Optimising The Fun Out Of Video Games

Civilisation game-designer, Soren Johnson, once wrote on his blog, “Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game.” This was something that I originally considered to be an alien concept – until I realised that I do this, and so does everyone else.

It comes down to an interesting question – what is the objective of a person playing a video game? Why do they do it? Will they take actions in the game specifically to have fun, or will they choose to forgo fun for the sake of making the game easier so therefore to ‘do better’? Johnson, in this quote, argues that the player cannot be trusted to play the game in a fun way, but rather a fashion where they will play better. Some would then argue that the feeling of doing well in a difficult video game provides a kind of enjoyment – which is true. However, I’d argue that this is only a feeling that many players have when they’ve been playing a game for a while, and they initially struggled with it. The feeling they are enjoying is a sense of achievement and progression – it’s good to know that you are getting better at something you once found challenging. If there was no challenge to start with, it is unlikely that any such feeling will be experienced; it’s boring because the game is too easy (of course, some games aren’t supposed to be challenging, and the enjoyment comes from other elements). I’d argue, then, that the feeling of doing well in a game does not correlate to enjoying the game.

My personal story regarding this started about three months ago when I decided to replay Bioshock: Infinite. When this game came out in 2013, I considered it hands-down one of my favourite games – but I could never put my finger on why. I’d been coaxed into reinforcing my resolve that this is a good game when I saw several game reviewers I respected discussing how they didn’t like this game and that they didn’t know why anyone does. I, instead of being stubborn, decided to replay the whole game and reaffirm my opinion – as well as, hopefully, finally put into words what it was I liked about it.

My result? Well, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I remember liking it. I still enjoyed it and managed to play through the whole game in less than two days, along with the Burial At Sea DLC in the following two days. But the interesting thing I found about this game, and what got me thinking about this topic, was the fact that I remember the combat being really fun and engaging. This was not the case on a replay – I found the combat ludicrously easy and, not exactly tedious, but certainly somewhat mind-numbing. You see, the world in this game has a system of ‘skylines’ which are a set of suspended rails above the maps that can be used by the player to quickly traverse around the map in combat scenarios. The idea is that the player can swoop in over a group of enemies to fight them, and then swoop away as soon as they’re in too much trouble. This promotes a fast-paced, aggressive combat style. It’s really fun and was a great feature for the marketing of this game. The devs really wanted players to be flying about the map using the skylines and fighting aggressively and quickly.

The problem is that the skylines are completely unnecessary when it comes down to it. I don’t mean that you can play the game without really ever using them, just that there really is no advantage to using them, apart from when they’re the only way to reach a location of an area. In fact – the game is much easier if you don’t spend your time swooshing about, and actually just stand still – against a wall, with the carbine, head-shooting enemies as they approach.

It’s shocking how many maps in this game allow you to do this – and it how well it works for that matter. The game mechanics even reward this behaviour – unintentionally, I’m sure – with the ‘Booker, catch!’ mechanic. Booker is the name of the character you play as, and so this phrase is shouted at you by your AI companion, Elizabeth when she throws you supplies. Early on in development, she (in an attempt to make her more of a feature of gameplay rather than a cut-scene only type of character) would actually path-find through the local area to supply drops around the map, and then throw them to you as you need them. This was changed – for a variety of reasons – to a system where she just spawns in whatever you need and throws it at you. If you’re thinking that this would surely ruin the combat – seeing that you no longer need to look for ammo or health packs when you’re low on either – then you’d be right. It entirely promotes a slower, more defensive combat style, which this game does not suit because it simply wasn’t designed for it. It is further worsened by the fact that enemies have the aim of a loose garden hose on full blast, providing no immediate threat to anybody. I died once in this game – due to a glitch.

So, as stated the game is easiest played by standing in a corner, behind some amount of cover, and just blasting the enemies with the carbine, which is the ultimate long range, and mid-range weapon in the game. Combined with the shotgun, which is obviously great for short range, and you’re unstoppable if you play the game slowly and less aggressively – which was against the intentions of the developers. There is a boss battle about three quarters through the game involving a ghost woman. It’s supposed to be really hard because it spawns other ghosts that attack you – but you don’t have to worry about them, you just have to go for the main ghost. My strategy? Use charge (which is a kind of superpower you get that allows you charge into an enemy at great speed and do some damage to them) to get really close to the ghost woman ASAP, and then shotgun and charge repeatedly until she teleports away. Only she didn’t have a chance to do that, because I had her dead before Booker and Elizabeth had finished their ten-second dialogue about how we need to kill this ghost-lady – which was kind of funny; the dialogue at the end of the battle started overlapping with the dialogue at the start if the battle.

Because I had anticipated that the shotgun and charge combo was the way to go, I’d spent all my upgrades on maxing both out, so by the end I was an unstoppable killing machine – which is actually less fun than it sounds – there was no challenge to it anymore. There is a fun way to play the combat, and then there is an effective way to play the combat – the circles do not overlap in this diagram. By developing these strategies, I’d optimised the fun from Bioshock Infinite.

While Bioshock has these problems, I also consider my attitude towards games to be at fault – to an extent. With the new Tomb Raider coming so soon, I decided to replay Rise of the Tomb Raider in preparation. Now, this game isn’t supposed to be unreasonably hard or anything – the focus of the experience is in its exploration and puzzle solving, with some stealth and set-piece combat sections breaking the experience up. The thing about this game is that the combat sections are frustrating in a way that I don’t really enjoy that much. Perhaps it’s due to my playing the game with a controller and the lack of auto-assistive aim, but I’m not such a fan of the bits where you need to shoot people. I don’t hate it, I’d just rather avoid it if possible.

Well, it turns out that sometimes it is possible. In some sections, it’s entirely possible to simply run past all the enemies until you reach the next checkpoint location – it’s not mind-blowingly easy because you’ll probably have to make a few attempts due to all the enemies shooting at Lara, but I found the challenge of doing that was more fun than the challenge of having to fight all these enemies with the frustrating combat system. Once you reach the next checkpoint, just let Lara die, and when you reload at that checkpoint the game will assume that you killed all the enemies behind you – or at least successfully snuck past them.

This is not the intended way to play the game when it was designed, it’s more me being lazy. But you can’t blame the player, you can only blame the game. There doesn’t need to be a system to prevent the player from doing this.

