Newly revealed Xbox Adaptive Controller poised to get disabled players back in the game EMBARGO MAY 17 1:00AM ... - Canadanewsmedia
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Newly revealed Xbox Adaptive Controller poised to get disabled players back in the game EMBARGO MAY 17 1:00AM …

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Solomon Stone Romney was an avid gamer as a kid. Though born with a left hand that wasn’t fully formed, he played games at both the arcade and at home as he grew up and considered himself a skillful player. Then one day he found himself unable to beat the final boss of a game he’d invested days playing. He knew what he had to do to win the battle, but with his missing fingers he simply wasn’t able to manipulate the controls in the way the game demanded, despite hours of trying.

“Game technology had outpaced my ability to adapt myself to the controller,” said Romney, a retail learning specialist with Microsoft. “I was physically unable to complete the game.”

He gave up on the boss, boxed up his console and traded it in. It didn’t seem right or fair that though he was a passionate and practiced player he wasn’t able to use the game’s arbitrarily designed controls to do what he needed to do within a virtual, man-made environment.

Solomon is not alone in his frustration. In the U.S. alone, 26,000 people experience loss of upper extremities every year, with an additional 8 million suffering some form of temporary impairment. Some disabled players have tried to work out their own ways to play by, say, holding one controller under their chin and another in one hand, getting someone to do some of the control work for them, or cobbling together various inputs and switches to create something that works for their unique situation. Rather than using a peripheral adapted to their bodies, as most players do, they need to adapt themselves to what’s available.

However, Microsoft is about to become the first console manufacturer to offer a control solution that specifically caters to this large and growing segment of the population. Announced Wednesday, the Xbox Adaptive Controller – which will launch later this year with a Canadian price tag of $129.99 – was designed with plenty of input from people like Romney, as well as non-profit organizations such as Warfighter Engaged and SpecialEffect, which are dedicated to helping disabled players find ways to indulge their hobby.

“This is part of our long term approach to accessibility in gaming,” said Bryce Johnson, Microsoft’s inclusive lead in product research and accessibility, who’s in charge of ensuring all Microsoft devices are designed for inclusiveness. “We worked with the community to ensure we were building the right product. It’s now part of the ecosystem of our family of devices.”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a white rectangular box that acts as a hub for the switches, buttons, controllers, and pedals that disabled gamers tend to favour over traditional controllers. It has a couple of programmable saucer-sized buttons assigned by default to the A- and B-buttons of a traditional controller, along with a large d-pad. But the rest of the controls found on a standard Xbox controller are given over to a row of 3.5mm jacks at the back – one for each individual controller input, from triggers to menu buttons. This allows disabled players to map specific controls to a device of their choosing, facilitating literally thousands of device combinations so that they can easily create an interface that lets them play games the way they were meant to be played, with no physical disadvantage.

For example, I watched as Romney connected a Wii-style nunchuk controller with one thumbstick to one of the control stick jacks and a pair of pedals to the trigger ports. Then he hopped into the racing game Forza Horizon 3 and began playing one-handed just as well as anyone I’d seen using a traditional controller.

What’s more, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is designed for true plug-and-play efficiency. Players can reorganize their switches, pedals, buttons, and other inputs however and whenever they like simply by unplugging from one port and plugging into another, without even stopping to pause their game. They can also create multiple control profiles so that they can seamlessly switch activities within a game – like, say, going from running and exploring the world to stopping to fish at a lake – without needing to reorganize their peripherals. This ease of use is handy not just for disabled gamers, but also for the people who care for them, who might not be players themselves.

Evelyn Thomas, the accessibility program manager for Xbox, and one of the controller’s masterminds, said that the multi-year design and manufacture of the Xbox Adaptive Controller forced her and her team – who were confident of their understanding of interface design thanks to 15 years spent working on Microsoft’s acclaimed Xbox controller – to “move from a know-it-all mindset to a learn-it-all mindset” as they figured out how to design a device that caters to gaming’s outliers.

For example, the big A- and B-buttons on their first manufactured prototype couldn’t survive forceful interactions with feet or elbows, so they re-engineered their mechanics to improve durability and responsiveness. And the 3.5mm jacks – a standard used because it’s compatible with the vast array of discrete switches and inputs many disabled gamers already own – have been given little troughs directly above each port to help guide wired plugs held by less nimble fingers into their respective holes. Plus, a series of screw holes on the back make it easy to attach the controller to a variety of mounts and stands to ensure comfort for players using it for extended periods.

