Feb 10 2009
Games For Windows – LIVE is (now) a free Windows online gaming service from Microsoft that has a surprisingly pragmatic goal, to connect PC and Xbox 360 gamers in-game online. However, it still needs some work. In short, in a mashup worthy of both Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, ham-fisted DRM makes me stabby.
I’ve had a running debate with some gaming friends in the past couple of days about online racing / vehicular destruction games. Our annual LAN party is coming up at the end of this month, and we’re trying to get the games list set far enough in advance so everyone can buy and install the games we think will be this year’s success story. It is a predictive task not unlike correctly guessing the strain of the coming winter’s flu outbreak.
A couple of days ago, I tried Burnout Paradise Ultimate Box with a longtime online gaming buddy, and after figuring out the initially bewildering GUI, it was a blast, the most fun arcade racing game since the granddaddy of them all, Carmageddon. I haven’t lost track of time like that in a long, long time. It was actually very easy to login and find a friend, and I spent more time getting my USB mic to work than I did hooking up with my buddy.
Last night, I intended to hop on and try out another online racing game in contention for the LAN party, Flatout Ultimate Carnage, by Bugbear, and distributed by Empire Interactive. After getting my mic plugged in and a gamepad mapped, I tried to go online to join my friends who were already racing and having a great time by the sounds of it.
The mechanism Flatout UC uses to connect gamers is the aforementioned Games for Windows – LIVE network. It’s a pretty UI that sits on top of the game, but it’s still got some issues, most having to do with providing support.
Windows recognized that I had a pre-existing Windows Live account and logged me in. So far, so good. But when I tried to connect my local installation of Windows Live to the Windows Live gaming service, I was not successful, and I was given a cryptic error message, Can’t Connect to Live – Error 0×80151907. Thus began a troubleshooting session that spanned another four hours, and saw me descend further and further into a furious funk.
First, Microsoft apparently doesn’t publish what the code means. I’ve read any number of forum posts which all said that the code wasn’t supported or had a valid description. One of my friends mentioned they’d been prompted to download a new version of Games for Windows – LIVE, so I went out and found that, and installed it. Still no luck. I had an idea the code might have something to do with my firewall. Nothing. I tried to find more specific information on which ports to open on my router to allow me to hook up with my friends, and embarked on a truly mindblowing sequence of unsupport.
First, Bugbear, a company out of Finland, developed the game but doesn’t provide any support. The distributors, Empire Interactive, have a Support link, but their page was down. Firefox showed me a fine display of XML, and IE 7 (bleh!) simply showed me nothing. I tried getting help from Microsoft for their Games for Windows – LIVE service, but it is woefully inaccurate on the PC side, and at some point transitioned over to XBox 360 Support, which did nothing for me on PC. I even tried getting router help from Netgear, but their Support presence was also ineffective.
I finally turned off the voice chat app (because there’s nothing more irritating than the sounds of other people having fun when you can’t) and finally my entire instant messaging software. I was in an ugly mood and didn’t want to kick any dogs. I put on the loudest, angriest speed metal I could find (in the safe confines of my headphones – no need to afflict the entire house with my funk). I created a new GFW profile. Nothing. I tried reloading the game. Nothing. Finally, I rebooted my computer and went into City of Heroes for awhile to prove that I could play something. After 45 minutes of defeating villains with my scrapper, Bola, based on a character from my swashbuckling pirate space opera, I calmed down enough to turn the music off and start to shut down for the evening.
I had one more idea and rebooted. Windows loves to reboot as the solution for apparently everything, thus leading to my favorite gag from The IT Crowd, ‘have you turned it off and on again.’ On a whim, I restarted Flatout UC and noticed that the game had reverted to my initial profile. However, that revelation was brief because I was all of a sudden able to connect online with Games for Windows – LIVE!
I was stunned. I quickly looked for my friends, who had finally logged off, but played a race or two with some guy with a Japanese handle and a German flag. The races were track-based and the game wasn’t nearly as fun as Burnout Paradise, but, hey, I at least figured out how to find other people online, a basic tenet of online gaming.
What fixed it
As near as I can tell, Games For Windows – LIVE has come out with a new patch which updates many technical things. That’s the easy part. However, it also updates a browser-based or in-game EULA that is only prompted when the moon is full and the stars align, and there is no error message that tells you this bit of arcane data. I stumbled across it by logging out of Windows Live, creating a new profile, attempting to log in, failing, rebooting, and then trying the game again.
What happened was Flatout’s Windows Live tried to automatically load the original profile, noticed it had applied a major patch, and had been rebooted once, and kicked me out to accept the EULA. The game worked immediately after that. It would have been swell to know that up-front.
What I did to connect to Games for Windows – LIVE on Vista Home Premium:
- Get firewalls positioned for the gaming session based on your system and possibly open router ports (In my case, I ultimately didn’t need to do anything with opening router ports to connect – everything was related to the installation of new software and getting the profile in the right state to acknowledge and accept the new status of the new patch.)
- Download and install new update for Games for Windows – LIVE
- Log off of the profile
- Start game with Games for Windows – LIVE
- System automatically logged into the original profile and kicked me out to a browser
- Accept new EULA
- Go back into game, kick a$$, take names
So that’s it. If my tale of woe helps any other frustrated PC Games for Windows – LIVE gamer, you’re welcome. And if you’re a representative for Bugbear, Empire Interactive, or Microsoft LIVE, you can save your breath. You were collectively silent or unavailable to me last night, and I don’t need to hear from you today. The community of PC gamers will take this one from here.
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