Tag Archives: xbox one

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft Story Labs has a great piece by in-house writer Deborah Bach about the development of the Adaptive Controller. It’s great storytelling through and through; chock full of touching stories, business cases, and design implementation all the way down to the packaging.

Here’s the opening story:

Dan Bertholomey awoke in a hospital in June of 2010, four days after a hit-and-run driver almost killed him while he was riding his motorcycle, to the sinking knowledge that he’d lost the use of his right arm and hand.

As he lay in his hospital bed, Bertholomey pondered his future. He thought about his daily life and the things he loved to do. How am I going to game again, he wondered? He’d been an avid gamer since age 10, when an original Pong console from Sears magically transformed his family’s television set into an electronic playground that he could control. Bertholomey was instantly hooked. He loved the competitiveness of gaming, loved the places it took his imagination.

Bertholomey continued gaming into adulthood, playing often with his son and daughter. In 2005, when he was 40, Bertholomey placed sixth on “Madden Nation,” a televised competition of the U.S.’s best “Madden NFL 06” football video game players. For him, gaming wasn’t just a hobby, something he did in his spare time. It was a lifestyle.

“You can’t fathom losing something that you love so much, said Bertholomey, 52, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. It’s incredibly devastating.”

Bertholomey began looking for ways to play with one hand. He found someone to hack him a foot pedal that connected to his Xbox, but it didn’t work well for him. He eventually taught himself to play with his left hand, but it was awkward and he couldn’t play at anywhere near his previous capacity.

The solution Bertholomey needed is now a reality — and it has the potential to make gaming accessible to players with disabilities worldwide. The new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will be available later this year, can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving gamers with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. The most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company, the device can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games and supports Xbox Wireless Controller features such as button remapping.

Bertholomey, who is among a select group of gamers who have been testing the device, said the controller makes it easy to create different setups for various types of games and seamlessly switch between them. Gamers can set up three different gaming profiles on the controller and don’t need to reset the device every time they change games, as they sometimes do with modified controllers.

This controller is really something else. There should have been steps taken to get to this point a long time ago, but this is wonderful, nonetheless.

I’ve recently wondered how to make games more accessible. The thought (rather shamefully) finally occurred to me while playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch in handheld mode. I have perfect eyesight, but the text was just small enough to be uncomfortable to read. Seeing as the game was originally intended for a TV experience on Wii U, it’s not terribly surprising that the experience wasn’t tailored for the Switch’s 6.2-inch screen. However, with the success of the Switch and Breath of the Wild, it’s surprising Nintendo hasn’t patched the text size while in handheld mode.

More recently, I’ve been playing God of War on a 720p TV. Golly, is the text tough to read.

Software accessibility is difficult, let alone manufacturing a piece of hardware for a niche audience. But it’s a niche audience that must to be considered. Where many companies seemingly glance over serving mental and physical handicaps, it’s wonderful to see Microsoft doing the right thing by enabling play for as many people as possible.

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Some Numbers That Illustrate Nintendo Switch’s Massive Success

Jason Schreier reporting for Kotaku:

Nintendo today reported its earnings for the 2017 fiscal year, which means a whole bunch of interesting new sales numbers to look at. They’re all impressive, and they all show the massive appeal of Nintendo Switch.

Here are a few numbers that, taken together, make for some good perspective on just how successful Nintendo’s latest console has been throughout its first year on the market.

Wild numbers to the Switch’s set-top predecessor, the Wii U.

The Switch is more or less tracking the same sales pace as PS4. It took a little over one year for the PS4 to reach 18.5 worldwide hardware sell-through units — November 22, 2013 – January 4, 2015.

Microsoft has been mum on sales figures, but in 2016 slipped that the Xbox One had sold “around 18 to 19 million” units, two years after launch.

Update: Here’s a sales trajectory visual. Data source: Wikipedia.

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The Verge: ‘My Xbox One S is now a meaningfully different console to my PS4’

Sam Byford, The Verge:

It’s also something that Sony simply isn’t able to offer, given the complexity of the PlayStation 3 hardware and consequent difficulty of emulating its software. And to be clear, Sony doesn’t really need to do it — the PS4 library is more than strong enough to make the console worth buying. If I only owned an Xbox and had the choice of being able to play the likes of Nier Automata, Uncharted, and Horizon Zero Dawn instead of a bunch of games from the last decade, I’d take it. It’s the paucity of Xbox One-exclusive content that is forcing Microsoft to find other ways to get people to use the platform.

That’s actually fine with me. I like that my Xbox One S is now a meaningfully different console to my PS4 Pro, with different use cases and functionality. It’s the box I go to for 4K Blu-rays, Forza Horizon 3 in HDR, or Ninja Gaiden Black with a usable controller. It’s the box I switch on to browse through when I’m not sure what I feel like doing, or when I’d rather play Cuphead on the couch than at my desk.

As I said, I think Microsoft has turned a story-telling corner.

