XBox (Games)

Microsoft Announces Xbox Adaptive Controller For Players With Disabilities (theverge.com) 18

A new Xbox controller designed for people with disabilities has been announced by Microsoft today. The Xbox Adaptive Controller features two large programmable buttons and 19 jacks that can be connected to a range of joysticks, buttons, and switches to make it easier for a wider range of people to play games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. The Verge reports: "I can customize how I interface with the Xbox Adaptive Controller to whatever I want," says Solomon Romney, a Microsoft Store learning specialist who was born without fingers on his left hand. "If I want to play a game entirely with my feet, I can. I can make the controls fit my body, my desires, and I can change them anytime I want. You plug in whatever you want and go. It takes virtually no time to set it up and use it. It could not be simpler."

The focus is on connectivity and customizability, with players able to build a setup that works for their capabilities and needs. It won't be an all-in-one solution for many games, but through the use of peripherals and the Xbox's system-level button remapping, the possibilities could be endless. The Xbox Adaptive Controller will cost $99.99 and goes on sale later this year.

Cloud

Microsoft Is Moving Kinect to the Cloud (theverge.com) 37

At the annual Build conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella announced that Kinect is moving to the cloud. "Kinect, when we first launched it in 2010, was a speech-first, gaze-first, vision-first device. It was used in gaming, and then, later on, it came to the PC, and it was used in many applications: medical, industrial, robotics, education," said Nadella. "We've been inspired by what developers have done, and since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to some of the foundational technologies in HoloLens. So we're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure." The Verge reports: It's big news after the depth camera and microphone accessory that originally debuted on the Xbox 360 was basically declared dead last October when Microsoft stopped manufacturing it. Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, explained in a LinkedIn blog post that Project Kinect for Azure would combine the depth sensor with Azure AI services that could help developers make devices that will be more precise "with less power consumption." Kipman also notes that AI deep learning on depth images could lead to "cheaper-to-deploy AI algorithms" that require smaller networks to operate.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update (theverge.com) 48

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD's FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft's consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia's G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV's game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks with the April update for the Xbox One. New system sounds take advantage of spatial sound to fully support surround sound systems when you navigate around. Gamers who listen to music while playing can also now balance game audio against background music right inside the Xbox Guide. Other features in this update include sharing game clips direct to Twitter, dark to light mode transitions based on sunrise / sunset, and improvements to Microsoft Edge to let you download or upload pictures, music, and videos.
Sony

Sony PlayStation 5 Unlikely To Arrive Until 2020: Gizmodo (kotaku.com) 46

A recent online rumor got people buzzing about a possible 2018 release of PlayStation 5, but that's probably not going to happen, Gizmodo reports. Citing a source, the outlet says it believes the next PlayStation may not arrive until 2020. From the report: It's been nearly five years since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched, which has triggered bouts of nervousness and excitement among video game fans who want to know when they'll have to start hoarding pennies for a new generation of consoles. The PS4 launched seven years after the PS3, the Xbox One eight years after the Xbox 360. It's not unreasonable to be thinking about the next generation. We don't have a concrete answer just yet, but we have been asking around, and what we've heard is a whole lot of uncertainty.
Microsoft

Microsoft: We'll Help Customers Create Patents But We Get a License To Use Them (zdnet.com) 52

Microsoft outlined a new intellectual-property policy on Thursday for co-developed technology that embraces open source and seeks to assure customers it won't run off with their innovations. From a report: The shared innovation principles build on its Azure IP Advantage program for helping customers combat patent trolls. The new principles for co-developed innovation cover ownership of existing technology, customer ownership of new patents, support for open source, licensing new IP back to Microsoft, software portability, transparency, and learning. Microsoft president Brad Smith says the principles aim to assuage customers' fears that Microsoft may end up using co-developed technology to rival them.