Halo’s checkpoint system prevents it, but it often leads to what I like to call ‘stingy checkpoints’, where the game will only give you a checkpoint under very specific conditions. I consider the checkpoint system of all the Halo games, from one to four, to be broken (I haven’t played five). It leads to the player legitimately playing the game the way it was intended to be played, but still being in situations where they die and then reload to a checkpoint twenty minutes earlier. I recently played Halo 4, and it’s a big problem still, successfully making my experience with that game worse than it needed to be.

If Crystal Dynamics, when developing Rise of the Tomb Raider (RotTR), had made the combat and sneaking mechanics more compelling and less tedious, I might have felt more inclined to not try to skip those parts of the game – the simple fact is, my method of skipping these sections is legitimately more fun than the way the developers intended me to play the game.

Having said this, I do still believe that I, overall, had a worse experience playing the game improperly than I would, had I had just persisted. I felt little satisfaction, or much of a sense of achievement, in skipping combat sections altogether – and I was messing with the pacing of the game. RotTR is a very linear experience that has been painstakingly tuned to be just right. So while skipping was more fun in the short term, it was probably not as fun as finishing the game more legitimately.

The two examples I’ve given here are very different in nature. My ‘optimisation’ of RofTR felt distinctly cheaty – I knew I was breaking the system. Bioshock was different in that I didn’t feel like my ‘optimisation’ was illegitimate, nor was it breaking the game. Bioshock’s problem was a lack of incentive to play the game any differently to the way that I was, other than a few prompts telling me that I should use my powers and the skylines more – but when my strategy is working really well, why would I change anything? It’s not like I had no fun playing Infinite, it was just significantly less than I remember back in 2013. Although I was a dumb sixteen-year-old back then so my opinion might have just been plain wrong.

I don’t think you can really ever blame the player for ‘playing the game wrong’, you can only incentivise them to play it in the way you want them to. XCOM 2 has a controversial system that limits the number of turns a mission can be played in. This forces the player to think more about what they’re going to do in order to not waste any turns – and more importantly – it forces them to take risks. The game is said to be a lot more fun when the player is using a dangerous strategy, so Firaxis (the developer) made it part of the game. This has been met with some pushback from fans, because it forces everyone to play the game in one way, in a strategy game where the player should be able to handle any mission in any way they want.

When Blizzard was developing World of Warcraft, they wanted to make sure players were taking regular breaks and not playing the game for unhealthy numbers of hours, so they provided an incentive to players for logging off. The ‘Rest’ bonus gives players an XP boost for players who are logged off, which wears off over time when they are logged in. This also makes it fairer for players who don’t want to commit as much time into the game as hardcore players who may never stop playing the game.

Unlike the XCOM example, this is a well-liked feature of the game. The reason? This is an incentive that acts as a reward for doing something, rather than as a punishment for not doing that thing. When people are playing a game they want to have positive experiences rather than negative ones. The XCOM example punishes players for being slow in the most extreme way it can – failing the mission and making the player start it again. It would be better if the game gave a big reward for players who completed the mission quickly, such as a research bonus or more equipment, but was more forgiving for slower players who don’t want to take too much risk. Players would be more inclined to choose to play the game in the way the developers would like them to, rather than feel like they’re being forced to play the game in a way they don’t want to. The game should dangle a treat in front of your face and tells you that if you want it, you need to play the game like this.

TLDR; the most effective way to play the game should be the most fun way to play the game. That is the goal of a game designer. Unless it shouldn’t.

If this interested you, here’s the video that inspired me to write about this topic:

Story Telling In Video Games

Story tellers have always been looking for new and more creative ways to express themselves and/or entertain the masses. I think that, if handled correctly, video games can be the most immersive and creative medium of all. But what is the correct way to go about telling a tale in such an inherently interactive environment? Over the past several years, various people and studios have experimented in an attempt to answer this question. The solutions some have come up with have been absolutely amazing in some cases, controversial in others and a complete failure in a disappointing number more.

You may have heard of The Chinese Room. They are an independent developer who has gained some fame for making two such infamous story-based games. The ‘walking simulator’ is a derogatory term which (so far as I know) was invented to describe the games that The Chinese Room is known for. Dear Esther is the first time I’d heard of them myself. This is a ‘game’ which I believe I have complained about before on this blog; the amount of interaction the player has is minimal: hold ‘w’ and move the mouse to point in the direction you want to walk while a mopey man talks in your ears about something. I honestly gave up listening to him after only a few minutes of him complaining. A mistake, it turns out, as the mopey man who talks way too much turns out to be the device by which the entire story is told. You walk around a deserted island until he runs out of stuff to complain about. The end. There is some kind of gameplay here, but I fear it was not intended by the developer; the level design is extremely poor. So much that it presents quite the challenge at times to work out where you’re supposed to next. Oftentimes it leads you to a dead end and you have to, with no indication at all, work out that you’re supposed to do a 180 and go back the way you came for a bit. To get through this harrowing experience, I would throw on some tracks from Spotify to listen to while I held ‘w’ down for 5 minutes straight, and discovered that you can’t actually drown yourself in game – several times. When this torture ended, I remember a great feeling of frustration that I had wasted my time on it. I was shocked to discover that I had only apparently spent 76 minutes on it. I thought it had been hours.

Their next game was Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. I did a review of it at the time. If you can’t be bothered to read that, here’s a summary: if you ignore the very nice graphics and beautiful soundtrack, the only thing impressive about this game is how the story can be so boring throughout, and yet the ending still manages to disappoint you. The story is told in basically the same way, except there is now some kind of gameplay, I’m not talking about the (still as unbelievably terrible) puzzle of a level design, but there’s a confusing light puzzle thing that is remarkably easy to solve once you work out the first one.

Everything about The Chinese Room’s games screams pretentiousness to the highest degree. They are games that feign depth and put on an aesthetic which tries to trick you into thinking that these games are deeper than they actually are. The kind of thing that some people would be scared to criticise because fans could so easily tell you that you ‘just don’t get it’ and that you’re ‘not clever enough to understand’. Well no more!