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More Original Xbox Games Coming to Xbox One Backward Compatibility

Xbox Wire: The official Xbox blog:

Starting today, fans can play Sonic Generations for the first time on the Xbox One family of devices alongside other Xbox 360 favorites that will receive Xbox One X Enhanced updates such as Darksiders, Gears of War 2, Portal 2, Red Dead Redemption, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Later this month, we’ll release two batches of Original Xbox games – the first on April 17 and the second on April 26. All of these Original Xbox games will take advantage of the power of Xbox One with up to 4X the pixel count on Xbox One and Xbox One S, and up to 16X the pixel count on Xbox One X. See below for the full list of titles that will be available later this month, and don’t forget to visit https://majornelson.com/blog/xbox-one-backward-compatibility/ for the full list of backward compatible titles available on Xbox One.

This is an impressive list of titles.

Microsoft’s continued focus on backward compatibility is a smart move. It certainly won’t be enough to sell the tens of millions of units necessary to catch up to PlayStation 4’s sales figures, but in conjunction with increasing cross-network compatibility and the impressive power in the Xbox One X (vs. the PS4 Pro), I think Microsoft has turned a story-telling corner.

That said, for the same reasons I think backwards compatibility is a winning strategy for Xbox One, I think the Nintendo Switch will hold the lead on the conversation for a long while. After only 1 year on store shelves, the Switch’s sales trajectory (14 million units) will likely surpass Xbox One’s total 25-30 million units in 2018. PlayStation 4 has a much greater lead at 76.5 million units sold over 4.5 years. However, 14 million units in one year is without Nintendo breaking the seal on their back-catalog. And unless Microsoft or Sony glom on to exclusive licenses for third-party back-catalog — they won’t — there’s no telling who else may hop aboard the Switch train. (Come on, Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts!)

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Sold on Cross-Network Play

During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:

Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.

The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.

For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)

Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.

However, as Myke Hurley on the Remaster podcast points out, PlayStation will not be partaking.:

It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.

This is not a technical limitation. It is political.

Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix, in an interview with Polygon:

“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.

Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)

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Buttons

Over the past week or so, I’ve learned that you can play Splatoon with two controllers taped together. I’ve also learned that Batman: Arkham Knight is a sprawling complicated buffet of gaming genres.

While the latter may be less about controls, I’m going to bet a “complicated buffet of gaming genres” would be a whole lot less daunting if I didn’t have 17 input methods on my PS4 to use at a moment’s notice:

  • D-pad (up, down, left, right)
  • Left joystick
  • Right joystick
  • Circle
  • Square
  • Triangle
  • X
  • L1
  • L2
  • L3
  • R1
  • R2
  • R3
  • start
  • options
  • clickable touchpad
  • PS button

After you’re done digesting all of that, take a moment to get to know your Xbox One Wireless Controller.

As Ben Thompson pointed out:

Beyond casuals, this is a problem for returning and often busy players. The fear of returning to a video game after days, weeks, or months of not playing – hell, the fear of picking up any video game to begin with – may stem from the problems above. Tutorials are commonplace in video games. Half the time I forget what the tutorials taught me. But instead of digging through menus for a refresher, I return to button mashing and familiarity for the sake of progress.

I began playing video games with the following inputs:

  • D-pad
  • A
  • B
  • Select
  • Start

Today, most people start with less: A touchscreen. Even with an unabashed fondness for the admittedly hideous and complex Nintendo 64 controller, I’ve taken to iOS games that require simple gestures and brief touches but offer rich experiences.1 (See: Alto’s Adventure, The RoomMonument Valley)

Whether or not Journey can be considered a “game”, it is an award-winning experience that only utilized for 44% of the PS3’s buttons. While all buttons were used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it did something extremely interesting: Auto-jumping. When I first played the game, I thought it crazy that jumping was defined by the world, not the player. But I got used to it and eventually loved it. It made perfect sense. In a physical world of button fatigue, a virtual world helped establish what was critical to player timing and what was trivial based on surroundings.

I’ve been dipping in and out of Far Cry 4 lately. I haven’t come across a good instance where I should be the one to define when to grapple or it necessary to control the climb mechanism. (Granted I’ve only played for a few hours.) Grappling seems trivial. On the flip-side, Dragon Age: Inquisition controls my use of potions based on programming, default or player defined. Potion use is trivial. Your character needs to be healed, so the game heals you. The player need not press a button.

I certainly have a reverie for the days of 5 inputs. A colleague and I spent time handling an original Game Boy last week, remembering just how comfortable and satisfying the early handheld felt. (The feels and travel of it’s buttons are a thing of beauty.) The more I sit back and think about the backwards oddity of shutting out an extremely large swath of consumers while deterring those who are ripe to purchase but are fatigued and tired of re-learning, the more I picture grandma’s remotes.

——

1 UPDATE: Super Mario Run nailed it.

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More Battletoads

During today’s Windows 10 event, head of Xbox division and Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer was unabashedly sporting a Battletoads t-shirt. Polygon followed up:

When asked, Spencer told Polygon, “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a t-shirt that’s been a complete head fake. I don’t think I have … have I? I wouldn’t do that.” So if it’s not a “head fake,” we’ll consider it a confirmation of more Battletoads.