[...] In return, Microsoft gets to license back any of the patents in the new technology but promises to limit their use to improving its own platform technologies, such as Azure, Azure AI services, Office 365, Windows, Xbox, and HoloLens. It also reserves the right to use "code and tools developed by or on behalf of Microsoft that are intended to provide technical assistance to customers in their respective businesses."

Microsoft

Microsoft To Ban 'Offensive Language' From Skype, Xbox, Office and Other Services (csoonline.com) 317

According to Microsoft's new Terms of Services agreement, you could get banned for "offensive language," resulting in the termination of your Gold Membership and/or any Microsoft account balances. The changes go into effect on May 1. CSO Online reports: [I]f you and a significant other are getting hot and heavy via Skype, you better watch your language and any nudity because that, too, can get you banned. The ban hammer could also fall if Cortana is listening at the wrong moment or if documents and files hosted on Microsoft services violate Microsoft's amended terms. But how would Microsoft even know if you had truly been "offensive?" Well, that part falls under Code of Conduct Enforcement, which states, "When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue." Microsoft did add, "However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so." I'm not sure that will make you feel better, as another portion states that Microsoft "may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason."
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Were Developments In Technology More Exciting 30 Years Ago? 231

dryriver writes: We live in a time where mainstream media, websites, blogs, social media accounts, your barely computer literate next door neighbor and so forth frequently rave about the "innovation" that is happening everywhere. But as someone who experienced developments in technology back in the 1980s and 1990s, in computing in particular, I cannot shake the feeling that, somehow, the "deep nerds" who were innovating back then did it better and with more heartfelt passion than I can feel today. Of course, tech from 30 years ago seems a bit primitive compared to today -- computer gear is faster and sleeker nowadays. But it seems that the core techniques and core concepts used in much of what is called "innovation" today were invented for the first time one-after-the-other back then, and going back as far as the 1950s maybe. I get the impression that much of what makes billions in profits today and wows everyone is mere improvements on what was actually invented and trail blazed for the first time, 2, 3, 4, 5 or more decades ago. Is there much genuine "inventing" and "innovating" going on today, or are tech companies essentially repackaging the R&D and knowhow that was brought into the world decades ago by long-forgotten deep nerds into sleeker, sexier 21st century tech gadgets? Is Alexa, Siri, the Xbox, Oculus Rift or iPhone truly what could be considered "amazing technology," or should we have bigger and badder tech and innovation in the year 2018?
Education

Gates On a Plane: Alaska Airlines Inflight Entertainment Stars Bill Gates (miamiherald.com) 50

theodp writes: On Tuesday, it was announced that Alaska Airlines will make a new Code.org series of six short videos starring Microsoft's Bill Gates on How Computers Work available as inflight entertainment. "Because students and adults alike can learn from these videos," wrote Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, "we are pleased to announce Khan Academy and Alaska Airlines will make them available beyond Code.org classrooms."
The original submission notes that Gates (and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) have contributed millions to both educational groups, but Alaska Airlines calls the videos "entertaining and approachable," and says they'll start appearing on their flights in April.

But the videos are also available online, and besides Gates also feature appearances by former Apple designer May Li Khoe and Nat Brown, one of the creators of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system.
PlayStation (Games)

Sony's PlayStation 4 Has Nearly Outsold the PlayStation 3 (cnet.com) 50

Sony's PlayStation 3 sales stand at around 80 million -- which means its successor, the current gen PlayStation 4, will soon surpass it. From a report: The Japanese electronics giant sold 9 million PlayStation 4 consoles from October through December, it said on Friday in its latest quarterly earnings report. Sales for the console were at 67.5 million as of Sept. 30 2017, according to Sony's previous quarterly earnings report, bringing the total to 76.5 million. The PlayStation 2 remains Sony's best-selling console, with over 150 million units sold. These figures come days after Nintendo on Wednesday revealed the Switch, released last March, is up to 14.8 million in sales. Sales of Microsoft's Xbox One are estimated by VGChartz to be around 36 million.
Games

GTA Online Is Full Of Abandoned Modes (kotaku.com) 62

An anonymous reader shares a report: GTA Online just had its most active month ever. It is consistently one of the top-selling games on Steam, Xbox and Playstation. It is always in the top 10 of the best selling games each year. The community is huge. Yet players looking to play a wide variety of modes modes will have trouble finding anybody to play with or against.