Gone Home is also a walking simulator, developed by Full Bright. I love Gone Home. It’s the only good walking simulator I’ve ever played. It tells the story of a person going home to the house they grew up in and learning about the events that transpired while they were away. What makes the game good is how much freedom the player is given to pick and choose how much information they want to learn. There’s the base story, which you have to follow, but there’s also so much more detail the player can go into in the form of documents, photos, notebooks etc. The player chooses the pace at which the story is told – this is an advantage of this medium that walking simulators simply must capitalise on if they’re going to tell a story. If you’re trying to tell a story through a game and you don’t want to give the audience the freedom to go at their own pace and skip out on stuff that might not be as interesting to them as someone else, are you sure a video game was the right medium to tell this story? Gone Home’s story is simple, easy to follow and excellently told. It doesn’t try to be anything more than it needs to be – there’s no fluff, it’s not trying to examine the human condition, it’s trying to tell the story of a family and the struggles they’ve had with living together – and yet Gone Home has had a far deeper impact on me than anything The Chinese Room has ever done. I fell in love with the characters and I left the game feeling satisfied, rather than frustrated. Gone Home is up there with the greats.

Walking simulators are quite limiting, however. You can only really tell one kind of story with one – one where the events have occurred and you’re a person walking through the rubble, uncovering the story regarding what happened. Telltale takes a more cinematic approach. I think most people know of or have played their Walking Dead game, at least the first series. It’s the only one I played. Telltale pioneered the episodic approach to releasing a story driven game. They would work on an episode, release that, and then do the next episode a month later or so. This is a pretty good system for them for a few reasons. For one thing, it means that they can have an output and release stuff on the regular without compromising so much on quality than if they had released it all at once. It also gives the players a common stopping point. It means players of the game are more likely to discuss it with each other. If the game was released all at once, it would leave players all at different points meaning that they would avoid discussing the game. By releasing the game in easily-digestible 2 hour chunks, you get the water-cooler effect, where people start discussing what they think might happen next. Then we get the peer pressure in for the people who aren’t playing the game but everyone else is. It’s a great marketing strategy.

In terms of how Telltale tells a tale, it much like watching an episode of a TV show, only you get to make some decisions like how the main character will reply to a question, who they’ll back up in a conflict, should they go to this location and do this or go to the other location and do something else. There’s also a combat system built into most of them which almost always consists of quick-time events and button-mashing, which can be exciting sometimes, but it is almost impossible to fail most of the time. Telltale has made series in this style ranging from The Walking Dead to Minecraft. They have been hugely successful, and I’m not going to sit here and write that they are bad at it; they’re not, they make good stuff, just nothing great.

I think that there are a few things which hold back all Telltale games. For one thing, production value is fairly low – animation is consistently robotic looking, graphics usually leave something to be desired and the soundtrack has never been stunning, but this is what you get when you are splitting you’re resources so much that you can be working on multiple series at once, and when you want to easily port the game to mobile.

Also a problem for me is the implementation of player choice. We know from the failings of The Chinese Room that you need player input. I’m not convinced Telltale actually really has any. I think that when you are given a choice in a Telltale game, you are being tricked. It’s not like the game ignores anything you tell it – it’s more that the choices you make have no real effect on the outcome of the story. Quite often a dialogue choice will come up and it will be designed so that whatever you choose, the same event will occur afterwards. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect Telltale to create such a branching story line so that any choice the player makes will have a different effect on the outcome. I just think that when you have a system like this, you are relying on the illusion of choice you’ve set up to not be shattered; once it is, the player starts to wonder why they’re bothering. I’ve always watched Telltale games being played on YouTube rather than buy them and play them myself.

For a more high production value game in this style, see Life Is Strange. Life Is Strange is the same sort of formula, except it’s a lot more like a normal game; you have a lot more control over what the main character, Max, does. You can walk her around, go exploring and also control time – but that’s more to do with the plot than anything else. This opens up something that is missing in Telltale games – exploration. Like in Gone Home, the player is given more of an opportunity to play at their own pace. If they were to walk into a room, they’d be able to look at loads of things in the room in order to learn more about the world, the characters and pick up hints about the plot. Choices that the player makes actually affect aspects of the game. So far as I know, nothing can change the outcome, but it makes the journey to the outcome so much more interesting, and provides a different experience for each player.

Life Is Strange is also a beautiful game, with pretty good animation, nothing stunning but better than Telltale’s stuff, and a great soundtrack. You may get annoyed with the characters, being that they’re all angsty teenagers, and you’ll definitely get annoyed if you are a teenager yourself because the character’s lines were all clearly written by someone who does not know how teenagers talk to each other – I’ll say this is charming; it did give me a good laugh while playing it.

There are loads of other games I could talk out – The Witcher 3, The Last Of Us, Uncharted – but I wanted to focus on games who’s sole purpose is to tell a story rather than be an action adventure or an RPG. I have seen proof that games can be, when done correctly, an amazing way to tell a story and an experience to remember for the player. But I think that it is so much harder to achieve this than to make a great film because there are so many variables involved. For a story to work as a game it has to be written as a game, and it should not be something that could be directly translated into a film or a book. Story telling in games is hard – but when it pays off, it can make for a groundbreaking experience.

The Turing Test

A little while ago, it was my 20th birthday. “Huzzah!” came my cry as my teenage years had come to an end and I entered the void of the time between being a teenager and a proper adult, with a job and a place to live that isn’t my parent’s house. One of my many birthday gifts was a game called The Turing Test. I’d asked for this because it was intriguing; I’d seen a part of the game being played on a YouTube channel, and I became very interested in it, both for the  gameplay and the discussion the game creates.

The game is a puzzle game, and clearly takes many themes directly from Portal – you’re solving puzzle rooms to get through a sci-fi facility while being talked to by a sentient robot, who turns out to be a little sinister – very Portal. The difference here is the far more serious tone that game takes, it’s a lot darker and brings up quite complicated ethical and philosophical issues, that really get you thinking while solving these puzzles. The game gets you thinking by presenting you with a well-balanced argument about AI and how you prove something has intelligence. It even goes into arguments about what intelligence even is and how you can define and measure it. By the end of the game, I had a lot to think about, which lead me to do a bit of reading on my own on the subject, but it also helps that one of my modules in University is all about AI, so I’ve been learning from that. The game is good, and I’d recommend playing it, but I don’t really have much to say on the subject. The ending is very good and left me very conflicted about who’s side I was on, the robot’s or the humans’.

