Pandemonium

September 17, 2010

Windows Phone 7? Schmindows schmone schmeven

Filed under: XNA — bittermanandy @ 12:51 am

WARNING – rant follows. Those of a sensitive disposition should look away now.

I know this blog has lain dormant for long, but I’ve been working on my game just lately and really getting back into XNA. The chance to work with a halfway sane codebase has been a real relief from my day job, and I’ve really been enjoying it. So I feel bad about this rant, but I have to get this off my chest. It is undeniably one-sided and filled with a certain amount of invective; if you don’t like that kind of thing, it might be an idea to skip this article. There are no coding tips in this article, just heartfelt opinion from an angry man. You have been warned.

XNA is a wonderful and glorious thing of great beauty. It makes game development easy on Windows and more-or-less straightforward on Xbox (though with close-to-zero financial benefit from what I gather). Today XNA Game Studio 4.0 has been released, and what’s the one thing that they keep going on about? Windows Phone 7.

So much so, in fact, that XNA is now part of the Windows Phone Developer Tools. You can’t get away from it! And if you were to visit to the XNA Creators Club website (the first link up there) you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the Windows Phone 7 Gaming Creators Club website. Where the hell is all the Windows and Xbox stuff? It’s gone – oh no wait! There’s one tiny little box in the right-hand column that you have to be actually looking for to even notice.

It’s crystal clear where Microsoft are going with this. Windows Phone 7 is their target platform for XNA (Zune appears to have been quietly taken out and shot – hey Microsoft, you can’t create an international brand if you only release it on one continent) and the stuff that is actually cool, easy Windows and Xbox 360 development, has been reduced to nothing more than a forgotten sideshow.

Understand this very clearly. I am a Microsoft fanboy in any meaningful sense of the word. I even still use Internet Explorer despite the fact the whole world is telling me Firefox is better – hey, I like IE, OK? I do. I even worked for Microsoft for getting on for five years, and I enjoyed it, and in another life I might have found a way to stay.

But  here’s the thing. I owned a Windows Mobile 5.0 phone, and it should have been amazing. But that thing was pure hell. Simple tasks – like synching Internet Favourites – failed at the most basic level (one would disappear every time the phone synched, until they were all gone). As a smartphone it was supposed to run my life for me, but when half of my calendar appointments lose an hour if they are in the morning during daylight savings time, with the result that I no longer know when my appointments are, how is it realistically going to do that? That phone, that mobile operating system, that should have dominated the world, instead was a half-assed pile of steaming cow turd that failed on just about every level. I spent hours on the Connect forums for weeks trying to get that phone working, and it just didn’t.

Then the iPhone came along, and it looked really, really nice, but it’s Apple, and I’m a self-confessed Microsoft fanboy. Nevertheless my contract had expired so I could finally get a new phone – but it’s OK! I was told. Windows Mobile 6.1 is much better than 5.0! So (knowing I was making a mistake, but there it was) I got a Windows Mobile 6.1 phone… only to find that not a single one of the issues I had reported in Windows Mobile 5.0 had been fixed. Not one, literally. So again I spent hundreds of hours on the Microsoft support forums trying to sort things out, only to be told in every case “oh yeah, I never use that feature, it doesn’t really work properly”. And it was a two year contract that I couldn’t afford to buy my way out of, so I was stuck with it, and it was the worst phone I have ever owned. I could sit here and write for hours about what made it so bad, I really could.