The problem, paradoxically enough, is an overabundance of content. GTA Online has a huge variety of things to do, including missions, races, heists, and deathmatches. When the game first launched, this variety was great. But the game has only gotten bigger. Now, after four years and dozens of updates, GTA Online almost feels too big and empty. The player base has spread out across too many jobs and events, making it hard to play anything but the latest new thing.

XBox (Games)

Microsoft Puts Minecraft Boss In Charge of Xbox Games (theverge.com) 50

Microsoft is promoting its Minecraft boss to the head of the company's games studios. "Matt Booty's new role sees him oversee Microsoft Studios, second only to Microsoft's games chief Phil Spencer," reports The Verge. "Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella previously promoted Phil Spencer from head of Xbox to a new role overseeing all games, associated hardware, and game strategy." From the report: Spencer reports directly to Nadella, with Booty now reporting directly to Spencer. GamesBeat reports that Booty's new role will see Microsoft devoting more resources to its games business. Booty will be looking after Microsoft's relationships with 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Rare, Turn 10 Studios, and Global Publishing. Booty first joined Microsoft back in 2010, and helped launch games for Windows phones. He's also helped develop Xbox Live Arcade, and oversaw Minecraft maker Mojang after Microsoft acquired the company for $2.5 billion back in 2014.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

XBox (Games)

Kinect Is Really Dead Now, Basically (gamespot.com) 110

Microsoft has confirmed that it is no longer producing the Kinect adapter that is needed to connect the Kinect to an Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or other Windows device. This comes after Microsoft announced in October 2017 that it was killing off the Xbox One's Kinect camera. GameSpot reports: "After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. The representative declined to say if Microsoft would ever bring Kinect back. However, the company confirmed that the adapter "will no longer be available" to purchase.
Media

Kodi Media Player Arrives On the Xbox One (theverge.com) 57

The Kodi media player is now available to download on your Xbox One, making it one of the best Xbox One exclusives of the year. The Verge reports: Kodi is a very capable player that's highly expandable thanks to third-party add-ons like live TV and DVR services -- something Microsoft isn't going to provide. But Kodi is perhaps best known as the go to app for piracy due to a wide variety of plugins that let you illegally stream television shows, professional sports, and films from the comfort of your living room. This has led to a cottage industry of so-called "Kodi boxes," often built around cheap HDMI dongles like Amazon's Fire TV sticks. While the XBMC Foundation has attempted to distance itself from the illegal third-party plugins, it's also benefited from the exposure. In a blog post, Kodi warns that the Xbox One download isn't finished and may contain missing features and bugs. Fun fact: Kodi began life fifteen years ago as the XBMP (Xbox Media Player). The only way to get the open-source player running on an original Xbox was to hack the console. XBMP eventually evolved into XBMC (Xbox Media Center), which then became Kodi.
Christmas Cheer

36,744 People Are Watching Overwatch's Jeff Kaplan Sit Motionless With A Yule Log (kotaku.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes Kotaku: He's been this way for over an hour, and as word's gotten out the audience has swelled to over 30,000... The Twitch stream opened a couple hours ago on an empty chair. A few minutes later Kaplan walked in and sat down. He's been there ever since, sometimes crossing his legs, sometimes uncrossing them, and always looking, watching, waiting. And lest anyone think the stream is somehow a small segment of footage on loop, there have been a few weird moments sprinkled throughout, including one where Jeff gets booped by an off camera boom mic. In the other, less action filled parts, you can feel time passing as the rate of Jeff blinking changes. Three different blinking speeds, we'll call them long stare, short stare, and turbo eye lash flicking, have taken shape in the stream like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future...