But that’s not what I came here to write about, I want to write about the Turing test, as in the actual Turing test. Most people know about the original idea of the Turing test – a person sits at a computer terminal and has two conversations, one with a computer and one with another human. If the person is unable to reliably tell which is which just based on the conversation they had, the computer has passed the Turing test. For a lot of people, this is not a very convincing test, and most would argue that it is possible to program any computer specifically to pass the Turing test, without needing it to be intelligent at all. The  main argument for this comes from John Searle in a book he wrote called Minds, Brains, and Programs. The argument is called The Chinese Room. It argues that a computer can be programmed to fake the ability to have a conversation with someone using a rulebook telling it how to reply to every possible input to look convincing as a sentient being, when in fact, it’s just faking, this is basically how things like Cleverbot work. Some people have taken this argument to mean that it is completely impossible for a computer to be truly intelligent, as a computer is unable to understand the meaning of the replies it is giving and is simply pretending to be clever (like a lot of us d0).

Think of it this way: a computer knows the definition of house and it knows the definition of home but does it understand the true meaning of either word. To a human, we understand what it truly is to make a house a home™, but does a computer which is basing its understanding on:

House
noun
  1. a building for human habitation, especially one that consists of a ground floor and one or more upper storeys.
    “a house of Cotswold stone”
  2. a building in which people meet for a particular activity.
    “a house of prayer”

And:

Home
  1. the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
    “the floods forced many people to flee their homes”
  2. an institution for people needing professional care or supervision.
    “an old people’s home”

Both definitions are taken directly from Google, which is probably where an AI would get its knowledge from (No intelligent being would dare touch Bing). I know which house is my home – it’s not the house I live in permanently, it’s the house I grew up in rather than the house I live in when it’s term time at my University.

But, when one looks at the other side of this philosophical coin, one can see the other argument. Taking a quote directly from the Turing test game, this argument can be summarised quite neatly:

If someone copied, exactly, the brain of a duck into a digital form that could be run by a computer, and put it into a perfect robot copy of a duck, would onlookers not say, “that is a duck”. After all, if it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck and does everything a duck would typically do, would you not simply say “That is a duck!”.

I’m not sure I would make any comment about a duck if I saw one, but it does raise an interesting point: if a computer could mimic intelligence perfectly, why does that not mean it is intelligent? In the Chinese room example – sure, the person in the room doesn’t understand Chinese, but the whole system does understand Chinese, or at least appears to. This is the main argument against the Chinese room experiment, and I think that it is a very interesting one.

Humans have been known to think very highly of themselves, so when it comes to the idea that a computer could become intelligent, we tend to get a bit snooty about the attempts to make a computer intelligent, dismissing them as ‘faking’ or ‘cheating’, but I think that before we can understand how a computer can be intelligent, we need to know how a human can be intelligent, and even the simple question of “what even is intelligence? How do we measure it? Where does it come from?”

In my AI lectures, students have been asked “What is you favourite colour?” to which they reply blue, red or some other colour. Is that an intelligent answer? I walk to University every day, is that an intelligent act? Does someone have to be intelligent to walk from A to B? Or do they just do it, especially when they have walked this route before? What is it to be intelligent? What do we do that is classed as intelligent?

Sorry to end this on a list of questions, but I simply don’t have a solid answer to any of this. If you want to know more, there was a really cool program on Channel 4 a couple of days ago (that was definitely not an hour long advert for Humans season 2) which explored some of these questions, it was called How to Build a Human. Watch it, it was very cool. I won’t watch Humans, though. Maybe someone can tell me if it’s worth watching, and then I probably still won’t; I have a vendetta against Channel 4 at the moment.

My Day at EGX 2016

Every year, I go to EGX. It’s a tradition that’s last about four years now. It started when I found out about it from a friend and learned that it was about a thirty-minute journey from my house in London. It’s moved to Birmingham now, which means my pleasant thirty-minute journey has changed to a stressful three-and-a-half hour journey – and all because Earl’s Court is gone (also, you could argue that the NEC is a more appropriate location for a UK convention as it is located more centrally in the country – but on the downside, it means you have to go into Birmingham). I usually go with my brother, but this year he couldn’t come for a plethora of reasons, so I spent the day on my own. So, with no one else to share my experience this year with, I thought I’d just write about it.

 

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Oh, the things you see.

 

I love the experience of going to EGX; I feel suddenly I’m with a whole massive room full of thousands of other people who are a bit like me in at least some small way, of all different ages and backgrounds. I like listening to conversations and finding that people are talking about the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonoured or loads of other games, they may even be talking about being excited to meet the Yogscast, or Syndicate (I have no idea why you’d want to meet him after recent events). To put it simply, EGX is one of the only places where that small part of my life feels less alone; it reminds me that there are other people – real people, in front of my face – who also spend a few hours every night watching the same YouTube videos that I’m watching, it reminds me that there are other people obsessing over their PC builds and other people who play far too much Skyrim to be healthy. It reminds me that I am part of a community – that’s why I go to EGX every year, and that’s why I still went when they moved the event to Birmingham – that’s right, it’s so good, I’ll brave having to be in Birmingham for eight whole hours.

This year, I planned to go to EGX as soon as tickets were available. I didn’t spend really any time at all thinking about what I’d being doing about the time EGX was on – I just assumed I could fit my life around EGX. I bought tickets for the Friday, and then as soon as I could, I booked tickets for the train. If I’d known about a show on that night by the YouTube group Hat Films, I’d have gone to that, but it was too late; my ticket home was booked.

 

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This is a very cinematic queue shot.

 

After I’d travelled the three hours to get to the NEC, I started on the labyrinth that is the epic twenty-minute journey between the train station and the halls where EGX was being held. If you’ve not been to the NEC via train, you should know that the train station, the airport and the NEC are all one building. It’s bloody massive in there. I spent the time walking along and finding my way. For most of the walk, there aren’t any signs pointing you to EGX, but that’s fine – just follow the gamers. How can you tell who are gamers and who aren’t? Strangely enough, that doesn’t prove much of a challenge. The NEC is so massive, that at any one time, multiple exhibitions are going on. When I was getting close to the hall I needed to go to, I, surrounded by some other gamers heading to EGX, approached a man who clearly worked for the NEC – based on his uniform, who stood next to a signpost which pointed off in two opposite directions – one pointing to the cycling convention to the right, and the other to EGX on the left. The man took one look at us and must have thought, “are these people into cycling or gaming?”, clearly, the answer was obvious to him as he called to us, “The entrance to EGX is in hall 8.” If I were a lesser man I’d have been offended that when he looked at my toned, athletic body he didn’t instantly assume I was after the cycling show.