Happily, I’ve just got an Android (phew, I avoided Apple!) and it’s a thing of beauty. It’s miraculous. I can actually open an internet site in the internet browser and it will actually render! If I then save it as a bookmark, I can come back a week later and the bookmark is still there! Doesn’t sound so amazing? You’ve obviously never had a Windows Mobile 5.0 or 6.1 phone then, because you’d appreciate these things! But now, Windows Phone 7 is on its way… well, no way on Earth was I waiting for that. Not a chance. I have spent hundreds of pounds and hundreds of hours of my life trying to work around basic bugs in Microsoft phone operating systems, and I am very well aware that WP7 is a complete restart compared to WM5 and WM6 (though that didn’t help the KIN…) but sorry, I simply don’t believe that Microsoft know what sane human beings want out of a phone, any longer. I gave them two chances and was punished for it with bug-ridden software and total apathy on their support forums. There will be no third chance. (I am also fairly sure that I am far from the only one to have been so badly burned by WM5 and WM6 – meanwhile, the rest of the world has an iPhone or Android – which by the way now have such magical futuristic features as copy-paste and multitasking, and the excuse “iPhone didn’t have it at launch four years ago” cuts no ice with me).

Long story short: I’m a Microsoft fanboy and even if Windows Phone 7 performed fellatio on demand, I still wouldn’t get one. No non-MS-fanboys are even aware that it’s an option, or if they are they’ll probably get confused with the old WM5 and WM6 phones which were awful. And yet Windows Phone 7 has become the overwhelming focus of XNA. I can see why MS might consider it strategically desirable but this upsets me. As far as I can tell there haven’t been many Windows and 360 features lost in XNA 4.0 (…right?) but if all we’re going to get from now on is Windows Phone 7 shoved down our throats every time we visit the website or the forums, and if all the new features the XNA team are working on are heavily WP7 focussed, XNA itself might get dragged down with Windows Phone 7 when it dies, and that will be a tragedy.

There. I said it. I told you this post would be something of a diatribe, and it got undeniably emotional at times, but I’ve spent the last several years crippled by a godawful mobile phone operating system and that’s the kind of thing that inspires nerd rage. XNA could really make a difference to game development now and in the future, but not if it’s so woefully mistargeted at a platform even Microsoft fanboys have no interest in.

That the next article will be less of a rant and much, much more positive. Pinky promise.

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8 Comments »

  1. I’m someone who worked in the WP7 org for quite some time in an around the XNA area, and what you’ve blogged is a bit misdirected – The only reason that the WP7 portions of XNA are out first is simply because those are the parts that they needed to be released so that people could have the final tools to get any games ready for launch day. The standard Windows/Xbox pieces are coming and, according to everything that I’ve heard/read, will STILL be separate, and still very much supported. Hell, they even added some new Xbox-360-specific features (like, I believe, support for the wonderful 3e7 floating point framebuffer) for XNA 4.0.

    None of the other platforms are forgotten – those parts of XNA just aren’t released yet. There’s no shift in focus or anything like that.

    I can’t blame you for your dislike of WM5/6 – they definitely had their problems. WP7 is considerably better. Is it better than iPhone/Android? Yes and no, depending on what you want out of your phone. Personally, I found it painful to switch back to my iPhone when I left the company after having used WP7 for so long – in many ways, it did things that I like better than I feel like the iPhone does. I don’t care about

    I can guarantee, however, that will not be the same sentiment from everyone. And that’s fine.

    However, XNA for PC/360 isn’t going away. It isn’t getting downgraded. 360, at least, is still very much front-and-center.

    It’s just that they decided to release the (completed) WP7 tools ahead of the (still-incomplete) 360 development sections.

    Comment by Drilian — September 17, 2010 @ 1:06 am | Reply

  2. (I guess I shouldn’t have said “in an around the XNA area” as I never worked directly on XNA. But I did a decent bit of work to fix some graphics issues for them. Just so there’s no confusion. :)

    Comment by Drilian — September 17, 2010 @ 1:07 am | Reply

  3. DOUBLE FAIL – Apparently I left “I don’t care about” hanging – I was going to mention multitasking (which I don’t really see the benefit of), but I decided it was tangential to my reply and didn’t belong. Whoops!

