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Logitech accessory kit makes the Xbox Adaptive Controller even more accessible

Posted by | accessibility, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Logitech, Microsoft, TC, xbox, xbox adaptive controller | No Comments

Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller was a breath of fresh air in a gaming world that has largely failed to consider the needs of people with disabilities. Now Logitech has joined the effort to empower this diverse population with an expanded set of XAC-compatible buttons and triggers.

Logitech’s $100 Adaptive Gaming Kit comes with a dozen buttons in a variety of sizes, two large analog levers to control the triggers, and a Velcro-style pad to which they can all be securely attached. It’s hopefully the start of a hardware ecosystem that will be at least a significant fraction of the diversity available to the able population.

The visibility of gamers with disabilities has grown both as the communities have organized and communicated their needs, and as gaming itself has moved towards the mainstream. Turns out there are millions of people who, for one reason or another, can’t use a controller or mouse and keyboard the way others can — and they want to play games too.

Always one of the more reliably considerate companies when it comes to accessibility issues, Microsoft began developing the XAC a couple years back — though admittedly after years of, like the rest of the gaming hardware community, failing to accommodate disabled gamers.

Logitech was an unwitting partner, having provided joysticks for the project without being told what they were for. But when the XAC was unveiled, Logitech was stunned and chagrined.

“This is something that, shame on us, we didn’t think about,” said Mark Starrett, Logitech G’s senior global product manager. “We’ve been trying to diversify gaming, like getting more girls to play, but we totally did not think about this. But you see the videos Microsoft put out, how excited the kids are — it’s so motivating to see that, it makes you want to continue that work.”

And to their credit, the team got in contact with Microsoft soon after and said they’d like to collaborate on some accessories for the system.

In some ways this wouldn’t be particularly difficult: The XAC uses 3.5mm headphone jacks as its main input, so it can accept signals from a wide range of devices, from its own buttons and sticks to things like blow tubes, so there’s no worries about proprietary connections, for instance. But when it comes to accessible devices and systems like this, there are often other rigorous standards in place that need to be upheld throughout, so it’s necessary to work closely with both the platform provider (Microsoft) and, naturally, the people who will actually be using them.

“This community, you can’t make anything for them without doing it with them,” said Starrett. “When we design a gaming keyboard or mouse, we engage pros, players, all that stuff, right? So with this, it’s absolutely critical to watch them with every piece.”

“The biggest takeaway is that everybody is so different: every challenge, every setup, everyone we talked to,” he continued. “We had a 70, 80 year old guy who plays Destiny and has arthritis — all we really needed to do was put a block on the back of his controller, because he couldn’t pull the trigger. Then we worked with a girl who has a quadstick, she was playing Madden like a pro with something you just puff and blow on. Another guy played everything with his feet. So we spent a lot of time on the site just watching.”

The final set of buttons they arrived at includes three very large ones, four smaller ones (though still big compared with ordinary controller buttons), four “light touch” buttons that can be easily activated by any contact, and two big triggers. Because they knew different gamers would use the sets differently, there’s a set of labels in the box that can be applied however they like.

Then there are two hook and loop (i.e. Velcro) mats to which the buttons can be attached, one rigid and the other flexible, so it can be draped over a leg, the arm of a couch, etc.

Even the packaging the buttons come in is accessible: A single strip of tape pulls out and causes the whole box to unfold, and then everything is in non-sealed reusable bags. The guide is wordless so it can be used in any country, by any player.

It’s nice to see such consideration at work, and no doubt the players who will benefit from these products will be happy to have a variety of options to choose from. I was starting to think I could use a couple of these buttons myself.

Starrett seemed very happy with the results, and also proud that the work had started something new at Logitech.

“The groups we talked to brought a lot of different things to mind for us,” he said. “We’re always updating things, but now we’re updating everything with an eye to accessibility. It’s helped Logitech as a company to learn about this stuff.”

You can pick up Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming kit here for $100.

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Microsoft announces its xCloud streaming service and a truckload of new games are coming in 2020

Posted by | game streaming, Gaming, Microsoft, project xcloud, streaming, xbox, Xbox Game Pass, xcloud | No Comments

Microsoft has announced a vague intention to launch its xCloud game streaming service sometime in 2020, and dropped a double handful of new titles that will arrive on it and the existing Game Pass subscription. It seems that next year will indeed be the opening battle in the streaming wars to come.