I’ll give this to the NEC, there is a hell of a lot less queueing to get in than when the show was at Earl’s Court. You walk in, show someone your ticket and they give you a wristband and when the event opens, they just let everyone walk in and try to spot anyone who hasn’t got a wristband. When event goers walked in this year, they were given the gift of Tornado energy drink. I never go understand this connection between energy drinks and gaming, but I will admit that Tornado is the only energy drink I’ve ever had which I can bare the taste of – believe it or not, I actually drank the whole thing. If I were to start drinking energy drinks, I’d drink Tornado (can I have ad money now, Tornado?).

When I do get into EGX, I like to spend an hour walking around and seeing what’s on offer; eight hours go by quickly when at EGX, so you need to prioritise and find out what you want to invest your precious time onto looking at. It would be great if you could have a go on all the AAA titles, but in my experience, you’ll probably have trouble squeezing more that two into your visit, especially if you want to do anything other than playing the AAA titles.

 

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Not sure I do want to have a go on that to be honest.

 

This year, the over 18 area was almost completely not worth going in at all as far as I’m concerned; unless you really want to spend three hours queueing to get a go on Titanfall 2, Gears of War or Battlefield One – not very worthwhile if you ask me. The only redeeming feature of the area was the small stand set up to promote South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I’d have had a go on it if it weren’t for the Nosulous Rift you had to wear while playing. If you’ve not played The Stick of Truth (the first South Park game), you should know that one of the main game mechanics in that game is the ability to produce flatulence at will. This is a feature that has been carried on to the new game, and, to promote this new game, the developers built this device which, when one produces flatulence in game, squirts a rather nasty smell into one’s nose, for immersion purposes, and to add to that, one’s face is broadcast to a large screen above one, so all may observe one’s reaction for general amusement. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, and in any case, I will buy the game when it comes out; I really liked the Stick of Truth.

 

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Another cinematic queue shot.

 

Moving on to the regular area, I noticed one game I was vaguely interested in, and that was Dishonoured 2. I only played a couple of hours of Dishonored 1, and I can’t actually remember why that was. I’ve seen a full playthrough on YouTube, however, so I do know what happens and how the game is played. I entered the queue, thinking that it wouldn’t take very long; the queue as far as I could see only went around the corner of the booth – I thought it’d take 30 minutes at most. When, after about 25 minutes, I finally got around the corner, I saw the endless zig-zagging maze of tenser barriers that was the rest of the queue. By that point, however, I felt that I’d been in the queue so long, it’d be a sign of weakness to leave then. It took a further hour in the queue to get in.

Why the people who’d set up the event didn’t allow us to use keyboard and mouse will forever haunt my wonderings. The game was being demoed on PC, yet they only allowed me to have an Xbox One controller, which meant I had a tough time getting through the whole level in the half an hour I had, simply because I am terrible at first-person games when using a controller; I only ever use keyboard and mouse. I was just about to get the final part of the level when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up.

If you’d like my thoughts concerning Dishonoured 2, here they are put simply: it’s pretty much the same as Dishonoured 1 except with some new features, like being able to play as Emily, a skill tree system and new abilities. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No. Dishonoured 1 was a good game, and I think the attitude of taking a good game and adding new features to it is a good one. I don’t mean Call of Duty or FIFA style, where the game isn’t really changed at all, only graphical changes and maybe a new gun or football team (and this year, managers!), I mean new game mechanics and improvements to old ones to make the game more enjoyable. It’s why I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider – it’s pretty close to the previous game, but with new features and improvements to old ones. I like that system of making sequels. I will probably get Dishonoured 2 on November the eleventh, the day it comes out.

 

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I’m trying to point out that there are a lot of queues.

 

After doing that, I decided then was my time to go and meet the Yogscast. I’ve been a fan of that lot for quite a long time now I think about it, but I’ve only ever met HAT Films at a convention before. The experience of actually meeting these people who you’ve been watching videos and live streams of nearly every day for the past 5 years is a slightly bizarre one, to say the least. You think you know these people, because you do to an extent – you know some random things about their lives from the stories they’ve told, on the way over on the train I was listening to the Triforce podcast where Lewis was talking about weird things that have happened to him at conventions, and previously he’d been talking about dealing with his landlord and giving away details about the flat he was living in, but when you’re standing in front of him and actually talking to him, you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know this person, and he doesn’t know you at all.

 

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Actaully a very nice T-shirt.

 

In spite of that, Lewis actually was excellent at making conversation with the people who came up to meet him. He asked me a couple of questions and was very confident. He somehow made it very easy to talk to him, which is a real talent. We didn’t talk long, however, as there was a big queue behind me. I moved through Duncan, Kim and Turps, none of whom I talked to at all really other than saying hello and asking each other how the other was. I’m used to this; I am pretty awful at conversations, especially if I’m expected to lead it, and also it should be said that they were all about to have a break, so they were looking a bit worn out.

The other half of the Yogscast that was there was on the other side and required a different queue. This side had only just started so the energy with all of them was much higher and they seemed more enthusiastic. I met Hannah, who was very friendly and eager to talk, Caffcast, who was equally talkative, Vadact, who I’d never heard of and didn’t really say anything to me and of course, HAT films. Trott laughed at his own signature because he felt it wasn’t as good as anyone else’s, Ross was cheerful and friendly, and I actually had a 30-second conversation with Smith about Dishonoured. All in all, meeting the Yogscast was a very worthwhile thing to do.

 

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Thanks, Sony, the backlight really makes taking a picture easy (Not! Lol!).

 

After that I had lunch and decided to have a bit more of a look around the place for my next adventure. I saw the new PS4, which is indeed smaller, and I saw the PS4 Pro, which I think looks a bit weird to be brutally honest, but whatever. I then had a look at all the different PC stands like Scan who were trying to flog their very fancy looking PCs for a lot more money than I’d ever pay for anything ever. I was slightly gratified that most PCs they were showing off had the same keyboard and mouse combo that I use, I suppose Corsair was sponsoring them.

