WIN CE gets games-- finally

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Computer Player, February 1998

Remember Game Boys?

Popular with the sub-teen set a few years ago, these were black and white, hand-held game-playing units from Nintendo. For a couple of years, you?d see kids toting them everywhere.

It?s been a while since I?ve noticed anyone with a GameBoy. But they remind me a lot of today?s Windows CE hand-helds?tiny PCs with a word processor, spreadsheet, web browser, e-mail, calendar and phone list. Monochrome screen. Cost $400-$800, from companies including Casio, Compaq, NEC, HP, Philips, and more. About the size of a GameBoy, but less fun. Because, aside from the included Solitaire, where are the games?

Useful as a CE might be, it can?t count as a successful computing platform until there?s a critical mass of games. What?s the point of having a PC that will fit in your pocket and run two weeks on a set of batteries if there aren?t any games you want to play while waiting for the bus or hanging out in the airport terminal. There?s only so many times you can review your notes for the business presentation, after all!

Microsoft has recognized that all work and no play makes CE a dull hand-held platform. As a result, they?ve released Microsoft?s Entertainment Pack for CE, with ten games for the midget computers.

Don?t expect miracles; they?re faced with the same limitations as other software designed to run on the hand-helds: Because there are no floppy disk or CD-ROMs, you need to load the software onto a Win95/NT PC and shoot it across to your CE using a serial connection. And because a typical CE machine has to store all its software in its two to four megs of ram, games need to be tiny. And while CE 2.0 supports colour, the games, like virtually all the CE units in use today feature four shades of grey? in other words, monochrome.

So what do you get for your $44.95?

A nice chess game. Space Defense, a clone of the classic Missile Attack (knock out enemy missiles by poking the screen with your stylus). Blackjack. The classic kids? pre-digital hand-held game?Battleship, where you try to locate and sink enemy ships on a grid. Codebreaker. FreeCell and Hearts?identical to the versions that ship with other Windows versions, though multiple CE owners can play Hearts, with their units communicating via infrared (finally a practical use for the IR ports!). Another Windows classic- Minesweeper.

Brought back from the Windows 2/3.0 era?Reversi, a nice version of a game otherwise known as Othello. And snuck over from the big computer?s Entertainment Pack?Taipei, a nice reworking of the Mah-Jong tile game.

Since every bit of RAM on a hand-held is a precious resource, you should only install the ones you think you?ll like (or try them all, then delete the losers).

Even with this software, my son?s GameBoy was a better game platform. But it didn?t do the Internet like my CE hand-held. I wish, while the Gnomes of Redmond were porting over their favorites from the old Windows Entertainment Packs, they?d have included that package?s Tetris? but I guess that leaves me something to look forward to?a second edition, with another set of mini-games.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan