gaming, xbox comments edit

I love the Xbox Live Arcade. Being able to get five-to-ten-dollar games that are fun to play is a great idea. I dig it, Jenn digs it, everyone has fun.

The way it works is you sign in to Xbox Live on your Xbox 360. Once you’ve done that, you can navigate over to the Xbox Live Arcade section and you can buy cheap, fun games using “Microsoft Credits.” The game downloads to your console, and you play. Simple enough. I buy games, Jenn buys games, we play, it’s great.

That’s the key, though - we both buy games, and we both play. There’s no point in me buying a copy of Frogger, storing it on our Xbox 360 hard drive, and her not being able to turn the thing on and play. When I buy the game, I’m buying it so we can play. And that’s how it works by default - if I buy the game, anyone who signs onto my system can play the full version of that game. Sweet.

My Xbox DVD drive stopped recognizing discs recently and I had to send it in. I got it back yesterday, and the first thing I did was pop in a disc to something, just to make sure it all worked. It did, and that was cool. Then I switched over to the Arcade. That’s when the problems started.

Somehow all the games I bought were no longer available for Jenn to play. All the games she bought were no longer available for me to play. I mean, they physically showed up in the menu, but they all appeared as “trial versions” even though we had paid for them.

After much screwing around, I figured out that if her profile was signed in at the same time I was trying to play using my profile, everything was unlocked; sign her back out and the games she bought instantly become trial versions for me again. That’s patently unacceptable - I can’t keep signing her on just so I can play. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dumb.

I looked at the “Usage Restrictions” you see when you download any game from the Arcade. It kind of explains what I was seeing, but until you experience it, it doesn’t fully make sense.

I called Xbox Live support to find out what to do. After spending literally an hour on the phone (about 45 minutes of that on hold while they were sorting things out trying to figure out how to address the situation), it turns out that the DRM they use on Xbox Live Arcade is all sorts of messed up.

When you buy a game, it’s associated with your user profile. It also automatically authorizes the console you purchased the game from such that anyone who plays that game on that console is unrestricted. (Don’t buy games at your friend’s house and stick them on a memory card to bring home, you’ll get nailed by this.) If you transfer the game from one storage unit (the hard drive) to another (a memory card), the DRM is changed so only the person whose profile purchased the game is authorized to play - they need to be signed in to Xbox Live for the game to be unlocked.

I’m not sure if this happens if you do something like originally download the game to your Xbox hard drive, take the hard drive to your friend’s house, then bring it back home. Does it recognize that you removed the media? Do you lose the machine-wide authorization? I don’t know, but I’d be interested in finding out.

Anyway, what the Xbox repair people did is send me a new console, not just replace the broken DVD drive. So the console itself was “new” according to the DRM, so it was like I bought a game somewhere else and brought it home.

How is this getting resolved? You’re going to love this.

First, you have to create a new gamer profile and make it an Xbox Live “Silver” membership. It’s free to create that new profile since the “Silver” membership is free, but there is a heck of a lot of data entry for contact information, not to mention the fact you need to give it an email address and password so it can sign on - just like a real profile. The representatives on the phone will tell you it doesn’t matter what email address you give it, but from experience I know they send account notices and such to that email address, so it should probably be legitimate. Of course, that means if you don’t have your own domain and/or can’t figure out how to set up email address forwarding then you’ll need to create a new, dummy Hotmail account or something. Super convenient.

Once you have the dummy gamer profile set up, Microsoft will credit that account with enough credits to go in and re-purchase all of the games you previously had unlocked. Getting that credit to come through takes eight-to-ten business days.

I asked why you can’t just credit one of the existing gamer profiles so you can re-purchase without going through that hassle. Apparently there’s something in the system that knows if you’ve played the game or not before and the account you re-purchase the games through can’t have played the games you’re re-purchasing. I’m not sure if that’s a technical misunderstanding on the part of the technicians or if that’s actually a legitimate issue. Regardless, the dummy profile thing was the set of instructions given to me by more than one technician during the call, so that’s how it’s going.

I’m not a big fan of Apple’s iTunes DRM, but the notion of authorizing/de-authorizing a machine might have come in handy here. Like I said, I dig the Arcade, but now I’m reluctant to buy anything. What happens if I want to get a second Xbox 360 for a different room? I can’t take the game up there because it won’t be authorized. Even if I wanted to accept that as a limitation, Jenn couldn’t take the game to the other room because I’d need my profile signed in so she could play.

Argh! You’d think that not having to fuss with a game disc would be easier, not harder, but it’s exactly the opposite. I can take the game disc to my friend’s house without having to fight DRM. I can get a second console and play the game disc on either one without having to screw around signing in profiles or setting up dummy accounts.

The only exception I’ve found to this odd DRM rule is the Hexic HD game that comes standard on Xbox 360 hard drives. It was unlocked for both of us from the get-go, even after we hooked up the new console, so I’m guessing there’s just no DRM attached to it.

Come on, Microsoft, I thought you were smarter than this. We just want to play the games we bought. Let us play.