I then moved on to have a look at the Retro Arcade, featuring genuine retro things, like ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and a BBC Micro, what I have one of. They also had a couple of Xbox 360s and PS3s. It’s too soon; I’m not ready to accept it. I spent quite a long time here, looking at all the different old gaming machines, like an original asteroids machine which I played quite a lot of.

By the time I’d torn myself way, there were only about 40 minutes left of the convention, and that’s when I found, tucked away in the corner, Horizon Zero Dawn. I really wanted to have a go on that, but I was too late; they’d accepted their final group of people. I’ve really wanted just to know what that game is and if I should get excited about it. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until the game has more information made public, or when it is reviewed – what a struggle life is.

It then wasn’t long before the event was closed, and I was heading home. I’d had a pretty great day out, even though I didn’t feel I’d achieved very much, but you could say that is what makes a day great. I’m for sure going back next year, and probably every year – it’s not something I’d miss, unless they moved it to Swindon or somewhere.

This post ended up a lot longer than I thought it’d be. This is why people have editors, I suppose, but because I don’t, you’ll have to manage for now – poor you.

Enderal – Just Fantastic

EDIT (28/09/16) – You may want to disregard my comments regarding the loading times, as it turns out it was an issue with my motherboard. I got suspicious when every one of my games started to have an eternity for a loading time. Blame me; I should have investigated further rather than blindly assume. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.


So, with the Elder Scrolls VI not coming to us until the year one million and a half, I suppose we’ll all have to compromise. And compromise we shall, with the new, highly anticipated mod from Sure AI, Enderal. Sure AI was behind such mods as Cube Experimental – for Fallout 3, Nehrim – for Oblivion, and now Enderal – for Skyrim. But what is Enderal? Enderal is a “total conversion mod for Skyrim” which literally changes everything about the game – the world, the story, the quests, the character system, levelling, skills, graphics, the UI – in short, it’s basically a whole new game using Skyrim’s engine. It’s incredible what this small team of twelve people, with no budget, have managed to achieve – they’ve created a game with “at least 30 hours of gameplay”, a massive, beautiful world to explore, and an epic story line. But is it actually good, and does my title allow for any kind of suspense? Let’s find out.

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The Map of Enderal.

Enderal  is fantastic – it’s even beyond fantastic – it’s bloody impressive and I think I love it. I’m saying this although I haven’t had too much of a chance to actually play that much of it, but the amount I have played has really impressed me. Starting with the world, it’s actually quite large and very pretty – even without ENB enabled (you can’t use ENB with Enderal) – and a lot of fun to explore. I can see myself getting lost in the world in the same way I often get lost in Skyrim’s, the world is full of rolling hills and expansive countryside which gives you a real sense of being in the open world and being able to explore anywhere you like. To put it neatly, the world is pretty great, and on par with the beauty of Skyrim’s.

And then there are the cities. There is only one city, Ark, which sits roughly in the centre of Enderal, but I can tell you, Sure AI have addressed the many voices crying out for better cities in Skyrim. Many people, including me, were unsatisfied with the cities in Skyrim; they’re all very small and aren’t very complicated. Ark, on the other hand, is pretty damn large and pretty damn complicated – it involves five quarters (yes, I know, I was confused as well), a whole “under city” below ground and a large palace type place, where clever people live.

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Pretty massive if you ask me.

It’s worth pointing out the Ark is, in fact, the only city in Enderal, but I don’t think I need another one – I can accept that with the smallish total size of Enderal that they’d only have one city. There are towns, however, about 4 or 5 of them, all of them quite big and are laid out in ways which feel unique to each place.

I will just quickly jump to Bethesda’s defence before you started thinking that Bethesda should have done the same thing with their many resources and infinite time, by saying this: the reason the cities aren’t unimaginably huge in Skyrim is because, A, Skyrim is not the kind of place to have humongous cities and vast towns; they’re a simple people up there and aren’t into that sort of thing, and B, the world designers were probably trying to keep the world feeling concise and neat, because I will admit that the vast size of Ark and the towns can feel a bit messy, and a little bit empty. The engine is not capable of having a crazy amount of NPCs hanging about and doing their thing – it was never built for that. It’s weird, then, that Ark is so large yet there simply aren’t very many people about – it’s quite like Aberystwyth in that way. I’m not the only one to think this.

Returning to things about the world I do like, I like seeing adventures hanging about the place. In Skyrim, it seemed that you were the single adventurer in the whole world and you never saw anyone else doing anything of the sort. In Enderal, I saw several people kitted out in gear for adventuring about the place, which is a nice touch. And speaking of characters, there are some. People seem much more alive and real than in Skyrim; people speak more casually and say things that, you know, a real person might say to another real person – the writing and voice acting is superb.

 

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The Hero menu, where you can see your character and stuff.

 

It’s pretty clear to me that Sure AI share the opinion of many about what some refer to as “the dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls”, because they’ve made this game a lot more Morrowind-ey, by removing the ‘learn by doing’ system of Skyrim (which I think is actually very innovative and a great way to do character progression but whatever I suppose), and replacing it with a more traditional, “here are some skill points where ‘d ya wanna put ’em?” system, they’ve also completely removed the fast traveling system (which, again, fast traveling I think makes the game a lot more accessible and if you don’t want to use fast travel then just don’t but whatever), and replaced that with a more traditional, “just walk for hours on end” type system. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are these things called “teleport scrolls” which you can use to get to places, but there is a limited supply and you have to use the right one to get to the place you need to go. Also, in Ark, you can interact with sign posts to move around the city a bit quicker than by walking. I wish you could, like in the Witcher 3, use sign posts to fast travel to any other sign post in the game; I don’t feel like Ark is so big that I need to fast travel around it, but I suppose that’s to cut down on the number of loading screens you’ll have to endure.

 

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You’ll see this a lot, for a very long time, and you’ll go mad looking at it.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but my God! What is going on with the loading in this game? I have had serious problems with actually getting this game to load at all past the main menu. Just this morning I had problems getting the main menu to load at all – I eventually gave up. I’ve done some research to suggest that this is a common issue for many people, some saying that for them loading times are on average between 5-10 minutes, and that’s for every loading screen – not just the first one. I count that as unplayable. I can’t wait that long for the game to load, I simply can’t – show me anyone who can. I’ve more than a couple of times gotten out of my chair and leant over my window sill to contemplate life while the game loads the next area – I’ve come to some interesting conclusions in that time, but perhaps I’ll discuss this another time. You know how bad the loading time is? It’s worse than GTA V. Not even joking.

