Jul 13

Your first clue that Microsoft is serious about gaming in Vista is the newly elevated status of the Games folder. In Windows XP, Games was a mere submenu off the All Programs menu, but in Vista it takes a place of pride on the main Start menu along with Documents, Pictures, and Music.

The first time you select Games, you see the Set Up Games Updates and Options dialog box, which displays two check boxes:

Download Information About Installed Games Leave this check box activated to allow Vista to download information such as game updates.

List Most Recently Played Games Leave this check box activated to allow Vista to track your game play.

Following shows the default window for the Games folder, which Microsoft is calling the Game Explorer.

The Game Explorer is a special shell folder that offers several new features for gamers and game developers:

A repository for all installed games.

Game-related tasks such as launching a game, linking to the developer’s website, and setting up parental controls.

Support for games metadata such as the game’s publisher and version number, and the last time you played the game.

Autoupdate of games. With the new Game Update feature, Vista automatically lets you know if a patch or a newer version is available for an installed game.

The Game Explorer is initially populated with the nine games that come in the Vista box. These games include updates to venerable Windows favorites (FreeCell, Hearts, Minesweeper, Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, and InkBall), and a few new additions (Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans, and Purble Place). All the games come with decent user interfaces that take full advantage of Vista’s graphics capabilities.

Getting Games into the Game Explorer
Ideally, Microsoft would like to see all installed games show up in the Game Explorer. In practice, however, that’s not easy to do because Vista has no reliable way of telling whether you’re installing a game.

As a first step toward solving this problem, Microsoft created the game-definition file (GDF). This is an XML file that describes various aspects of the game and enables Vista to recognize when a game is being installed so that it can add the game to the Game Explorer. Microsoft is implementing GDFs in three ways:

It’s asking game developers to create a GDF for each new game they create and to embed the GDF in the game’s executable file or an associated dynamic link library.

Microsoft has created GDFs for more than a thousand legacy games and included those GDFs in Windows Vista in the following file:

Microsoft and/or game developers will continue to create GDFs after Vista ships, and these GDFs will be added to Vista as updates.

Here’s an example of a GDF for a legacy game (Boggle, in this case):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-16"?>
<GameDefinitionFile xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:GameDescription.v1"
  <GameDefinition gameID="{dc90fdca-aa28-4d13-8401-ad149e4bccae}"
     <Rating ratingID="{7a53b0be-b92d-4e8a-a11f-8e6f9f3c575b}"
      ratingSystemID="{768bd93d-63be-46a9-8994-0b53c4b5248f}" />
      <VersionNumber versionNumber="" />

The complete schema for GDFs is much more complex and includes items for the game’s release date, box art, genre, and more.

When you install a program, Vista looks either for a pointer to a GDF or for an entry in GameUXLegacyGDFs.dll. If it finds either one, it uses the data in the GDF to add the game to the Game Explorer.

Game-Related Tasks
The task toolbar in Windows Vista shell folders such as Pictures, Music, and Videos contain links to tasks related to the folder content. For example, the Pictures folder has tasks such as Slide Show and Order Prints, while the Music folder has tasks such as Play and Play All. The Game Explorer is also a shell folder, so it, too, comes with several content-specific tasks:

Play Launches the currently selected game.

Community and Support Displays a menu with two options: Home Page and Support. The Home Page item takes you to the main website of the currently selected game’s developer, and the Support item takes you to the developer’s main technical support page.

Options Displays the Set Up Games Updates and Options dialog box.

Tools Gives you quick access to game-related hardware features in the Control Panel: Hardware, Display Devices, Input Devices, Audio Devices, Firewall, and Installed Programs.

Parental Controls Starts the Parental Controls feature.

Support for Games Metadata
Windows Vista brings metadata into the operating system in a meaningful way that enables you to sort, group, stack, and search based on property values. This new metadata focus shows up in the Game Explorer, as well, which keeps track of 11 properties for each game:

Name The name of the game

Publisher The publisher of the game

Developer The developer of the game

Last Played The date and time that you last opened the game’s executable file

Product Version The current version number of the game

Release Date The date the current version of the game was released

Genre The game genre (such as Shooter or Strategy)

Rating The game’s Entertainment Software Rating Board rating (see “ESRB Game Ratings,” later in this chapter)

Game Restrictions The restrictions that have been placed on running the game

Content Descriptors A word or phrase that describes the game content, as applied by the ESRB

Install Location The folder in which you installed the game

To view all the metadata, switch to Details view (which doesn’t show some metadata, including Release Date and Genre). Unfortunately, there is no editable metadata in the Game Explorer (except, indirectly, the Game Restrictions property, which you “edit” via the Parental Controls feature). It would be nice to have the capability to add comments or keywords, particularly on systems that have dozens of games.