Halo Master Chief Collection: Opportunity Missed

I’ve been playing the multiplayer for ‘Halo Master Chief Collection’ recently. It’s all of the original Halo games bundled as one, with Halo 2 remastered for the Xbox One. The other games have been upscaled, and the original Halo game brings with it the Xbox 360 visual update it received in 2011.

I was excited when I first heard that the online versions of all the games were going to be included, with every map that’s ever been added (I’m not one for buying DLC, so a lot of these were new to me).

Unfortunately the multiplayer side of things is one big opportunity missed. Rather than take the latest, most refined gameplay elements from Halo 4 and let you play in any map, the game actually loads the version of the game that the map originally came with. I know that might sound obvious, but I was looking forward to playing Halo 4 online, but in some of the revamped Halo 2 maps, or original Halo maps.

I’m sure there’s technical reasons why it wouldn’t be easy to do this, but the experience would have been far greater. At the moment if you join a playlist such as ‘Big Team Battle’, you could end up one of 41 maps, which could run in one of 4 different game engines. Your weapons look different, extra abilities aren’t available, even the height of your jump is slightly different. Why should a user care about different game engines? How are they supposed to learn the game when it’s different everytime, for no other than technical reason?

 

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Want to play your favourite map ‘Ragnarok’? Roll the dice, you have a 1 in 41 chance.

 

That brings me to my other main complaint, which is that the playlists are too huge and it’s not easy to select which maps you want to play. Team Fortress Classic managed this back in 1999 by showing a list of games, their current map, and the number of players. Take ‘Big Team Battle’ again. This playlist has over 40 maps in it that could randomly get selected. How is anyone suppose to master a map (really get to know the environment, and all of it’s hidden features) when they’re getting one of 41 random chooses in each game?

I’m sure there’s a reason for this, the developers want to make sure a wide selection of maps get played perhaps? Maybe they want to reduce the complexity of the user interface? Whatever it may be, I think being able to choose a map is crucial. Players tend to gravitate towards their favourite maps (take 2fort and rock2 in Team Fortress Classic), surely this is vital feedback for what works? Yes, you can create your own custom games of course, but these only seen to be open to Xbox Live party members.

So in my view, this game is a massive opportunity missed. Buy this game for it’s single player modes, not for the multiplayer.

Outlook for iPad

Last month Microsoft released Outlook for iPad (based on Acompli, an app it has previously purchased). Since the company I work for uses Exchange 2013, I was able to take advantage of this and try it out. The interface is a breath of fresh air for anyone, like me who is stuck using Outlook 2013’s confusing and dated interface. My favourite feature is the ‘Focused’ inbox with automatically shows you a view of messages deemed important. Newsletters, alerts and other noise are quietly hidden away so you only get to see emails from real people. The ‘other’ inbox is only a swipe away, and the focused view is only that, a view; so it won’t have any effect on your desktop email view. This is surprisingly accurate and didn’t require much training. Replying and managing email is pleasant, with the ability to swipe to archive or flag email quickly.

Outside of the corporate word, the app supports Outlook.com, Gmail and other well-known email providers. I like to keep work and personal email separate, so I haven’t tried these.

 

Attachments

Another surprising feature of Outlook for iPad is the ability to connect to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive 1. A lot of network administrators will loose sleep over this, but ultimately it’s a step forward – especially for users of Office 365 who will be able to access all of their ‘OneDrive for Business’ files and attach them to emails wherever they happen to be.

A week point however is the lack of a system extension, so it’s not possible to share a link from Safari to Outlook, or send and document directly from Word for iPad. I’m sure this is on the way, but I do think it should have been included in the initial version.

 

Calendar

The calendar seems quite basic. It doesn’t seem to do a great job of letting me see other invitees ‘free/busy’ information (the main benefit of using the desktop version of Outlook), but it’s serviceable for a version 1.0 release. It’s quite buggy, for example, I tried to update an appointment start and end date, but it just didn’t work. No crash, no error message, it just didn’t do anything. I’m sure Microsoft’s latest purchase, Sunrise indicates Microsoft is putting some thought into its calendaring strategy, and so major improvements should be on the way. I’m not sure about the unified app approach – I’ve always wished Outlook on the PC were separate applications instead of one big conglomerate (especially since it’s still full of model dialog boxes! I digress…) – separate apps seems especially fitting for iOS, and I can only think it’s a branding decision to go with one big ‘Outlook’ app on iOS.

 

Security Concerns?

The first release had no security requirements at all, so if your system administrator had mandated users have a passcode on their device, Outlook would ignore it. This has been resolved, though unfortunately it requires you set a PIN at a system level on the device, rather than just for the app (as had been the case with the pervious OWA app). I liked the fact I could have more lax security on my personal device (e.g. ‘Ask me for a PIN after 1 hour’) while the app could be much more strict (‘ask me for a pin after 5 minutes’) – this worked in the old OWA app, but not anymore; which is a major disappointment. Some system administrators might lament the fact the then app will store your emails on Amazon’s AWS servers (soon to be Azure, I have to believe), but it does allow the app to do lots of cloud processing that ultimately benefits users. The fact that Microsoft just released the app without any warning and a way to block the app is probably the bigger concern in my views, as I can understand organisations who have various security practises (ISO et al) not being very happy about being caught off-guard like this.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Outlook for iPad solidifies the iPad as a tool for business and makes me think that one day, many users will be able to use an iPad (or similar device) exclusively at work.

It’s missing some key features at the moment (you can’t set your ‘Out of Office’), but I’m certain they will come in time. The bigger question is whether tablet-devices will ever replace traditional PCs in the workplace. This is probably the subject of a future blog post, but with Outlook, Office and the cloud it’s becoming an increasing possibility. I personally use Outlook for iPad as more of a sidekick device than a laptop replacement, but then my job does involve using a lot of traditional desktop software such as Visual Studio, or macro-enabled spreadsheets. That said, for many enterprise users, an iPad with a decent hardware keyboard is now a viable alternative, if not for the small screen size.

 

 

 

1. Great to see Microsoft embracing interoperability, in contrast to Google, who refuse to support Windows Phone.