Category Archives: games for windows live is a pustulant boil on the arse of satan

Games For Windows – Dead

Things are busy on the gaming front with regular groups in Warhammer Online and Lord of the Rings Online, an imminent Cataclysm in the Shattered World of Warcraft, and an occasional spot of heavy metal action in the ongoing World of Tanks beta. And an occasional spot of heavy metal action in Rock Band 3. With Pirates of the Burning Sea hoving into view, free-to-play pennants fluttering tantalisingly, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any shortage of gaming options, even as particularly early snow here threatens transport chaos. I mean obviously we’re all desperately hoping that workplaces stay open and nobody is forced to stay in a lovely, cosy house, with no choice but to play lots of games, that would be terrible, but we’re prepared for the worst. (Though if the phone lines are affected, I might go slightly mental again.)

With a plentiful supply of games to hand, I almost resisted an entire Steam sale. Almost. Batman: Arkham Asylum for £5 was just too good to pass up. After getting it downloaded and installed I went to fire it up for a quick look, but the game refused to load. Slightly annoying. Some cursory Googling suggested good old Games For Windows Live might have been getting in a huff, so I thought I’d double check the GFWL client, and found that at some point since the last time I’d fired it up (probably for Episodes From Liberty City) it had morphed into Games For Windows Live Marketplace with a new client. And it refused to start up. And any other GFWL game I tried refused to start up.

Annoyinger and annoyinger. Yet more Googling suggested getting Windows Live Essentials updated. I use the Windows Live Mail client (I know, I know; I’ve tried to switch to other clients a few times, but after using Outlook Express for years it’s just been more convenient to keep going with the Microsoft offerings), and a couple of months back Windows had suggested upgrading to Windows Live Essentials 2011. So I did. And Windows Live Mail refused to load, with an unhelpful error message, so after much swearing I ripped out the 2011 stuff and managed to reinstall the previous version, miraculously retaining all the archived mail and account settings. Still, maybe something had been tweaked since then… Installed Live Essentials 2011, mail wouldn’t load. Games For Windows Live Marketplace wouldn’t load. Games wouldn’t load. Live Messenger wouldn’t load. Error messages varied from the unhelpful (“*Thing* has stopped working”) to the non-existent.

So uninstalled Live Essentials. Rebooted. Uninstalled Games For Windows Live Marketplace. Rebooted. Uninstalled any .NET frameworks I could find. Rebooted. Reinstalled .NET frameworks. Rebooted. Reinstalled Games For Windows. Rebooted. Anything look like it was in the slightest danger of working? Course not. Yanked bits out of the registry, deleted random folders, plugged everything into different USB ports, adjusted the legs on the keyboard to change the angle of it, moved both monitors three inches to the left, uninstalled and reinstalled everything a couple more times just for fun, not a chance. Got Windows Live Mail back, at least, with the previous version again, and found a previous version of the Games for Windows installer, which started looking hopeful; it remembered my GamerTag and everything, I logged in and… it automatically updated itself. And stopped working. Of course. That pretty much took up an evening during which BBFC guidelines accompanying the troubleshooting warned of “frequent repeated and extremely sustained use of very strong language”.

Day two saw a half-hearted reprise of the main install/uninstall theme with some slight variations, on the off chance that the alignment of the planets had shifted sufficiently to cause software to start working miraculously. It hadn’t. Was always a bit of a long shot, really. As a last resort I thought I might as well post in the tech support section of so hit the “Sign In” button, put in my details, went to post and… apparently I needed to set up a gamer tag. Which I’m sure I had. Clicked the link, it takes you off to the XBox Live site, logged in, checked profile, added information to all the fields in there in case that was why it was in a huff, went back… there was a login/password box. In which neither the GFWL e-mail or gamer tag worked. Genius. A log-in problem when trying to post on a forum to get help with log-in problems. Just the sort of thing that could tip a man over the edge into an insane rampage, but without easy access to a stockpile of automatic weapons I just said “bother”, and had a nice cup of tea.

There’s doubtless some weird and frinky combination of hardware, software and/or settings somewhere in the bowels of Windows causing problems with the full range of Live stuff, which will probably only be solved by a full reinstall sometime (though I might try and find an early restore point, just on the off chance). I don’t think I can be bothered for Arkham Asylum, but I was rather looking forward to the PC release of Fable III, which of course demands the hellspawned Games for arsemongering Windows. It wouldn’t be quite so galling if it wasn’t for the fact the GFWL adds slightly less than bugger all to the overall experience of any game, it’s almost enough to drive a man to a console. Almost. I hear that XBox Live service is very good…

((December 3rd Update: Managed to fix it in the end. I boot off a small SSD C: drive, with a big ol’ D: drive where most things are installed. To keep the C: drive clear, I’ve pointed as much as possible at the D: drive. Which everything was perfectly happy with for a year or so, but obviously revised MS policy is for everything to have to be in the default C: installation, otherwise it’ll throw a fit with no useful error.))