 

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This game is too cool for horses, apparently.

I should reiterate if I have not mentioned already, that I haven’t played a huge amount of this game, so how I should feel entitled to review it is anyone’s guess, but I’ll discuss the parts I have played. The game starts off with some very intense/creepy/disturbing gameplay, and then you end up on a ship with a friend. Through the dialogue, you discover that you and he are stowaways aboard this vessel. Anyway, plot, plot, plot, and you have a creepy vision and end up on a beach.

Before we continue I would just like to mention a few things. Firstly, damn these guys are good at the cinematic stuff, and second, I found the character creation to be a bit lacklustre; at the start, you are introduced to your father, who is most definitely a human man, which means you are forced into being half human. You can’t even be fully human – you have to be half human and half something else. The variety of something else includes four options: something that looks like an orc and an elf, something that looks like and elf and an orc, something a bit orkcey/elfey and something this is, I suppose, kind of a cross between an elf and perhaps some sort of orc. They each look slightly different from each other and they have different stats tied to them, but in terms of looks, you’re stuck with one. Although it should be said that the inclusion of ApachiiSkyHair was very much appreciated.

 

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My character, Amber Stottlesworth.

 

What then follows carries the title we all fear, the tutorial, and it’s a long one. It is actually quite an interesting tutorial that sets up the story, the information about nearly all the gameplay and sets you up with the basic equipment you need to do your thing, before dumping you in the world. It involves crawling through a cave, killing some things and then wandering in the wilderness for quite a while, which is a good way of letting you appreciate the beauty of the world, but it is quite a lot of wandering at the start, a time when a game needs to hook the player and keep them going until they stop resisting and follow willingly.

Speaking of quite a lot of wandering, I want to discuss this issue of fast travelling. It’s not in Enderal, so you need to do a lot of walking to places, and probably getting ambushed on the way. In the world of this game, there is a thing called the “Red Fever” which basically means everyone in the wilderness hates you and wants to kill you. I’m not a fan of this, It’s not a good way of encouraging exploration when you’re worried that if you step your foot out the front door, a crazy loon will start gnawing it off. Makes a man want to just fast travel everywhere. I had a nasty surprise when I discovered that fast travelling wasn’t in the game. I had just run for miles as every creature and person in the world was trying to hack me to bits for whatever reason, so I could talk to a nice old man about something I wasn’t paying attention to because it wasn’t super interesting. After the conversation finished it told me I had to go back to the person I’d been sent by, which meant going all the way back the way I came. Needless to say, discovering that fast travel isn’t a thing upset me slightly, but luckily I know the following three commands to type into the console: “tcai”, “tcl”, “tgm”. With my new abilities of an infinite sprint, flying and being ignored by people who had wanted to kill me a minute before hand, I flew through the terrain to my destination. Cheating, I know, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to fight my way all the way back.

 

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What I value is KNAWLEDGE!

 

Getting back to the point, while playing I noticed something I liked: Sure AI clearly have played Skyrim quite a lot because they’ve added some pretty cool features. For instance, if you have a follower who walks too far away from you or gets lost somehow (which happens all the time in Skyrim), the games puts a marker above their head. It’s simple, but it made finding my follower a lot easier than it would have been without it.

Another little nice feature was the way they’ve done dialogues. Some ideas have been borrowed from the Witcher, including how the dialogue options point out which options will move the conversation on, and which will just give you more information. It makes sure you don’t say something that you can’t unsay which might cause issues later. The other thing is the knowledge system. The knowledge system is one which tells you that this option will give you information  about the world. The interesting thing about is that it’s set up in a ‘collect them all’ type of system. This is good because I’d have never asked about these things otherwise, and I actually learned quite a lot about the world of Enderal this way. Now I’m looking for them and actively wanting to know these juicy, interesting facts.

 

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Looks… familiar…

 

The whole theme of this game is a bit weird and conflicting; it looks like Skyrim, but it’s all a bit darker and more brutal. While playing Skyrim I never, for instance, come across a corpse hanging from a tree or had characters effin’ and jeffin’ all over the place. I quite like it, but I also don’t. It’s like a halfway point between the themes of the Witcher and Skyrim – I find that bizarre, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with many hours of playing.

After all that you might be wondering why it is that I said that I loved this game/mod. Well, it’s more Skyrim, innit. Between thirty and  a hundred hours of it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it. It gives me something to do with myself until Skyrim Special Edition comes to us in October. To sum up, play this mod if you have Skyrim; you’ll probably enjoy it. If the loading screens don’t bore you to death, that is.

 

 

Why I’ve Switched From Windows Phone to Android

Two years ago at this time, I was given the choice of a new phone. I was excited; it would be the first proper smartphone I’d ever owned. True, I had had a smartphone before – a Samsung Galaxy Ace. Possibly the worst thing in the world. It was super slow and almost useless as a smartphone. It wasn’t a good introduction to Android for me. I’d been handed a Windows phone by a friend of mine, being told that Windows Phone was actually a pretty good operating system. After a couple hours of use, I completely agreed. The thing that blew me away was the speed. The phone he was demoing this on wasn’t a pricey phone, it was fairly budget. I must stress this – Windows Phone is snappy as hell, it’s really very impressive and nice to use. The UI is cool, funky and impressively simple – I’ve never gotten lost on my Windows phone. So when my Father asked me what phone I wanted, I replied “Any Windows Phone.”

The phone we settled on was the Nokia Lumia 820 (this was before Microsoft bought Nokia). This is on the cheaper side of the Lumia spectrum but packed with nice features and not-too-shabby specs either. It’s got a 5″ screen and an 8mp camera. Okay, so that’s not great – but you need to remember that this was two years ago and this wasn’t an expensive phone.

The most impressive thing about this phone is the screen; the colours are bright, accurate and vivid. I love looking at this screen and I love using this phone. The OS is snappy, quick and easy to use, and is bursting with features I still wish were in Android. The phone, in true Nokia style, feel indestructible. I’ve thrown it around in my time, and it’s barely scratched. I could beat someone to death and then call the police with the same phone. This is not an exaggeration.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been given a new choice. My two-year contract was up time for a new phone. Time to make the choice: stick with Windows or go Android. At first, the choice was simple for me, I was going Windows. But my internal voices, multiplied by time, wore down my confidence. Also, my brother has some ungodly power to convince me to do things. I asked myself whether I was really prepared to spend another two years on windows. I eventually decided that I was not. I went with Android.