Romney, however, seems less interested in the details of the hardware and more interested in what it allows him and other disabled players to do, which is get back in the game.

“It’s not about the controller,” he said. “It’s about the player, the people. It eliminates the barrier between the gamer and game.”

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Bell's online streaming service CraveTV to raise prices to pay for better content

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Bell Media’s online streaming service CraveTV is raising prices as it beefs up its content library to compete with Netflix Inc., the disruptive giant whose stock price rose enough this week to surpass Walt Disney Co. as the world’s most valuable media company.

The BCE Inc.-owned subscription video service informed subscribers it will raise its monthly price by $2 to $9.99 plus taxes as of June 25. It will also raise rates for its three, six and 12-month plans by $6, $10 and $18, respectively, although consumers can lock in current prices for a year if they prepay for a lengthier plan before the changes come into effect.

“The price change for CraveTV reflects the continued cost increases we’re facing to acquire the highest-quality programming,” Bell Media spokesman Scott Henderson said Friday.

“But it’s programming like HBO, Showtime, Starz and other premium content that makes CraveTV the best value of any streaming service available in Canada.”

CraveTV had about 1.3 million subscribers and the end of 2017, according to Bell’s financial statements. The price increase could add up to $30 million to Bell’s coffers if each customer paid an extra $24 annually (longer-term customers will obviously pay less, but Bell does not provide a breakdown of subscriptions).

The new rate – it comes to $11.29 per month in Ontario with a 13 per cent sales tax – brings CraveTV closer in line with Netflix’s pricing. The Los Gatos, Cali. company raised its standard plan to $10.99 per month last summer, boosting revenues and fuelling its plan to spend US$8 billion on content in 2018 alone.

It’s not easy to compete with Netflix’s deep pockets. In 2016, Rogers Communications Inc. and Shaw Communications Inc. closed the curtain on their streaming service Shomi after less than two years of operations in part due to a content library that couldn’t attract as many consumers as Netflix’s vastly larger catalogue.

Since then, more streaming services including Amazon Prime Video, DAZN (a live sports platform pronounced “da zone”) and CBS All Access have flooded the market to entice cord cutters, people that forgo expensive cable packages to purchase cheaper online subscriptions.

Critically for Bell, HBO has not launched a streaming service in Canada, meaning CraveTV is the only place people without cable packages can legally watch its blockbuster shows, such as Game of Thrones. (Bell bought the rights to distribute HBO content until past 2020, although the terms of the deal aren’t public.)

Still, broadcasters and television providers need to figure out how to make up for declines in subscription and advertising revenue as TV customers decamp for the internet.

Regulators are also grappling with a future in which most content is viewed on the internet. The government ordered the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to produce a report on future audio and video distribution models by the end of next week. One big hurdle is what to do about Netflix, which has amassed an estimated six million Canadian subscribers.

In a note to clients, National Bank of Canada analyst Adam Shine said CraveTV’s price increases are immaterial to BCE’s overall results but will help Bell Media produce “more flattish” adjusted earnings in 2018 and 2019.

“The news is… relevant for Bell Media where tuck-in M&A and subscription revenue growth serve to help mitigate secular pressures in advertising, which are exacerbated by rising content costs, especially for sports programming and CraveTV,” Shine wrote.

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School Shooting Game Angers Steam Users, Developer 'Likely' Changing It

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Earlier this week, a game called Active Shooter appeared on Steam. It’d be nothing more than another heap of hacked-together pre-purchased assets—or an “asset flip,” as they’re known on Steam—if not for its subject matter. It’s about mass shootings.

The unreleased game’s Steam store page describes it as a “dynamic S.W.A.T. simulator” in which you play as a shooter, a S.W.A.T. team member trying to neutralize them, or a civilian. Its trailer depicts a player running down school halls and through classrooms, indiscriminately murdering teachers until a S.W.A.T. team shows up.

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Complaints about the game have been fierce, and yesterday the person behind the game said they’ll probably remove the option to play as the mass shooter.

Almost as soon as the game’s store listing went up, Steam users took to the game’s forums to voice their distaste.

“I love offensive humor as much as the next guy, but you’re dense as hell if you can’t see why a pay-to-play school shooting simulation game might be taking it a step too far,” said one user.

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“REPORT THIS GAME,” said another, more succinctly.

