Category: "Gaming"

How the Windows Store handles traditional desktop applications

One of the key advantages to the Windows Store which many people overlook is the ability to showcase existing desktop software. The Windows Store doesn't only deal with metro/RT/modern applications. It can show all the existing stuff, if their publishers use it.

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Here's Age of Empires Online listed. It also quite clearly is listed as desktop app. Hopefully to avoid any confusion.

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

Desktop apps listed in the Windows Store

The experience is much the same as for a WinRT application. Except of course you get pushed over to the applications website to install it, or to buy it. A seemless experience might have been better, like Steam. One can only imagine how long-winded and un-friendly some publishers websites are. Maybe next time.

Age of Empires Online website

11 year old racks up 1000 on Xbox Live - bad parenting

The press seem to be on a roll with anti-Xbox Live stories as of late. A few weeks ago it was the kid caught cheating with a modified profile, and as a result had his gamerscore reset and his zone changed to "cheater". His mum complained and demanded his achievements back and the "cheater" removed from his gamer tile, after Microsoft refused she went to the press. In the end we found out the kid had cheated, despite his mum protesting his innocence. The kid cheated, end of story.

Well this week we've got something a bit different now the Daily Mail are featuring a story about an 11 year old boy spending 1000 on the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Right off the bat I would like to quote the Xbox Live Terms and Conditions:

The Service is not intended for use by children under 13, except together with a parent or other adult supervision

With that out of the way...

A desperate mother has condemned Microsoft after her 11-year-old son racked up a 1,000 debt on her debit card - through his Xbox. Brendan Jordan racked up a bill of 1,082.52 on his Xbox without realising all the purchases were being charged to his mum Dawn Matthews' card.

Oh dear.

She entered her debit card details into the family Xbox to pay for Brendan's subscription to his favourite game. However, Brendan repeatedly clicked on additions and extensions - racking up a 1082.52 debt to her account over six months.

Oh so in other words, you let your kid spend the money. And now you want it back? Tough you got the stuff you paid for, as it clearly states "there are no refunds for this item". NO REFUNDS.

Microsoft make it perfectly clear what's going on, they'll show two or three screens when you're buying Microsoft Points, making it clear this will debit your account, it mentions the amount and the fact it'll take it from a credit card. Your 11 year old kid is taking you for a ride if you think he didn't know what was going on.

It is ridiculous to allow someone of his age to make payments without any checks being done.

You're quite right and the fact of the matter is Microsoft do check.

When you would have set up your son's account it would have asked for an age. Under 18 and he'd get a child account. With all the parental controls anybody would need, and by default would prevent any purchases from the Xbox Live Marketplace.

So either they lied about his age when setting up his account, or the mother enabled purchases on her son's account.

In addition to that it took six months before his mother realised he was spending all this money. Surely she would have noticed the dozens if not hundreds of MICROSOFT *XBOX LIVE transactions on her statement? Or you know check their e-mail where receipts would be sent? Apparently not.

Stop trying to blame others for your own bad parenting.

Some optimisations for Gamercast on IE9

Over the last couple of weeks I decided to do a few quick changes to the Gamercast website to make it a little bit more swish for Internet Explorer 9, which was released in beta form yesterday. With support for border-radius and box-shadow from CSS3 it was really a no brainer to make use of them (if only it supported multi-column too).

Unlike Chrome and Firefox, Internet Explorer 9 doesn't need to use proprietary extensions to make use of these features. Which is why they're not showing up in those browsers properly, standards aren't standards when you're adding -moz and -webkit before everything.

Gamercast as shown in IE9

Simple but effective.

More importantly however was implementing support for Internet Explorer 9's ability to pin websites to the Start Menu or Taskbar. Gamercast has always had a fairly high-resolution icon, so that wasn't much of a problem. You can drag any website you want to the Taskbar, but out of the box it'll behave like a standard shortcut, bar the "branding" differences that will happen to IE9, as per the screenshot above you can see the back and forward icons have taken colour from the icon, as well as having the website's icon displayed to the left fo them. This is specific to websites being launched from the Start Menu or Taskbar, and doesn't happen to websites browsed to more conventionally.

Adding support for jumplists was however pretty easy, and I'm sure with a bit more time I can do something a lot more fancy with this.

As you can see from the screenshot, the pinned website looks like a native application running on Windows 7, with a bunch of options provided in the jumplist providing quick access to subscription options, Twitter, or jumping straight into some content be they videos on YouTube, or just seeing what the latest news is.

For a basic jumplist all you need to do is place the following in the webpage's header:

<meta name="application-name" content="Name" />
<meta name="msapplication-tooltip" content="Text for tooltip" />
<meta name="msapplication-starturl" content="Default URL"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Example;action-uri=/path/;icon-uri=/icon.ico;"/>

For more fancy stuff such as subheadings you can use a bit of script:

<script type='text/javascript'>
function customJumplist() {
window.external.msSiteModeCreateJumplist('Example heading');
window.external.msSiteModeAddJumpListItem('Example', '/examplepath/', '/icon.ico');
window.external.msSiteModeAddJumpListItem('Example2', '/examplepath/', '/icon.ico');
}
customJumplist();</script>

If you're using IE9 head over to Gamercast and drag it into the Taskbar and check it out for yourself.