Rare games could be system sellers in my book. Relinking to last year’s post, Xbox One: Swinging for the Franchise Fences with Rare IP?

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Online-Only Consoles

Dan Stapleton, IGN:

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, it was going to require an always-on internet connection to function. After backlash from gamers and Sony’s gloating proclamation that the PlayStation 4 would play games just fine without the help of the internet, Microsoft backed down and dropped the requirement (except for a one-time console activation). As it turns out, Microsoft’s initial approach was more realistic about the modern reality of how games are made, and what’s effectively required in order to have a reasonably stable experience with a physical copy of a game you buy off the shelf today. Your console will indeed run without a connection, but your disc-based games may not give it much to work with.

This piece started and ended exactly how I wanted it to; picking up with Microsoft’s original (and much maligned) “always-on” strategy, and ending with today’s “always-on” gaming reality.

Ben Kuchera recently spoke with former AAA developer Keith Fuller for this tragicomic piece on the instability of recent AAA titles. In short:

This sort of thing is more common than you think, and it leads to muddled, unfinished and often buggy releases. It’s not a matter of including the kitchen sink; developers are sometimes tasked with adding a hot tub at the last second as the project develops.

Stapleton touches on the fact that patches are blessing, but I seem to remember a time when there weren’t even a reality. Maybe I’m showing nostalgic naivety, but I’m having a very difficult time recalling game-breaking bugs from the pre-PS3/Xbox 360 era. But can today’s AAA, reality-verging games truly exist in a non-patchable world?

Games are more complex than they have ever been. The benefits of more powerful hardware are simply enablers. In 30+ years, we have moved from simple sketches of fantasy to unparalleled productions that now challenge reality. Global resources are required to make today’s video games. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the time and resources it takes to generate cutting-edge animations and textures in highly detailed main characters, let alone randomly generated NPCs. I imagine it’s easier to create windblown hair now than five years ago, but nothing compared to the two frames it took in 1988. Just because a console “can” doesn’t make it any easier create.

As an aside, allow this 2011 piece from Gamesradar entertain you: Top 7… horrendously buggy games we loved anyway. Only one of which did not ship on a patchable console. Oh, how I wish Microsoft would have stuck with their original strategy.

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Xbox One’s 7th Core

A very interesting read from Richard Leadbetter at Eurogamer:

Up until recently, both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have reserved two entire CPU cores (out of eight available) in order to run the background operating system in parallel with games. Since October, Microsoft has allowed developers access to 50 to 80 per cent of a seventh processing core – which may partly explain why a small amount of multi-platform titles released during Q4 2014 may have possessed performance advantages over their PS4 counterparts in certain scenarios.

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the additional CPU power comes with conditions and trades attached – however, there is the potential for many games to benefit. Firstly, developers need to give up custom, game-specific voice commands in order to access the seventh core at all, while Kinect’s infra-red and depth functionality is also disabled. Secondly, the amount of CPU time available to developers varies at any given moment – system-related voice commands (“Xbox record that”, “Xbox go to friends”) automatically see CPU usage for the seventh core rise to 50 per cent. At the moment, the operating system does not inform the developer how much CPU time is available, so scheduling tasks will be troublesome. This is quite important – voice commands during gameplay will be few and far between, meaning that 80 per cent of the core should be available most of the time. However, right now, developers won’t know if and when that allocation will drop. It’s a limitation recognised in the documentation, with Microsoft set to address that in a future SDK update.

The concessions Microsoft has been making to the Xbox One (revised DRM model, “dis-Kinect”, price-drop, bundles, and now opening the seventh processing core) are admirable, and considering the recent spike in sales, certainly make for an interesting future for the console war. However, these are just that — concessions. Sony has continued to stay the course with compelling hardware and a simple story. Not to mention this is another hit against Kinect and the original vision of Xbox One.

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Switch to Sony

Eric Johnson, Re/code:

According to data provided to Re/code, an April Nielsen study found that 31 percent of PS4 owners did not own Sony’s previous console, the PlayStation 3, but did own an Xbox 360 or Wii. Seventeen percent did not own any last-generation console.

The people surveyed were Americans, age 7 to 54, and were a subset of a total of 1,200 “active gamers” surveyed by Nielsen between February and April.

However, there’s one big caveat to the survey, which is that it asked only what consumers currently owned at the time of the survey, not what they had owned in the past. So, people who sold their PlayStation 3 in order to buy a PlayStation 4 would’ve been marked down as non-PS3 owners.

Assuming that most people didn’t do that, though, the numbers underscore why launching at a $100 lower price point than the rival Xbox One was so beneficial for Sony.

These numbers are much bigger than I would have thought. I knew the PS4 was out pacing both the Xbox One and (not surprisingly) the Wii U, but 17% adding consoles to their homes is astounding. Sure, they may have had PS2s, Xboxes, and Gamecubes, but 17% after the longest generation cycle, I assume it’s safe to say these are new console owners… if we are assuming of course.

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