Why then? I was so positive about it. I raved to my friends about how much I liked my phone and how everyone should use Windows because it is the best phone OS out there. I actually convinced one of them to get one, and he seems pretty happy with it. How can someone so enamored with Windows peel off and fall into the net of Android so simply? Well, I’ll tell you, Windows is almost there. It’s almost at the point where I could honestly say that it’s the best. It is, in fact, irritating close – there are just a few things which need to be fixed in Windows for it to be great. But Microsoft isn’t getting the point.

Let’s start with the little things, because the little things are the biggest problem.

I’ve recently started my first year at University, so I’ve never had this problem before now, but now it’s there it’s the worst thing in the world (besides the Samsung Galaxy Ace). The WiFi network on my campus has a login system. That means I have to enter a username and password to get online. Most operating systems would be like, “No problem, Henry, I’ll just save this in my settings and you won’t have to worry at all about connecting. You won’t even notice it happening.” Windows desktop does this, Android does this, iOS (I assume) does this. Windows Phone says, “I can remember one thing – your username or your password, take your pick”. Why? Why is this an issue? When the Windows Phone team implemented the WiFi feature, why did they design it like that? Why should I have to enter my password every time I go near the network? What’s worse is it beeps at me every half an hour until I enter it, or tell it I don’t want to. Oh, and if the WiFi drops for a second, I have to enter my password again.

Another small problem, which some would regard as being quite a large problem, is the complete and utter lack of a proper multitasking function. Windows does have a vague form of multitasking, which stores any open apps in memory until it is manually closed by the user. It doesn’t give those apps and CPU time unless it is being looked at and on the screen. This is great for if you’re trying to squeeze the battery for all it’s got but awful for productivity. The result is a multitasking system which is very slow because it has to resume operations of the running app when you switch to it. If you don’t know what that means, it means that when you switch to another app in multitasking, you have to wait a few seconds for it to remember what you were doing. Other OS’s actually run the app in the background. They may give priority to the app you are currently using, but the other apps you have open are actually open and talking to the phone. The whole experience isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it is bloody annoying at times – especially when you aren’t in a patient mood.

The biggest problem which people always jump to when they are asked about Windows Phone is the apps. Or, put more accurately, the lack of apps. Most of the essential apps are currently available for windows phone, but that’s only because Microsoft is sensible. Facebook and Twitter are absolutely essential, and when neither company expressed interest in making apps for windows phone, Microsoft got permission to do it themselves. The apps Microsoft make are okay. They clearly aren’t as good as the official ones and are constantly behind. This is because Facebook and Twitter have dedicated teams working on their apps, while Microsoft doesn’t, and they have to keep up with the updates of the official apps. This is, I think, a fundamental problem with the development of Windows Phone, but more on that later. I’ve always told people that Windows Phone is for the individual who doesn’t really use apps, or doesn’t consider apps as an important part of their lifestyle. I think this is true, but this individual would have to go from not using most of the apps their phone has to offer, to someone who has locked them self out of the availability to those apps.

Microsoft is trying their best to combat the ‘app-gap’ by using the ‘universal app platform’ what they came up with. Microsoft noticed that a lot more people use apps on their desktop PC than then number of Windows Phones out there. They had the quite good idea of giving the developers the ability to, in one fell swoop, make an app for desktop Windows and Windows Phone. They make one app which works on desktops, phones, Xbox, and tablets. I think this is something which could very well work. It all depends on how much windows store apps on the desktop take off. I don’t ever use them and never have – but that’s just me.

They also are working on some converter-me-bob machine, which developers can feed their Android app into, and get a Windows app back. This is actually a pretty good idea, and may solve a lot of problems, depending on how well it works.

I have a theory about why it is that Windows Phone feels half finished. It has the same problem that Linux has. It’s not popular. People who use it love it, but that’s only about 2.5% of people who have phones. Most developers can’t be bothered or don’t think it’s sensible to spend the money on developing apps which will reach such a small number of people. If real money is involved, you ain’t gonna get that back from Windows Phone. What it needs is more users, users want more apps in the store to go to Windows phone, developers won’t make apps for a platform with do few users. And the cycle goes on and on. What can Microsoft do? They’re trying to make windows phone as attractive as possible for developers. It’s entirely free to get your apps on Windows Phone, which makes it attractive to young and hobbyist developers who don’t want to spend money on their apps. But this results in a load of low-quality apps. It’s not a good situation at the moment. And it’s not gonna get better until Windows Phone has more users – and we’ve already been through the problems with that.

Windows Phone currently has a market share of around 2.5%. That’s barely anyone – it’s only a little better than Blackberry. BLACKBERRY. I’m surprised they even still exist and that person actually buys from them! As far as I’m concerned, Windows Phone only still exists because Microsoft has some plan for it. Satya Nadella has said that Windows Phone isn’t dead yet. To me, this meant that Windows 10 for Phones is gonna fix everything. Windows 10 will save everything and make the OS the savior we’ve all wanted.

Windows 10 for phones is almost out, so I’ve downloaded the beta to see if this is the case. Microsoft has made some very big improvements – to the UI. The one thing I had almost no problems with. Of all the things that needed work, the UI was not one of them. Obviously, add a few things, like the new wallpaper thing, but please focus on the other glaring problems! Windows Phone has some big and small problems at the core, a lot of under-the-hood issues which need fixing. Microsoft seems to have fixed nearly none of them. This is very disappointing. Perhaps they will fix these things in later updates, I believe this is the plan. But I don’t think I can wait for an undisclosed amount of time for these problems to maybe be fixed.

So, why am I switching to Android? I’m taking a break from Windows. I want to use a complete OS until Windows is at a point where I feel like it is complete and works perfectly – as well and effectively as its competitors. I can see windows phone following two paths, depending on what Microsoft do next: It will either have a massive cash and resource injection and get the attention it needs to become what Microsoft supposedly want it to become, or it will fizzle and die over the next few years. In its current state, I’d be surprised if it’s still around by 2019. Then again – I’m very surprised that BlackBerry still exists. At least Windows Phone isn’t as bad as the Samsung Galaxy Ace because that is literally the worst thing in the world (I’m gunning for an inside joke, here).