*UPDATE * (Minor clarification) - The Xbox that the repair facility sent me back was a different one than I sent in; they didn’t actually replace the drive in my broken Xbox, they just sent me a new/refurbished one. Had they sent me my original Xbox, I may not have run into these issues.

coderush comments edit

I’m looking at ways I can update CR_Documentor to add Sandcastle support. I think it can be done, but it’s not going to be cheap. I think there’s actually quite a bit of refactoring to do since the thing has evolved in a way that the rendering engine is pretty ingrained into how things work. That’ll have to get isolated so I can determine how to write a rendering engine as a more pluggable entity. I started doing some of that in the last version of CR_Documentor and it looks like it’s time to finish that job.

I think the hardest thing is going to be figuring out how Sandcastle ends up rendering the various entities in documentation. What does a list look like? How do all the different members of a class render in the preview window? That was the hardest part of getting NDoc emulation up to speed, too - reverse engineering the XSL transformation that NDoc does in order to stream HTML. Keep in mind that when NDoc or Sandcastle renders the HTML, they have complete, ready-to-run XML they can just transform via XSLT; when I render the doc in CR_Documentor, I have to query the code and do a lot of processing to get the information the compiler gives those other products for free. (I wish it was as simple as an XSLT transformation!)

I tried at one point to create the XML the way the compiler does - by querying the code and creating all of the various elements and such - then doing a straight transformation, but it’s really slow. The true source of performance trouble is the fact that every time DXCore reparses the current document, CR_Documentor updates the preview (that’s the beauty, right? real-time previews?)… but if I have to do a lot of re-generation of XML and re-transformation every time that happens, there’s a lot of slowdown and a significant delay in the preview update occurring.

No, it gets generated by code, since that’s the fastest way to go, which means a lot more work. I do want to get Sandcastle support in, it’s just not going to happen overnight. We’ll get there.

home comments edit

Ever since we moved into our place we’ve thought about getting an irrigation system. The yard is oddly shaped in front (we’re on a corner lot) and there are some pretty inconveniently located parking strips that need to be tended to. That nets out to a lot of frustration running around moving sprinklers and a spotty lawn - green in the parts that it’s convenient to water, dead in the parts you “just can’t reach.”

I’m not sure what financial genius decided that the year we’re getting married is also the year we should get a sprinkler system (probably me), but that’s exactly what we did. We contracted with Dennis’ Seven Dees to get this done, after getting several quotes. We weren’t disappointed.

From the second they got there, you could tell they knew exactly what they were doing. It took them about a week from start to finish, and aside from the spots where they re-seeded and mulched to replace the grass from the trenches (it’s too hot to lay down sod - it’d die), you can’t even tell they were here.

Here’s a backyard panorama of the trenches in place (click for a larger version): [Backyard with trenches dug in - click for a larger

Pretty crazy. Then here’s the finished backyard (click for a larger version): [Backyard finished - click for a larger

Not too shabby, eh?

I’ve also got to compliment them on their service. At every step, they had everything totally under control. Permits with the city, getting utilities marked, scheduling when things had to be done… everything was totally taken care of, and that gave me a lot of confidence in them.

Anyway, I’m stoked. No more manual lawn watering, so hopefully this thing will green up a bit. I’m glad I went with these guys and would totally recommend them to anyone looking for landscape work. We’ll be using them for winterization of the system and probably for any future yard-related stuff we need done.

Check one more thing off the home improvement list!

windows comments edit

I just re-imaged my work machine and for the last couple of days I’ve been bringing it back to life, installing the various thousands of millions of applications that I use on a regular basis to do that thing I do. This time around, though, I’m doing a little experiment.

Before I re-imaged, I was very careful about organizing my Start menu so I could find things. I created a group called “Programming” to keep the various IDEs and development tools I use in, and subgroups for various functions therein. Same thing with programs that work with multimedia stuff (Flash, Photoshop, etc.) - I had a group in the Start menu for that.

The problem is that installers don’t always let you select where to put the icons in the Start menu. Most times, they just create their own company-centric Start menu group, then create a product-centric group under that, then create their one program shortcut inside that. That means I end up installing the program, then manually opening up the Start menu and rearranging things to fit my usage. You know what happens then?

I upgrade.

I take the latest stupid version of whatever stupid project, I run the upgrade installer, and the damn company-centric Start menu group comes back. And the product-centric group inside it comes back. And the same single damn program shortcut comes back. And I, once again, have to go through the rearrangement of icons to be more sensible. This time, though, it’s a manual diff-and-merge process, trying to determine if the old icons still work or how to replace them properly with the new icons.

You know what’s worse? Nothing could be worse, right? No, there is something.


Now I’ve got icons in my personally organized Start menu that don’t point to anything. I have to manually keep track of these things or find a program that will run through my Start menu and remove shortcuts that don’t point to anything. Argh!

Why haven’t we figured this out yet? The Start menu’s over ten years old! Installers should let me specify where to put shortcuts if I opt to even create them. If the developer feels the desire to suggest a default location, perfect - users who don’t care can make that extra click on the “Next” button and there’s no skin off their noses. But if I want to override that, and have everything organized, I can. And maybe I don’t even want to create icons - let me uncheck the little “Create a program group for this program” option and carry on my merry way.

I mean, tell me it’s not just a company’s big brass balls thinking that they need a whole program group just to themselves and that, should I deign to buy more of their products, I will inherently want to group the products in my Start menu by manufacturer and not by functionality.

I don’t actually think this will change, not in my lifetime, but this is the sort of thing that irks me. As far as my experiment is concerned… I’ve installed maybe 15 things thus far and my Start menu already wraps into a second column. Unreal.

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