The announcements came at XO19, the company’s Xbox-focused event, which is taking place in London. They seem calculated to take the wind out of Google’s sails; the opening lineup of Stadia, Google’s entry in the game streaming world, was finalized earlier this week and is rather bare bones. Microsoft is hoping Google’s first-mover advantage will be nullified by the expected confusion around payments, features, titles and other issues Stadia is still working out.

Game Pass is currently in a preview period on PC. Although Microsoft did not supply a hard release date, saying only that 2020 is the plan. That year will also bring Windows 10 support, PC game streaming and potentially an expansion beyond Android for mobile streaming.

The price, too, is TBA — Google’s proposition is remarkably complicated, and it will take time for consumers to figure out what they’re willing to pay for, what the real costs are, and so on. So Microsoft is probably going to wait and see here.

But what is known about xCloud is that gamers will get access to all the games currently available on Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription — well over a hundred PC and console titles right now, with more being added regularly. That makes it easier to commit to for a lot of gamers.

New controllers will be supported soon, including Sony’s DualShock 4, which comes with the PlayStation 4; that’s a real olive branch to Microsoft’s arch-rival. And new countries will be brought into the fold soon, as well: Canada, India, Japan and “Western Europe.”

Game Pass will also be receiving dozens of titles old and new throughout 2020, including Final Fantasy 7 through 15, Darksiders 3, Flight Simulator and a bunch of newly announced games such as Obsidian’s new “Honey, I Shrunk the Survival Game” title, “Grounded.”

Several brand new properties and gameplay for known but unreleased games were also teased at XO19. Check them out below:

Everwild is a new IP from Rare that appears to involve a lot of sneaking around a lush forest and either avoiding or interacting with fantastical animals. It’s still early days, but the team wants to create “new ways to play in a natural and magical world.” I’m just here for the solar-powered dino-deer.

Tell Me Why is a new one from Dontnod, makers of Life Is Strange starring a pair of twins with some kind of paranormal connection. Notably one of the twins is transgender, not common among game protagonists, and the company worked with GLAAD to make sure the representation of the character is genuine.

Age of Empires IV got an only slightly satisfying gameplay reveal. Real-time strategy buffs will want more than this, but no doubt they’re excited to see this venerable franchise getting a modern sequel.

You can catch up on the rest over at the Xbox official blog post.

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The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is a truly great game controller

Posted by | Apple, Gadgets, game controller, Gaming, hardware, iPad, macbook, Microsoft, Reviews, TC, usb, USB-C, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Microsoft’s original Xbox Elite controller was a major step up for gamers, with customizable buttons, changeable physical controls and adjustable sensitivity for serious personalization. The new Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 has just landed, and it offers similar features, but with new and improved features that add even more customization options, along with key hardware improvements that take what was one of the best gaming controllers available and make it that much better.

USB-C

This might seem like a weird place to start, but the fact that the new Xbox Elite 2 comes with USB-C for charging and wired connections is actually a big deal, especially given that just about every other gadget in our lives has moved on to adapting this standard. Micro USB is looking decidedly long in the tooth, and if you’re like me, one of the only reasons you still have those cables around at all is to charge your game controllers.

In the box, you get a braided USB-A to USB-C charging cable, which at nine feet is plenty long enough to reach from your console to your couch. Of course, you also can use your phone, tablet, MacBook or any other USB-C charger and cable combo to power up the Elite 2, which is why it’s such a nice upgrade.

This is big for one other key reason: Apple recently added Xbox controller compatibility to its iPad lineup, which also charges via USB-C. That’s what makes this the perfect controller for anyone looking to turn their tablets into a portable gaming powerhouse, as it reduces the amount of kit you need to pack when you want to grab the controller and have a good option for digging into some iPad gaming.

Adjustable everything

Probably the main reason to own the Elite 2 is that it offers amazing customization options. New to this generation, you can even adjust the resistance of the thumbsticks, which is immensely useful if you’re a frequent player of first-person shooter (FPS) games, for instance. This lets you tune the sensitivity of the sticks to help ensure you’re able to find the right balance of sensitivity versus resistance for accurate aiming, and it should help pros and enthusiasts make the most of their own individual play style.

The shoulder triggers also now have even shorter hair-trigger locks, which means you can fire quicker with shorter squeezes in-game. And in the case, you’ll find other thumbsticks that you can swap out for the ones that are pre-installed, as well as a D-pad you can use to replace the multi-directional pad.

