Having seen/played it back on PC at the Eurogamer Expo two years ago, I had become fearful that undead samurai-starring turn-based strategy game Skulls of the Shogun's increasing assocation with Xbox meant it might never find its way onto IBM Compatibles. At E3, it wound up back on the promotional circuit, confirming a release on XBLA, Windows Phone and... Windows 8. Wait. What? Windows 8 only? I waggled my eyebrows in confusion at the Advance Warsy game's designer and programmer Borut Pfeifer of 17-Bit Studios to try and find out why Windows 7 et al wasn't joining the party.
"We are launching on Windows 8, Windows Phone and XBLA around the Windows 8 release," confirmed Borut. "So no, that won't include a Windows 7 version." But... why?
"Working with MS, we were all really excited about the cross-platform nature of the game (it's a great fit for mouse, touch, and gamepad, which is rare). We had a choice to support either Windows 8 or GFWL on Windows 7."
Which doesn't sound like a very nice choice to me, but reading highly speculatively between the lines my wild guess is that this might just have been what was required to have any PC version launch at the same time as the XBLA version. Many big indie games have been delayed on PC in the past in order for MS to take its Xbox exclusivity pound of flesh.
Anyway, Borut cites three major reasons why they went Win 8 rather than Win 7 + the singular horror of Games For Windows Live.
"As PC gamers we're aware of the issues GFWL has had. Windows 8 & Xbox Live on Windows 8 are a great step forward. Some of that is just improvements in Windows 8 itself - you can associate your PC login with your windows live/xbox account, and then logging into Xbox Live games is seamless, just like on an Xbox. If you don't want to sign in, it's much easier to handle (so you don't explicitly have to create a local user account - although you do have to sign in to buy stuff as far as I know)."
Apparently Windows 8's store stuff also means "there's no such thing as installers anymore. Apps & games just install. No longer will every single PC game I play demand that I reinstall stuff I already have installed."
The second reason does, for me, convey just how Frankenstinian Microsoft is about its support for PC gaming today - and I'm not sure it's a positive. "We built the game in XNA and C#. GFWL, for technical reasons, did not support C#. So we would have had to port the entire game back to C++. So while Win 8 doesn't support XNA, it does support C#. There's an open source version of XNA called MonoGame, and so we ported that to Win 8 in a lot less time that it would have taken to re-write the game in C++."
The third reason for choosing Win 8 apparently has to remain a secret for now, but we'll hear more about around Pax Prime.
Borut reveals that "We have gotten some flack for our platform decisions" and says "we'd just like to ask for a little empathy - we are a tiny company and don't have infinite money or time. What we do have is a ton of experience making and playing games, so we hope players will give us the benefit of the doubt where possible (or at least perhaps folks can kindly delay the angry/depressing forum posts until we're out of crunching for ship."
The immediate question/concern for me is that, regardless of what benefits Win 8 might bring to the PC gaming table, being shackled exclusively to it means the vast majority of current PC gamers won't be able to play or even buy the game. Unless I'm totally underestimating how many of you lot are planning to rush out and buy a copy of Windows 8 come launch week, anyway. From my experiences with the current (freely available) Windows 8 consumer beta, I think it's confused mess of an OS that's trying to brute-force touchscreen interface mentality onto non-touchscreen devices and I can't for the life of me understand why anyone currently running Win 7 would want to upgrade to it. For the first time in my 33 years I have zero desire to stick the latest version of Windows onto my PC. But that's just me. Obviously, there'll be a decent market in terms of people buying new PCs/laptops pre-loaded with Win 8, but I suspect you lot are by and large more likely to stick new components into your existing systems rather than buy box-fresh new PCs.
Anyway. Say Borut, "obviously non-Win 8 PC gamers are still very important to us (especially since at least half the team will probably continue to fall in that category), but beyond that I can't really go into contractual details as to why that part makes business sense for us. Pretty sure I can't even fuzzily portend what might become apparent at a later date." I think we can all read between the lines there, eh? And yeah, if that means what it sounds like it means, I guess you can't blame a small, independent dev for going for it.
He does feel that "Windows 8 represents a big opportunity, both for people upgrading desktops and buying new tablets. Most of the concerns we've seen in the preview releases for the desktop have been addressed (although time will tell if just visual distinctions represent too much change for people in adopting Win 8). Microsoft does seem excited about having a game like ours on all those types of devices at once, so we are definitely hoping that will result in more promotion."
Additionally, "As gamers, we're definitely happy to see where they've taken Xbox Live on Windows 8, compared to GFWL. Only time will tell at this point if our strategy pans out, and if other people agree with us about gaming on Win 8, but it is nice to soon realize our hopes of getting the game out on all 4 types of devices (console, phone, desktop, tablet) at launch."
So there we go. As I'm not about to spend £80 on a new version of Windows just so I can play one game, I suppose I may well never play Skulls of the Shogun. This makes me all :( as it looks rather lovely. Here, I'll show you:
Aw/ I'll be curious to hear what the mysterious third reason for going Win 8-only is. Perhaps there really will be a cast-iron reason for PC gamers to upgrade. But then similar stuff was said for Halo 2 and Vista, and look at how that panned out.
On the other hand, part of the Windows 8 thinking is having an app store, as is the case on iOS, Android and even OSX, so I suppose there's every chance that does become a big deal in PC gaming land. I wonder what the chaps at Steam are making of that?
Plenty more info on Skulls of the Shogun may be found here.