Microsoft’s Dean Lester talks about the future of Windows as it pertains to gaming.
No matter what their preferences, predilections, and penchants, there’s one thing that all PC gamers are a slave to: the Windows OS. And while the DirectX portion of Windows improves all the time, the OS as a whole isn’t the most user friendly -- especially to those new to gaming. Microsoft is fully aware of this and intends to address many of Windows’ shortcomings in its upcoming release codenamed Longhorn. I spent some time chatting with Dean Lester, the company’s general manager of Windows graphics and gaming technologies, on how he intends to make the OS more accessible to gamers. A number of his group’s ideas are marvelous, but Lester made clear that while it intends to pursue all these features, some of these options might not be in the final release. Here’s a rundown of Lester’s visions for the future of Windows gaming.
1) Simplify the Purchasing Experience
-- Lester had been getting together with system integrators, CPU vendors, graphics accelerator vendors, developers, and publishers to simplify the purchasing experience for gamers. The goal is to come up with a system that easily lets the consumer know whether or not a game will run on his system. Instead of the user having to know their CPU speed, graphics card, amount of RAM, sound card, etc., Microsoft hopes to come up with a tiered system. Longhorn will tell you what “level” your system is, so during the boot screen you’ll see that your system is level four. This means you can play games that will run on level four systems and lower. While publishers could still list individual system requirements on a game’s box, it can also simply label that is requires a level six machine. (Keep in mind all these numbers are arbitrary since Microsoft hasn’t developed a system yet. ) This makes things exponentially easier for the consumer, especially a new gamer or a gamer lacking technical knowledge. It also helps gamers avoid the problem of the idiot sales rep that doesn’t know squat about PCs but is in charge of selling PC games. Advertisement
2) Simplify Setup
-- This is an area where Lester thinks his group should take its cues from the Xbox. With a console game you pop a disc in the system and you’re good to go. Installing a PC game required you to through numerous menus (Do you want a full, typical, or custom install? Where would you like to install the program? This folder does not exist would you like to create it? Would you like to install DirectX? And finally the EULA.). Lester would like more publishers to have its games run straight off the disc. Naturally, if the advanced user wishes to install it on their hard drive, this option should be available, but Lester envisions pop-in-and-play as the future of Windows gaming.
-- Lester finds it amusing that the latest Catalyst and Detonator driver releases are met with much fanfare. He thinks that drivers are something that Windows should update for you -- something that the user shouldn’t worry about. He notes that the Xbox has a display driver, but it’s something that the consumer never thinks about.
4) Standardized Controls
-- While the keyboard and mouse works perfectly for many PC games, Lester feels that many titles that are successful on consoles never make it to the PC because it simply won’t control as well. He brings up the action-sports genre as an example. His solution is to standardize the control spec for gamepads, joysticks, and racing wheels. The goal is to make a standard that all developers can use and that all PC gamers will become accustomed to. The same way most PS2 gamers know that X is the primary action button, so to will Windows gamers. Again, the emphasis is on simplification; the user will not have to configure or calibrate anything. The controller should plug in and work. Longhorn will take care of legacy games and map controls accordingly.
-- Many PC users don’t know what a patch is. Many don’t know how to use a patch. Many don’t know where to a get a patch from. Similar to his stance on drivers, Lester feels that the user should not have to worry about things like this. He envisions a system like Windows Update that asks the user if he’d like to check for patches to his games. The benefits are letting the user get a better experience faster and saving costly customer service inquiries to publishers.
6) Easing the Way to Online Gaming
-- Microsoft knows that online gaming is key, but also feels that getting online is too complex for many users. Lester spoke about implementing gaming functionality into Windows Messenger, so when you right click on a person on your buddy list you can send a message, send a photo, or play a game. For novice users he sees a controlled first experience, where newcomers can play online with people they are familiar with. Whether it’s the latest first-person shooter or a few rounds of hearts, Microsoft wants gaming online to be one click away.
7) My Games
-- Recent versions of Windows have implemented folders like My Photos and My Music. Storing the appropriate items in these folders lets you access a variety of appropriate actions. Lester wants Longhorn to have a gaming destination too. A My Games folder would house all your games, provide hardware information pertinent to gaming, access to the integral control panels, and links to all your games, online matches, and uninstall options.
8) Parental Controls
-- As more and more mature-rated games are released and more and more senseless atrocities are blamed on Doom, parental controls will become vital. Lester wants to make it easy as one click for parents to restrict access to any games they feel are inappropriate for their spawn.
These are the initial visions Lester has for the future of Windows gaming. Some of them might not make it to Longhorn and there are bound to be new ideas that will be implemented along the way. The overriding goal is to make Windows gaming as approachable and accessible as console gaming. These ideas are definitely a big step in that direction.