It’s not a trap! (Is it?)

Perhaps you remember from the start of the year my industry-shaking boycott of games including Ubisoft’s “Online Services Platform”? It’s been hard work I can tell you, getting up early each morning to man the barricades, exercising massive willpower to not be tempted into buying any oh-so-lovely looking games… All right, that might be a very slight exaggeration, there are only a few games that include it: The Settlers 7 (I loved the first Settlers game, way back whenever it was, but haven’t really got the time to sink into building a Kingdom), Silent Hunter V (I dabbled a bit with submarine simulators like 688 Attack Sub and Silent Service, but never really had the patience for all that creeping around and carefully deriving firing solutions as opposed to grabbing a plane in a flight sim and shouting “DAKKADAKKADAKKA!” a lot) and Assassin’s Creed II (currently filed under “maybe pick up if it’s in a Steam sale in a year or so for a fiver”).

The one Ubisoft game I’ve really been interested in is RUSE, a WWII RTS which has been delayed a couple of times, postponing the reckoning when my brave moral stand might actually be tested, and this morning news filtered through from Rock, Paper, Shotgun that it won’t be an issue after all. Apparently:

When R.U.S.E. is released in September, it will benefit from Valve’s Steamworks API to offer the best community experience to players. Consequently, a Steam account and Internet connection will be required to activate the game, as per Steam policy. For this reason, R.U.S.E. will not use the Ubisoft protection. Single player can be played offline.

Well huzzah! (So long as this isn’t just a cunning ruse.) Clearly this was entirely down to my threatened boycott; I’d better turn my powers to good, so listen up, like, banks and governments and stuff: I’m totally boycotting you until world poverty is ended, yeah! Back in the real world, though…

Some people [citation needed] might suggest that Steam is another form of DRM and not so different to Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform, and back in 2004 when I first encountered it as a mandatory component for authenticating Half Life 2 I was sceptical, but it’s turned into a really great platform. It keeps everything up to date by toddling off and grabbing patches in the background, the Steam store offers some fantastic deals during sales, and the community features tie in beautifully allowing you to see if friends are online and what they’re playing, invite them to games or jump in and join them (where the game supports it) and chat via text or voice. I haven’t had any problems with connectivity either, my ADSL line dropped out for an evening the other day, but switching Steam into Offline mode it was perfectly happy to fire up Borderlands. It’s not perfect, you still need to connect for initial authentication, there’s the possibility of problems with Steam affecting your games, if you get locked out of your account you’re pretty much screwed, but there’s clear added value; by using Steam RUSE avoids the hassle of having to create yet another account for some service and dig through it to try and find your friends there. Services like Good Old Games may be superior in offering DRM-free titles, but I can live with Steam’s compromise between restrictions and features. Especially when compared with Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live.

Games for Windows Live offers many of the same features as Steam such as digital distribution, patching and a community. In most cases, it does them very badly; patching is probably the best example. If you’re running Steam in the background and there’s no other internet activity, Steam slips off like a well trained valet, checks for updates to your games, downloads them, installs, and pops up a discrete notification: “*ahem* I took the liberty of updating Borderlands to Version 1.31, sir. I’ve also put the brown suit out for luncheon, I believe Lady Malvern is expecting you at half past.” I’m pretty sure it will quite happily load up a game that hasn’t been patched to the latest version as well, I can’t remember it ever being an issue. G4WL, on the other hand, is like a stroppy bouncer. “Oi, v1.2 only, sling yer ‘ook!” it’ll bellow if you fire up a game you haven’t played for a while; it’s sometimes possible to ignore it, log out of G4WL and play the game anyway, but some games then sulk and won’t let you access any of your saves, so it’s best to sigh and click the “update” button. At that point it just sits there, with an incomprehensible lack-of-progress bar that doesn’t really do anything; you can’t carry on and play, can’t go back to Windows and do anything else, you just have to leave it there and hope it actually is downloading a patch (if you’re very, very lucky), though more often than not it just gets confused by something and falls over in a heap after half an hour with an incomprehensible error message. Several times I’ve had to go off and track down patches for a game elsewhere, download them from a browser (during which time I can still use said browser to look at other sites) and manually install them; if that’s the update model I haven’t got a problem with it, but don’t include a “feature” in your distribution system that’s worse in almost every way! It’s all the more baffling as Microsoft could be in such a good position; the system ties in to the massively popular XBox Live (which, by all accounts, works very well on the console), but you can’t do much on the PC apart from send messages to XBox users as cross-platform play seemed to begin and end with the abortive Shadowrun. Steam had an advantage of being a component of massively popular games like Half Life 2 and Counterstrike, giving Valve wide initial distribution; with G4WL being mandatory for PC titles like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV, Microsoft had a chance of starting to build up similar membership, but don’t seem to have done anything with it, leaving Games for Windows Live as a stunted half-arsed port of XBox Live that barely acknowledges the existence of arcane technology like a ‘mouse’. Which still makes it more useful than Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform.