It’s a slow Tuesday afternoon and I want to accomplish two things:
- I want to play a current-gen racing game with supercars and such, because I’ve just binge-watched Top Gear and it’s given me a case of racing itch.
- I want to buy a game through the Windows 10 Store. Not because I expect it to be a pleasant, consumer-friendly experience, but because I want to see what the next-gen Games for Windows LIVE looks like. Just how bad can it possibly be? My goal is to have an experience worth writing about.
Only one of these goals was achieved. I’ll let you guess which one.
It started off so well…
As luck would have it, Forza Motorsport 6: Apex is free. There are actually two Forza games coming out right now: Apex, and Forza Horizon 3. I don’t understand why we have the same branding used on two different series with different numbers. I don’t know enough about the racing genre to understand the complex lineages at work here, but who cares? Apex is free, which is an ideal price-point for me. If it works out, maybe I’ll buy Forza Horizon 3.
As an aside: If you get Forza Horizions 3 Ultimate edition for ONE HUNDRED AMERICAN MONEY-DOLLARS, you get to experience the rare privilege of pre-loading the game and playing four days before all those filthy scrubs with more brains than money. Except, people’s downloads keep getting reset, preventing them from downloading the game. It’s 49GB in size, so I imagine having it get 80% of the way done and then mysteriously reset is pretty horrible. I think a download that size would run me $10USD. That’s probably more a complaint about my internet provider than the Windows store, but it’s not like I’m the only person in the world with a horrible internet provider.
The point is, if you charge someone a huge markup for exclusive early access, then you better be able to deliver, because that’s not something you can fix later. So while this problem doesn’t impact me, I just want to point out that there’s more than one way for things to go wrong for you in the Windows 10 Store. Anyway, back to the task at hand…
I go to the Forza Apex page in the Windows 10 Store. Right away things are a little scary:
The game requires the “Windows Anniversary Update”. I don’t know what’s in it. I don’t even know what anniversary we’re supposedly celebrating. The release of the first version of Windows? The release of Windows 10? The birthday of Bill Gates’ dog? I suppose I could look it up, but I don’t care. Whatever this thing does, you can’t play (or even download!) the game without it.
Okay, I KNOW this is a stupid idea. I can’t remember the last time I updated Windows and found my life had been improved by it. 95% of all updates are all mysterious undocumented changes, and the last 5% break your workflow, cause problems, or otherwise waste your time. The only reason I’m doing this is because I know that if something goes wrong I’ll have something to write about. The fact that you’re reading this probably gives you a clue as to how things turned out.
Well, better to install this update now on a slow Tuesday afternoon rather than being ambushed by a surprise update when I’m up against a deadline. Let’s get to it.
I should add that the URL I circled isn’t a clickable link. If you wanted to visit that page you’d have to open up a browser and type it in manually. You might think you could route around Microsoft’s horrible interface shortcomings by highlighting the text so you can copy & paste it, but the saboteurs at Microsoft are way ahead of you. If you click anywhere in that part of the window, the text vanishes and is replaced with a scroll box containing the back-of-the-box sales pitch.
I download the update. Since this is the latest version of Windows, it has all the latest features. For example: Microsoft has removed all progress bars so that you never have any idea how long an update will take or even if the process is still working. It’s just got this twee little spinning icon of mystery. When can you have your computer back? Ten more seconds? Two hours? Is it downloading things in the background and eating up your bandwidth and data usage? Is it stuck? Makes you feel sorry for those poor sods in 1993 who had the ability to know what their computer was doing when things were being installed. We’ve come so far.
Not to spoil the surprise for you, but it takes about twenty minutes to apply the update. That’s kind of amazing. I’m running Windows 10 off an SSD. I think twenty minutes is how long it took to install Windows 10 in the first place. It’s actually really hard to keep an operating system busy for that long, particularly when it has exclusive access to all of the machine’s resources and everything is stored on an SSD.
Afterwards I install the game and everything is fine and of course I’m lying. Instead, I get this…
We’ve Upgraded Your Computer By Breaking It!
I’m no dummy. Well, okay, I voluntarily installed a Windows update so I’m clearly not a genius. But I was at least smart enough to make sure I met the minimum specifications before I installed the Windows Anniversary Update. Before I started, all of these points were green except for the first. But now that I have the update, it claims I no longer have enough memory and my graphics card isn’t up to snuff.
I actually have 16GB of memory, and it correctly identified it as such before the update. So one of the new features of the Anniversary update is that it throws away half your memory and downgrades your graphics card?
I don’t know. Let’s open up the system information screen and see what the reported memory is. I’ll just… Hm. They system is really sluggish now. It’s taking forever to open individual windows. In fact… yeah. The system is hosed. The mouse pointer moves, but literally every window is giving the “waiting” icon when I mouse over it. I can’t even properly shut down the system. Okay. Let’s reset any try again…
The system locks up even faster this time. Last time I got to use the machine for about three minutes before it died, but this time it was grinding to a halt after just thirty seconds. Reboot again.
This time I get fifteen seconds of useful activity before the machine petrifies itself. I can’t even open up the control panel to roll back the update.
My wife – who runs Linux, by the way – uses her non-crippled computer to search for some information for me. It turns out that a “limited number of users” have experienced my problem. I love this excuse because it’s literally impossible to disprove. Remember when a “small number of users” of the Xbox 360 were getting the Red Ring of Death?
INT. APPLEBEE'S RESTAURANT. DAY.
(A distraught woman enters, dressed in funeral black. She approaches the manager.)
WOMAN: I wish to complain about the food.
MANAGER: Is there a problem?
WOMAN: Yes. Two days ago my family ate here. My husband ordered the bone-in pork chop with honey apple chutney, and it implanted him with a chestbuster alien.
MANAGER: (Shocked.) What?
WOMAN: Yes, it burst out of his chest while we were getting ready for bed. Then the xenomorph ran off. Over the next 24 hours, it hunted down and devoured the rest of our family.
MANAGER: Ah yes. A small number of diners have reported this problem. We're working on finding...
(Screams come from the kitchen. We can hear CRASHING KITCHENWARE and cooks yelling "Grab it! It's over there!" in confusion.)
MANAGER: (Once the noise has died down.) We're working on a solution to the problem. At any rate, please remember this only impacts a small number of people.
WOMAN: Well, I guess it's okay if it's only a few people. My husband probably just ate it wrong or something.
MANAGER: Here, take this coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of any entree.
WOMAN: Thank you.
Yes, I totally admit this story is preposterous and the comparison is unfair. For one thing, Microsoft isn’t going to give me any coupons when this is over.
Microsoft claims the problem is caused by people who install Windows to an SSD but put their user data on a regular hard drive. Aside from the fact that this problem makes No Damn Sense, it isn’t the case with me. I installed Windows 10 like a good little drone, leaving all the system defaults right where Momma MS told me to. My user data is on the SSD along with the OS. However, I did try to install the game to a hard drive, because I don’t have FIFTY GIGABYTES of free space on the SSD to burn on a single videogame. I put Forza on my gaming drive with Steam et al.
You might think I could reboot in safe mode to roll back the update. But to get into safe mode you have to press a hotkey during just the right point of the boot process, and when you boot from an SSD that window of opportunity is approximately zero seconds long. I try HOLDING down the key but that doesn’t work. It must be pressed during this impossibly brief, totally undetectable moment in time.
But! This is not the first time I’ve ever had this problem. I know that the ACTUAL way to get into safe mode is to let the machine boot just far enough to reach the Windows splash screen and then hit the reset button. This tiny spark of user agency is surely an oversight and will no doubt be patched out, without warning or explanation, in some future update.
I roll back the Windows Anniversary Update. I’m now an hour and a half deep into the process of trying to get a free game from the Microsoft store. I know Microsoft claimed that the Windows 10 upgrade is “free”, but I value my time somewhere above zero so that’s not really true.
I get the machine back to the pre-anniversary state. It works again, although my attempts at playing a racing game have been thoroughly thwarted. I note that there are zero Forza titles on Steam, not even older ones. So even with platform exclusivity and a price tag of zero, Windows 10 Store still couldn’t seal the deal.
I’d say that’s end of the matter, but it isn’t. Even though I rolled back the update, my machine is still only using half the available memory now. See:
It wasn’t like that before. Re-installing my graphics drivers seems to “kinda” fix this. The Windows 10 Store still claims I’ve only got 8GB of memory, but my system information screen reports 13GB. I am content to move on and not get involved in the disagreement between these two idiotic pieces of broken software.
GFWL set the bar pretty high in terms of outrageous and infuriating failures, but Microsoft is off to a strong start with the Windows 10 Store. Back in 2010 GFWL tried to give away a videogame. That exchange devoured my time without delivering a videogame, but in the end my machine was unharmed. The Windows 10 Store has taken Microsoft’s assult on user experience to the next level. Not only did I not get a videogame after a couple of hours of messing around, but the attempt crippled my PC.
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