It's boring to the point of being impossible to look away. It's actually the opposite of what this time of year's supposed to be about. You should be having human interactions with other people. Catching up with family and friends. Not sitting with your phone or laptop transfixed by a motionless Jeff Kaplan...so far he's just continued to sit and stare, perhaps pondering the future of the game or that email he forgot to respond to from a few days ago or maybe just the fact the how many Christmas Eves ago he never imagined where he'd be on December 24, 2017.

Google

Google Reveals the Most-Trending Searches of 2017 (google.com) 49

"Google's annual list of the most popular searches is here, offering a peek into what people are really thinking about," writes CNN. An anonymous reader quotes their report: This year, you wanted to know more about one of the most powerful storms on record, the devastating Hurricane Irma. But you were also curious about [hip hop artist] Cardi B. and Unicorn Frappuccinos... Like 2017 itself, this year's top searches skew a little darker than usual, but are punctuated with some whimsy and positive moments. The top trending searches in the U.S. were Irma, Matt Lauer, Tom Petty, the Super Bowl and the Las Vegas shooting.

To determine the most popular trending searches, Google looked at its trillions of queries, filtered out spam and repeats, and identified searches that had the highest uptick in traffic compared with the previous year. It breaks them into categories like news, memes, and recipes (beef stroganoff was a hit).

Surprisingly there were more searches for 'iPhone 8" than for 'iPhone X," though those were the top two most-searched consumer technology products. (Followed by Nintendo Switch, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Xbox One X.) Other top searches this year included "What is net neutrality?" as well as questions about what bitcoin is, how to buy it, and the latest bitcoin prices. And one of the 10 most-searched phrases of the year was "fidget spinner."

Google uploaded an inspiring video to YouTube stating "This year more than ever we asked how." To dramatic music, the examples it gives include "How to calm a dog during a storm," "How to help Puerto Rico," "How to make a protest sign" -- and "How to move forward."
Nintendo

Nintendo Switch Sales Hit 10 Million Units, Could Outdo the Wii (fastcompany.com) 80

Nintendo's big bet on a hybrid portable and home game system is paying off, with 10 million Nintendo Switch units sold in nine months. From a report: Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Variety that the Switch could even top first-year sales of the Wii, the company's best-selling console yet -- if momentum holds up through the holidays. Strong sales will be important for Nintendo as it tries to convince game publishers to invest in the platform, whose less powerful hardware can't always handle the same games as Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation consoles.
Sci-Fi

Destiny 2 Misrepresented XP Gains To Its Players Until the Developers Got Caught (arstechnica.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Destiny 2, like its predecessor, depends largely on an open-ended "end game" system. Once you beat the game's primary "quest" content, you can return to previously covered ground to find remixed and upgraded battles, meant to be played ad nauseam alone or with friends. To encourage such replay, Bungie dangles a carrot of XP gain, which works more slowly than during the campaign stages. Players are awarded a "bright engram" every time they "level up" past the level cap; the engrams are essentially loot boxes that contain a random assortment of cosmetics and weapon mods. Everything you do in the game, from killing a weak bad guy to completing a major raid-related milestone, is supposed to reward you a fixed XP amount. As series fans gear up for the game's first expansion, slated to launch December 5 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, its eagle-eyed fans at r/DestinyTheGame began questioning whether those rewards were really as fixed as claimed. Some players began to suspect that they were actually getting less XP than advertised each time they repeated certain in-game missions and tasks, such as the game's "Public Events."

