Windows Vista: Game On

Ladies and gentlemen, take note: I have seen the future, and it looks pretty damn sharp on a 23-inch monitor and Windows Vista.   That’s right… An official build of Windows Vista, due forrelease in January (of 2043, if you believe online hecklers) recently dropped into my lap. Armed with Norton Partition Magic 8.0 and this handy Lifehacker article, I decided to take the plunge and see why Microsoft was makinga major push for its Games for Windows brand in 2007.   The result: Forget all the fuss about Live Anywhere, an initiative which lets interactive entertainment enthusiasts wirelessly connect andshare content across devices such as the cell phone, PC and Xbox 360. Even discounting the impact of desktop/console homebrew development toolkit XNA Game Studio Express as well, the advent of Vistabrings several awesome enhancements to the field of electronic amusements worth staying abreast of.   No matter if you can’t tell Company of Heroes or Crysis from a cantaloupe.The OS still boasts numerous sweeping improvements guaranteed to generate excitement in virtual circles. And yes, that goes for both casual and diehard enthusiasts.   Here are just a few of thefiner points that struck me as welcome additions to game night:   DirectX 10   Middleware that lets game creators eke yet more graphical power and better programperformance from the operating system. Now, you won’t just enjoy stunningly photorealistic titles like Flight Simulator X and Age of Conan. You’ll also get to do so with lessslowdown, at sharper resolutions and in ways which push the boundaries of what PCs have been capable of doing to date. Picture titles featuring pixel-perfect terrain, flitting shadows and characterswhose facial expressions reflect a full range of emotion.   Games Explorer   Installing, keeping track of, updating, accessing info on and downloading additional contentfor all your titles is easier than ever, thanks to Vista’s new Games Explorer. Happily, the house Bill Gates built now views the popular pastime as a priority – hence the fact you can accessthis feature through a "Games" option located right on the Start menu.   The nice part here, besides digital diversions being organized in a central location, is that Games Exploreralso doubles as a one-stop resource for your every brain cell-killing need. Rolling all related functions into a single, standalone interface, you can now do nearly anything without breaking a sweat.For instance: View developer, publisher and product info; link to manufacturer websites; pull up age ratings; tweak audio/video devices; configure Internet access; or retrieve help files updated toreflect the latest tech support findings.   Windows System Performance Ratings (WinSPRs) also provide an instantly comprehensible numerical representation of your computer’s capabilities.Gauging your machine on areas such as processor, memory and graphics, these options immediately let you know if your PC is up to snuff for specific titles. You’ll even be able to tell at a glance ifdriver problems, hard drive space or startup troubles are causing key issues.   Community Features   Fully compatible with games for earlier versions of Windows, you’llalso find art and info readily retrievable on 1500+ titles such as Half-Life 2. But being able to easily store, configure and catalogue your collection is only the beginning. With a click,you can immediately hop on community message boards, join fan clubs, pull up saved games (which use screenshots to remind you where you left off) or download program mods too. No more futzing throughobscure web pages. Now, you’ll be able to connect with fellow geeks and discuss the merits of SiN Episodes‘ sophomoric humor (and busty beauties) in seconds.   ParentalControls   Kids are cool and all, but you don’t always want them going on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas marathons. Though it’ll surely seem slightly draconian to some, Vistaboasts built-in parental control features designed to help keep dicey content out of Junior’s hands.   Cheerfully, the OS defaults to your home territory’s set rating system (e.g. ESRBguidelines for America, PEGI’s standards throughout Europe, CERO’s rules in Japan), so mature titles can be kept away from minors. You can further choose to limit children’s access based on specificdescriptors such as blood, gore or drug use. Time constraints can also be applied, so sprouts may only login at certain hours. Oh, and here’s a personal favorite the tots will surely love –auto-generated activity reports actually monitor their progress for you, so when the parents are away, the mischievous scamps and hormonally-supercharged teens won’t play.   CheapThrills   You know you love those fun freebies: Solitaire, FreeCell, Minesweeper et al.   Well, guess what? They’re back, and looking better than ever,thanks to sweeping graphical improvements and bonus features like selectable backgrounds and options to save and resume games at any time. Spider Solitaire, InkBall, Heartsand Purble Place (a collection of three animated memory-matching, puzzle-solving and guessing games aimed at young children) are included out of the box too.   Should you spring forVista Premium or Vista Ultimate, you’ll also get two bonus 3D offerings: Chess Titans and Mahjong Titans. (Surprise – I suck at both.) Sell your soul to the gods of marketingresearch and become a registered "genuine" user, and you become eligible for additional free game downloads as well. w00t!     Taken together, you’re looking at an operatingsystem that pumps up the audiovisual capabilities, gives users additional feedback on/greater control over their leisure experiences and makes gaming more accessible than ever. Say what you willabout Vista’s corporate overlords and their decision to sell the program in 8 million different editions, but all of the above constitute big pluses in my book.   Considering how much easierMicrosoft’s newest invention is liable to make everyone’s lives (once the kinks are worked out, natch), I’m walking away from initial tests with a positive impression. Just thinking about theplatform’s potential to draw new fans into the fold gets me all tingly inside.   Besides, dude – next-gen Minesweeper. Need I say more?   Scott Steinberg ismanaging director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants (www.embassymulti.com).

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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