The game’s Steam forums are dominated by threads calling for the developer to reconsider and for Valve to do something about the game, as well as people criticizing Valve for the fact that it gives the boot to many games containing nudity while letting the likes of Active Shooter fester on digital shelves.

Anti-gun violence charity Infer Trust has called for Valve to remove Active Shooter from Steam altogether. “It is horrendous,” a spokeswoman told the BBC. “Why would anybody think it’s a good idea to market something violent like that, and be completely insensitive to the deaths of so many children?”

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This isn’t the first time Steam has been criticized for school shooting-related content. Before a quiet crackdown from Valve that took place earlier this year, Steam reportedly played host to hundreds of user-made groups that glorified school shooters. Kotaku reached out to Valve about Active Shooter yesterday, but has yet to hear back.

In response to all of this, Active Shooter’s developer released a statement. “First of all, this game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any sort of a mass shooting,” they wrote in a post on Steam, noting that the game was originally just going to be about S.W.A.T. teams, but then they decided to make shooters and civilians playable as well.

“While I can see people’s anger and why this might be a bad idea for the game, I still feel like this topic should be left alone,” they continued. “As I mentioned in Steam discussion forums, there are games like Hatred, Postal, Carmageddon and etc, which are even worst [sic] compared to Active Shooter and literally focus on mass shootings/killings of people.”

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They added that they will “more likely” revert the shooter character to being unplayable before the game’s June 6 release date, pending a response from Valve.

You’re reading Steamed, Kotaku’s page dedicated to all things in and around Valve’s wildly popular PC gaming service.

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Alexa Recorded Then Sent a Couple's Private Chat to a Random Contact, Amazon Says

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Is Alexa Listening? Amazon Echo Recorded and Sent Couple’s Conversation in ‘Unlikely’ String of Events

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Amazon said that one of its Echo devices mistook a woman’s words for a set of commands instructing it to record her conversation with her husband and send it to one of his employees.CreditMatt Lutton for The New York Times

They’re always listening. They’re on the internet. But what happens when digital assistants like Alexa go rogue? Could they share our private conversations without our consent? Privacy advocates have long warned this could happen, and now it has.

A woman in Portland, Ore., told KIRO7, a television news station in Washington, that her Amazon Echo device had recorded a conversation then shared it with one of her husband’s employees in Seattle.

Skeptics were quick to say we told you so, as the news rocketed through the connected world.

Now, Amazon says it knows what happened: As the woman, identified only as Danielle, chatted away with her husband, the device’s virtual assistant, Alexa, mistakenly heard a series of requests and commands to send the recording as a voice message to one of the husband’s employees.

“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa,’” Amazon said in a statement. “Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

[Earlier: Amazon explains why Alexa was laughing at customers.]

In a follow-up interview, though, Danielle told KIRO7 that the Echo that shared her conversation was right next to her at the time with the volume set to seven out of 10. It never requested her permission to send the audio, she said.

The family had several Echoes in their home, using them to control the heat, lights and security system. But, two weeks ago, Danielle’s husband received a call from the employee in Seattle, who reported receiving audio of their conversation.

“At first, my husband was like, ‘No, you didn’t,’” Danielle told KIRO7. “And he’s like, ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘Oh gosh, you really did!’”

The family disconnected the devices and contacted Amazon, prompting an investigation. Now, Danielle is asking for a refund.

“I’m never plugging that device in again,” she told KIRO7. “I can’t trust it.”

If you own an Echo and are concerned about what it might be recording, an Amazon help page explains that you can review, listen and delete the audio and other interactions in the settings menu.

[How Amazon and Google are working to listen for your heart’s desires.]

The news was met with a mix of alarm and humor on social media.

Amazon’s main home assistant devices — the Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Dot — are each equipped with seven microphones and noise-canceling technology. Amazon and Google are the leading sellers of such devices.

This is not the first report of an Echo mishearing commands, with unusual results. Amazon offered a similar explanation in March after several users reported hearing Alexa laugh at random times.

The assistant, the company said, had “in rare circumstances” mistakenly heard “Alexa, laugh.” As a result, Amazon changed the phrase for that command to “Alexa, can you laugh?” and had the device verbally acknowledge such requests.

This month, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a published paper that they had proved that the technology could be exploited, too.

The researchers said that they were able to hide commands in recordings of music or spoken text that went unnoticed by humans but were understood by personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa.

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