My HTC HD2 game recommendations

I'm going to be posting about some of the software I use on my HTC HD2, there are a lot of Windows Mobile games out there, but what really works well on the HD2? Hopefully this will give you some ideas.

Out are games like Wolf3D and Doom, games I've been playing on Windows Mobile phones for 6 or 7 years, they're just not fun trying to control with the on-screen controls. The good old days when people would just take the source code for a game and port it to Windows Mobile seem to be a fading memory. You didn't have official versions, people just made their own. Nowadays of course with so many phones using a single marketplace as a source for all software, where any software listed must be pre-approved before being sold has stunted such creativity, an application that made farting noises, or changed the colour of the screen would be someone's first applications while getting to grips with developing on the platform, nowadays such applications are products to be sold, with Apple taking a 30% cut. Anyway, on with the topic at hand.

Electopia screenshotElectopia

To showcase the HTC HD2's graphics ability, there's no better game than Electopia. Developed at Southend, you take control of some weird robot thingy and wheel him around the world exploring and shooting stuff. Best of all it is free and can be downloaded from Southend's website. When we'll ever get a full commercial version of the game is unknown. But either way, its a little fun game and it shows off the power of the HD2.

Experiment13 screenshotExperiment13

Experiment13 is a puzzle game, you can almost say it's similar to portal in that you have to make your weird character guy go through portals (without making them yourself), the cool thing is you have to rotate the world to achieve this making it somewhat unique when upfront it looks like it could just be a platformer. It's rendered in 3D and the graphics aren't too bad. It can be downloaded from XDA-Developers.

Hunting screenshotHunting

Hunting is a tower defence game, I don't know about you but I love tower defence games. It's set in a stone-age sort of time so out are the funky missile launchers and cannons, in are weird guys with clubs and bows. The only bad point is it doesn't run in widescreen, and there isn't much variation in the maps. That said, its cheap at 1.19. It can be downloaded from the Marketplace, or there's the demo Hunting Lite.

Meon screenshotMeon

Next up is Meon, this is actually probably the game I've played the most on my HD2. It's another puzzle game where you have to send beams of light to their destination. Sound boring? It's not and is highly addictive. The graphics aren't great, it doesn't make use of the WVGA screen very well, but either way the gameplay is good enough to overcome this. The game itself will set you back 1.69 from the Marketplace, but there is a demo available to called Meon Lite.

Picanrium screenshotPicranium

Picranium is next. Another puzzle game, vaguely similar to minesweeper in that you have to work out what blocks are the actual blocks you need to identify to build the picture, hence the name I assume. But unlike minesweeper you get told the number of blocks in a row or column, you then have to mark them out. Got a little tricky on some levels. Graphics are alright, but would be cool to get a 3D version like on the Nintendo DS. It does make use of multi-touch on the HD2 which is a cool addition. It'll set you back 2.19 from the Marketplace, or there's a demo version called Picranium Lite.

Pocket Lemmings screenshotPocket Lemmings

Need I say more? It's Lemmings. Don't get conned into buying the official versions like Lemmings Tribes, which are slow and rubbish. Go with the original versions. This is a clone resembling the original PC/Amiga/Acorn etc versions made by Johannes Zeppenfeld. Best of all the actual application is free. Like Wolf3D and Doom you do need to provide your own content files, in this case the Lemmings main.dat file which you can find on your old DOS copy. :-) The only problem really is it doesn't support widescreen, but at least it stretches to fill the screen, it's not that noticeable but something that could be improved. You can download the application itself from Johannes' website.

Brain Games 2009 screenshotResco Brain Games 2009

The interface in this game is fantastic, probably one of the best I've come across, makes a change from people using the bog standard and ugly forms found in many Windows Mobile applications. It's got pages and pages of different games, from mathematics, to sorting colour patterns and shooting things, it'll will keep you busy for more than a while and records all your stats, which annoyingly makes you want to complete more and more of it. If you're going to buy it, it isn't cheap at $19.99, but you may be able to find it cheaper from other sources. Here's the official Resco page for it.

Snake screenshotResco Snake

Another Snake game, you control the snake using the accelerometer in the HD2, eat fruit, other snakes, and don't get hurt by the bad guys. Loads of levels, all with different themes with a gradual increase in difficulty making the game quite challenging later on, great user interface, but kinda pricey at $9.99. Official website here.

Xtrakt

One of the better games out there, basically a rail-shooter, although you do have control over the characters location either left or right. Race through a fancy futuristic city on a motorbike type thing and shoot these weird robot thingies. Graphics are pretty good, audio is pretty good. Originally bundled with the Xperia phone but can be found over on XDA Developers.

