the inspiration to scientifically pursue the impossible? We learn from our history and appreciate it; We have countless museums with countless artifacts that were once considered state-of-the-art and common for their time.

The effort behind the “XL Engine” should be applauded and encouraged; I, for one, look forward to the day that the “XL Engine” is completed as intended. Computer and video games may not be exactly like books but they share a place in our history right with books, paintings, sculpture, music, spoken word performances, vaudeville, movies and plays. Efforts like the “XL Engine” will help preserve our heritage in the long run and introduce a part of our gaming legacy to new players in the short run. That’s a goal everyone can pursue without hesitancy.

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One Response to “Projects I’m Looking Forward To – XL Engine…”

  1. luciusdxl Says:

    Thanks for mentioning the XL Engine and the comments. I’m glad that it is something that you can look forward to. 🙂

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