    Okay that’s surely going to be my last correction :D

    Comment by Drilian — September 17, 2010 @ 1:10 am | Reply

  4. While I’m not as passionate about it I feel pretty much the same way. I have no interest in programming for the Windows Phone (or Zune or even the XBox). All the attention lavished on those minor platforms along with the fact XNA will never implement cutting edge features (since Microsoft insists that it always works on the lowest common denominator platform) means I’ve lost interest in XNA completely.

    Comment by Cvnk — September 17, 2010 @ 2:03 am | Reply

  5. I’m not sure I follow. Are you saying that XNA is great and that Microsoft isn’t marketing it correctly? If you look at it from their perspective, the potential in the mobile space is way huger than pc and their indie console offering. How much does a new smartphone cost? How much does a new XBox cost? How many people are walking around with XBox’s in their pocket?

    If they can get people onboard with their mobile platform that will more easily translate to their Console platform. It won’t happen the other way around IMO.

    Comment by byron — September 17, 2010 @ 5:49 am | Reply

  6. I’m also completely uninterested in WP7. I don’t need a new phone, and much like iPhone and Android phones, it will be a terrible gaming platform for me. Accelerometers and a touch screen are not sufficient input devices for the game I enjoy. It’s a bummer they didn’t stick a dpad and a couple of buttons on there. :)

    Comment by Jesse Chounard — September 17, 2010 @ 1:15 pm | Reply

  7. Hey there Andy, that’s far too good a rant for me to let it pass without a reply :-)

    It is absolutely not the case that XNA is now entirely focused on Windows Phone 7, but it is true that our v4 release concentrates mostly on the phone. Windows Phone support is our big new feature in this version, so this is naturally what we talk about most in the context of the 4.0 release announcements.

    In this release cycle, we obviously spent more time working on phone code than we did on Windows or Xbox, because our phone implementation was starting from zero while those other platforms were already well supported. But we did significant new work for our other platforms too! For instance the graphics API tuning is valuable everywhere, and we found time to implement several new HiDef only features (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/shawnhar/archive/2010/07/09/surfaceformat-hdrblendable.aspx, http://blogs.msdn.com/b/shawnhar/archive/2010/06/17/drawinstancedprimitives-in-xna-game-studio-4-0.aspx).

    Longer term, we are absolutely committed to supporting all three of our target platforms. Cross platform development has always been a major goal for XNA, and I see the addition of the phone target as a win for XNA across the board. Broadening our developer base, gaining new customers and new markets, and becoming more widely used is a good thing for everyone who uses XNA, regardless of whether you personally do so on Windows, Xbox, or Phone.

    I’m not going to get into the whole Windows Mobile 5/6 vs. Windows Phone debate, other than to say that I personally have been rather impressed by what the phone guys have come up with here :-)

    Comment by Shawn Hargreaves — September 17, 2010 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  8. I mostly agree with this rant. I’m happy with the XNA framework for PC and XBOX 360 and the new features for these platforms are great. XNA is still amazing to me. However, the app hub itself does feel very focused on windows mobile when it comes to tutorials and samples now – even some of the great old samples are not going to be updated (e.g. the racing game – I guess because it won’t run on a phone). I can completely understand Microsoft doing this; mobile games are a big market now, (although I think they are rather late to the party and are likely to be left standing in the corner clutching their cheap bottle of wine and talking to themselves).
    To me it looks like one of the best mobile platforms from a developer point of view – I don’t like having to use Java on Android and I don’t want to pay a fortune for a mac to develop for iPhone, where as I enjoy coding in C# and it’s backed up by a great free IDE. However, I think I’ll stick to developing on PC and XBOX for now; from what I can tell there aren’t many Windows Mobile 7 users out there (although I haven’t seen any figures, neither have I heard any stories about it being the next iPhone). This is a shame as it looks a lot better than previous windows mobile versions, I just think most people who wanted a smart phone have android or iPhone now and don’t see any reason to change.

    Comment by Dave — January 2, 2011 @ 8:59 pm | Reply


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