Editorial

Microsoft Doomed To Repeat Past Mistakes with UWP

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Microsoft’s latest exclusive, Quantum Break, is a pretty decent game by all accounts. It’s garnering solid, if not spectacular, reviews (we liked it) – at least on the Xbox One. The PC version is, sadly, a very different story.

A PC version of Quantum Break had been mooted by many, but it was only finally confirmed by Remedy and Microsoft earlier this year, somewhat late in the day of the game’s development. This should have been Warning Sign number one. Clearly they didn’t just start working on it then, but it did give the impression that this decision of a simultaneous Xbox/PC release was made a little late in the day.

But the biggest issue has turned out to be UWP – Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform. This is a fancy way of saying “a game ported from the Xbox One and delivered to the PC exclusively through the Windows 10 store.” And in and of itself that isn’t a bad thing, until you start to look under the hood. In UWP, V-sync cannot be disabled, nor can you use fullscreen mode. Your only choices are windowed or fullscreen (borderless). In addition, Eurogamer reported that your framerate is capped at 5/6 of your monitor’s refresh rate, no matter how good your video card. So someone who’s spent hundreds of dollars on a top-of-the-line video card can enjoy their framerate cap of 50fps on their 60Hz monitor, and this cannot be disabled. The game also has significant performance and crashing issues, even on top-0f-the-line graphics cards, to where it’s almost impossible to have a smooth gameplay experience no matter how good your PC hardware.

Quantum Break on the PC is also not natively rendered at 1080p, instead using something called “temporal reconstruction” to combine the previous four 720p frames into a 1080p output. Perhaps there’s an argument for doing this on Xbox – perhaps – but almost any modern PC should be capable running a modern title in 1080p on medium settings at the very least. In this PC age of 1440p and even 4k gaming (2160p), manipulation of 720p frames is a massive step backwards for a modern triple-A title. It’s particularly surprising coming from Microsoft, whose recent “we really like PC gaming; forget about Games For Windows Live, and also a bunch of other stuff we’ve said and done to screw the pooch” attitude towards the PC as a 50-50 gaming platform alongside the Xbox was actually beginning to make people think they were taking it seriously.

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And perhaps the biggest issue with UWP games: they are completely locked down, similar to their console brethren. One of the best reasons to actually play games on the PC in the first place is customisation. Maybe this .ini file needs to get edited to fix an issue the developer won’t be able to patch for another few weeks, or you want to add some new textures or mods to a game. On the PC, you can do this most of the time. Not so in UWP. There is no editing or modification of the game’s files possible in any way – meaning that all of the PC version’s issues can only be fixed by Remedy and Microsoft on their timetable (assuming some of the issues are even fixable). UWP further disallows any kind of game overlays, so no Steam overlay and no FRAPs overlay (showing you the game’s FPS counter). You get the base game and that’s it.

If Microsoft wants to convince PC gamers that they’re serious about PC gaming (and stop me if you’ve heard this before – more than once), these sorts of things can’t happen. Putting out a flagship title like this with the issues it has would not be acceptable on the Xbox – so why is it acceptable on the PC? Microsoft clearly doesn’t value their PC audience as much as their Xbox consumer base, so in turn, why should PC gamers care about Microsoft’s future plans for the platform?

It isn’t all absolutely dire. A forthcoming update to UWP scheduled for May will hopefully let us disable v-sync, as well as use technologies like Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync, but I’m not sure this will be enough to save the UWP experiment. PC gamers are reliant on user patches, modding, .ini file editing, and graphics and sound customization. Gutting most of these just so you can say that you’re releasing a game on PC is not going to make people buy your title, or make it good. After all, what’s the point of buying it on PC in the first place if you can’t do these things? You may as well just grab an Xbox One, slap Quantum Break in the tray and go to town. You’ll certainly get a far superior gaming experience that way right now, anyway.

At this point, I’ve lost count of the number of times Microsoft have professed their love of the PC as a gaming platform and have then turned around and done something moronic that’s completely at odds with that stance. Maybe UWP will go the way of Games For Windows Live, or maybe it can be saved. I don’t claim to know the future, but I do know what has happened in similar situations in the past. If Microsoft doesn’t turn the UWP ship around – and fast – expect to see it die a quick death in an obscure press release sometime in the future. And maybe that would be for the best.

The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.

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Simon Nash
I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.

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