SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 25 (Reuters Life) - An overhaul of Microsoft Corp.'s flagship Windows software promises to put more razzle and dazzle in computer games, but its emphasis on security may make things tougher for smaller game developers.
When Windows Vista goes on sale to consumers on January 30, Microsoft is counting on gamers to create buzz about the first overhaul of its flagship software in five years.
"Gamers tend to be key influencers and tastemakers in the overall ecosystem,"
Rich Wickham, director of Windows gaming at Microsoft, told Reuters.
"I tell anyone who will listen to me at Microsoft that these are our most important customers."
One of Vista's most important features is DirectX 10, the latest version of Microsoft's graphics technology that will enable more realistic images, such as rippling water, billowing smoke and lighting effects.
Microsoft says Vista will provide the best way to play highly anticipated games such as "Crysis", a breathtakingly realistic shooter, "Supreme Commander", a strategy game that gives players control of massive armies, or "Age of Conan: Hyborean Adventures", a lush online roleplaying game.
But apart from the pictures, Microsoft says Vista will also make it easier to install, update and control access to games.
A key feature is a "Games Explorer", sort of a "My Pictures" folder for games, that organises titles in one place and issues alerts when updates and patches become available;
New parental controls can limit access to mature games, or allow games to be played only during certain times. A smoother installation process should get most new games up and running in less than 10 minutes.
"We've tried to make it as user-friendly as simple as possible," Wickham said.
But others in the industry aren't so sure.
Take Alex St. John, a former Microsoft engineer who helped create DirectX and now runs WildTangent, a publisher of independent games available online or bundled with new PCs.
St. John said Microsoft went overboard in its eagerness to make Vista more secure and silence critics who complain Windows is vulnerable to viruses and other threats.
"There are some problems with Vista that are actually very frustrating," St. John said in an interview.
For instance, every time a user downloads a game, Vista warns it could be harmful. When the user tires to install the game, another warning pops up. If the user still proceeds, Vista requires the password of the machine's administrator.
"I am pretty darn sure it will significantly reduce the number of people who are downloading games or the number of games people download and buy," St. John said.
"Vista does cast a wet blanket that does have some weight over that innovation. It doesn't crush it, it just hurts."
Among St. John's other gripes are that Vista won't ship with Flash, a piece of software from Microsoft rival Adobe that is used to create many online and casual games; that parental controls can make it tough to find games outside the Games Explorer; and that the Games Explorer emphasises retail titles over downloaded ones.
Wickham counters the company is working to address such concerns and game developers will appreciate the tighter security procedures.
"From a games perspective, there might be some small hurdles to take advantage of all those security features, but the benefit is enormous," Wickham said.
John Carmack, technical director of id Software and programmer behind the "Doom" and "Quake" games, sounds lukewarm on Vista, suggesting little reason for gamers to upgrade.
"They're really grasping at straws for reasons to upgrade the operating system," Carmack told GameInformer this month.