Time permitting I'll share the handful of other applications I use, which aren't games at a later date.

Silent Hunter 5 out very soon and I'm not buying it on release

I've been looking forward to Silent Hunter 5 for a while now as regular readers will know I am a bit of a submarine fan. Playing number 2 and 3 to death, for those wondering Silent Hunter 4 was set in the Pacific and in my opinion nothing could be more boring :-) Silent Number 5 when it was first announced was looking fantastic.

However a few months ago it was announced there would only be one submarine, a Type VII. Now I don't know about you, but I started my career as a U-Boat captain in a Type II before the start of the war, then to get a Type VIIB, and then a couple of years later to start longer range patrols in IX. Desperately trying to hang on until 1945 and with a bit of luck somehow manage to get the epic Type XXI, I could never survive long enough personally but it gave you a goal to try and achieve.

It was also announced the game would end in 1943. Say what?

Both of these facts diminished my interest. But not as much compared to what I heard last week. Ubisoft's new copy protection system that they've got coming down on their games this year has firmly squashed any intentions of getting this game close to release. May be I'll pick up a version when it's cheap somewhere. But I'm not getting it on release and not paying full whack for it, not when there's the possibility of the game not working half the time.

With this new copy protection scheme you're completely reliant on your internet connection to play, and Ubisoft's ability to maintain its servers. You need to stay connected to Ubisoft's servers or else you can't play. If you connection drops while playing you're kicked out to the main menu.

On the plus side there's no disc check. Or an activation limit. There's other cool things that I've been keen to get for a while, server-side saved games (ideally with a local cache but not in this case) and config. Like some of the Steam cloud stuff we've been seeing lately, so that's all cool. But then of course there's the bad things...

My opinion has always been that copy protection systems are pointless and that they only inconvenience your paying customers. After all the people who pirate it don't have to worry about the copy protection systems, they've already been ripped out.

If a game does have to require some form of copy protection, in my opinion these days it's reasonable to have an install-time activation over the internet. However, and importantly, your activation count should reset over time. Like it does with Windows, you can activate it once, try again the next day on a different computer and not be able to. But try again in a few months time and it'll activate again. This is more reasonable and takes into account people getting new computers.

There is of course always the danger that the company will go under, which is why they should always have a patch developed to remove the activation either at the end of the supported life, or if the company is about to go under. Ubisoft have however said that they will release a patch if and when the online service is shut down so that "core" gameplay remains unaffected.

Discs checks nowadays are also getting less viable as people start having computers without optical drives. And let's face it, it's annoying.

A Steam-like system is borderline usable. However the one big issue with Steam is you're required to be online to put Steam into an offline mode. Meaning if your internet connection dies and you want to play a game. You're screwed. A big issue for me as I'm much more likely to waste time playing games if the internet goes down.

Something like Fallout 3 is a good example of copy protection done right. It checks the disc on install. And then if you want all the cool stuff like being able to sign-in to Xbox/Games for Windows Live you need to use the Live access key and be connected the internet. But the game doesn't suddenly break if you lose your connection.

The minimum I would like to see Ubisoft change would be scrapping the whole booting you to the menu when the connection is lost. If the connection goes down, fine, keep playing, cache the save games locally until the connection is restored. That way most people at least won't notice if their connections dies. That's my biggest issue with this. Nothing would be worse than preparing to strike at a convoy you've been following for 3 days and losing all your progress because the connection dropped briefly.

Ideally though. Stop bothering with DRM, too much money is wasted developing it, it wastes more money in support costs and just hassles paying customers, and let's be honest. It doesn't stop people from pirating.

Silent Hunter 5, aside from the one submarine type and the game ending in 1943 and the obvious questionable DRM issues, looks like a fantastic game, and it is sad that so many people will not be buying it, at least on release due to the restrictions that Ubisoft have placed upon it, but we have to send a message saying that we aren't going to accept this level of copy protection.

Users with hacked consoles banned from Xbox Live - oh noes

The BBC are running this as their lead story under technology at the moment.

How the hell is this worthy of being the lead technology news item at the moment. Microsoft have always banned modified consoles from Xbox Live for the last 7 years since the service was launched has anyone given it this much coverage when the other batches of users were banned? No.

What's worse, the BBC even features the opinions of one Radio 1 listener who was banned and turn it into an entire article.

I was pretty distraught at the time, I can't remember exactly what it said but I saw the words 'banned' and I was gutted, completely gutted.

At first I was in shock, I mean it's always at the back of your head using pirate games you know there's that possibility but you haven't heard about it, there's been no warnings and you haven't heard it happen to anyone in the last two years.

Too bad. The terms of use clearly states no modified consoles are allowed on the network. Not just to stop piracy but to stop people modifying games and cheating on the service.

I've probably saved about 600 and I've copied roughly 30 or 40 games. A lot of them I've downloaded or I've taken off friends that have downloaded themselves.

Go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200.

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