With stopwatch in hand, a user named EnergiserX tracked the modes he played, keeping an eye on any shifts in XP gain over time. He put enough data together to confirm those suspicions: the XP gained in certain modes would shrink with each repetition. Worse, the game gave no indication of these diminishing returns. The XP-gain numbers that popped up above the game's XP bar didn't reflect the game's hidden scaling system. Thus, there was no way for a player to accurately calculate how their XP gain had been affected or scaled without going through EnergiserX's exhaustive process. With findings in hand, the tester posted on Reddit with calls to the developers for a response, which the community received on Saturday. Bungie confirmed its use of an "XP scaler" and added that it was "not performing the way we'd like it to," which meant the developer would remove that XP-scaling system upon the game's next patch. However, Bungie didn't clarify how the developers actually would have liked for this XP-scaling system to work, nor what factored into it announcing any changes beyond the system simply being discovered.
Bungie issued a patch on Sunday that removed the XP-scaling systems, but it introduced another unannounced change to the XP system. "Bungie decided to tune the speed of XP gain by doubling the required XP needed to 'level up,' from 80,000 points to 160,000," reports Ars Technica. "Patch notes didn't mention this change; Bungie, once again, had to be questioned by its fanbase before confirming the exact amount of this XP-related change."
Businesses

EA's 'Star Wars' PR Disaster Finally Pushed Gamers Into Open Revolt Against Loot Boxes (rollingstone.com) 307

Gaming company Electronic Arts is not having a good week. Bowing to pressure from early players of Star Wars Battlefront II and the historically negative reaction over the weekend to the company's response to complaints on Reddit, the company has now detailed significant cuts in the cost to unlock characters in its game and promised to continue to listen to player feedback. From a report: Most importantly, Electronic Arts today announced that they are reducing the number of credits needed to unlock top characters in the game by 75 percent. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader will now cost 15,000 credits. Emperor Palatine, Chewbacca and Leia Organa will now cost 10,000 and Iden will cost 5,000. Mashable reports on the outcry that took place over the weekend: Battlefront II isn't technically out until Nov. 17, but fans that subscribe to EA Access or Origin Access -- which give Xbox One and PC players, respectively, a five-day, 10-hour window to play EA games before they launch -- are discovering how those changes feel. And it's a bad scene, friends. "At the current price of 60,000 credits it will take you 40 hours of gameplay time to earn the right to unlock one hero or villain [in Star Wars: Battlefront II]," Reddit user TheHotterPotato wrote in a post. "That means 40 hours of saving each and every credit, no buying any crates at all, so no bonus credits from getting duplicates in crates." The Reddit post produced such a mind-blowingly negative response that an agent of EA actually responded. Unfortunately, that response made things even worse. EA's Reddit account is plastered with a barrage of downvotes, with one particular response receiving over 600,000 downvotes -- a record.
Intel

Arch-rivals Intel and AMD Team Up on PC Chips To Battle Nvidia (pcworld.com) 169

Intel and AMD, arch-rivals for decades, are teaming up to thwart a common competitor, Nvidia. On Monday, the two companies said they are co-designing an Intel Core microprocessor with a custom AMD Radeon graphics core inside the processor package. The chip is intended for laptops that are thin and lightweight but powerful enough to run high-end videogames, the companies said. From a report: Executives from both AMD and Intel told PCWorld that the combined AMD-Intel chip will be an "evolution" of Intel's 8th-generation, H-series Core chips, with the ability to power-manage the entire module to preserve battery life. It's scheduled to ship as early as the first quarter of 2018. Though both companies helped engineer the new chip, this is Intel's project -- Intel first approached AMD, both companies confirmed. AMD, for its part, is treating the Radeon core as a single, semi-custom design, in the same vein as the chips it supplies to consoles like the Microsoft Xbox One X and Sony Playstation 4. Some specifics, though, remain undisclosed: Intel refers to it as a single product, though it seems possible that it could eventually be offered at a range of clock speeds. [...] Shaking hands on this partnership represents a rare moment of harmony in an often bitter rivalry that began when AMD reverse-engineered the Intel 8080 microchip in 1975.

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