On top of the hardware customization, you also can tweak everything about the controller in software on Windows 10 and Xbox One, using Microsoft’s Accessories app. You can even assign a button to act as a “Shift” key to provide even more custom options, so that you can set up key combos to run even more inputs. Once you find a configuration you like, you can save it as a profile to the controller and switch quickly between them using a physical button on the controller’s front face.

Even if you’re not a hardcore multiplayer competitive gamer, these customization options can come in handy. I often use profiles that assign thumbstick clicks to the rear paddle buttons, for instance, which makes playing a lot of single-player games much more comfortable, especially during long sessions.

Dock and case included

The Xbox Elite 2 includes a travel case, just like the first generation, but this iteration is improved, too. It has a removable charging dock, which is a quality accessory in its own right. The dock offers pass-through charging even while the controller is inside the case, too, thanks to a USB-C cut-through that you can seal with a rubberized flap when it’s not in use.

In addition to housing the charger and controller, the case can hold the additional sticks and D-pad, as well as the paddles when those aren’t in use. It’s got a mesh pocket for holding charging cables and other small accessories, and the exterior is a molded hard plastic wrapped in fabric that feels super durable, and yet doesn’t take up much more room than the controller itself when packed in a bag.

The case is actually a huge help in justifying that $179.99 price tag, as all of this would be a significant premium as an after-market add-on accessory for a standard controller.

Bottom line

Microsoft took its time with a successor to the original Xbox Elite Wireless Controller, and while at first glance you might think that not much has changed, there are actually a lot of significant improvements here. The controller’s look and feel also feel better, with more satisfying button, pad and the stick response, and a better grip thanks to the new semi-textured finish on the front of the controller.

USB-C and more customization options might be good enough reason even for existing Elite Controller owners to upgrade, but anyone on the fence about getting an Elite to begin with should definitely find this a very worthwhile upgrade over a standard Xbox One controller.

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Microsoft adds per-app time limits to its parental controls

Posted by | Apps, children, digital wellbeing, family, Gaming, kids, Microsoft, Microsoft Launcher, microsoft windows, Mobile, parental controls, parents, screen time, Windows 10, xbox | No Comments

Microsoft is following Apple and Google’s lead with today’s launch of per-app and per-game time limits in its parental control software. Already, the company allows parents to limit screen time across Windows 10, Xbox One and Android via the Microsoft Launcher. However, it hadn’t yet allowed parents to limit the amount of time a child could spend in a specific app or game, as its competitors do.

Instead, its existing controls allowed parents only to dole out a set amount of hours of screen time. Parents could choose to either leave the time up to the kids to manage, or limit it at the device level — like, only allowing one hour of Xbox time but permitting more screen time on the PC, for example.

However, the current trend in screen time management is not to approach all screen time as unproductive and unhealthy. Instead, it’s about configuring limits on the more addictive apps and games that eat up increasing amounts of children’s time, while permitting educational tools to have fewer limits.

For older kids and teens, social media apps like TikTok or Instagram could be the culprit, while younger kids may just be spending too much time “hanging out” in virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite. Problems on this front have gotten pretty bad. Mobile games are under fire for using gambling tactics like loot boxes to engage children. And Fortnite is now the subject of a lawsuit that claims that, in part, the game’s addictive nature is due to its use slot machine-like mechanics and variable reward systems, which manipulate children’s brains.

Without being able to limit these apps directly, kids may end up using all of their allotted screen time on just the one app or game they’re obsessed with at the moment.

Apple had already allowed per-app time limits with the launch of its screen time controls in iOS 12. And Google more recently updated its own Family Link software, now preinstalled on new Android devices, to include a similar feature.

With today’s update, Microsoft is now on board, too.

microsoft per app time limits

The new app and game limits parents set will apply across Windows 10, Xbox and Android devices running Microsoft Launcher. In other words, kids can’t get more game time just by switching devices.

The controls also allow parents to offer more screen time on certain days — like weekends, for instance — than others.

To use this feature, parents will need to create a family group and make Microsoft accounts for all the kids.

Once enabled, kids will get a warning about their screen time 15 minutes before the limit is reached, and then again at five minutes. Because kids will often beg for a few more minutes, Microsoft made it easy for parents to grant or deny more time via email or via a Microsoft Launcher notification on their own Android phone.

The per-app time limits are launching today in preview within Microsoft’s existing family settings.

“Ultimately, our goal is for the app and game limits feature to provide flexible and customizable tools to meet each family’s unique needs,” the company explains in an announcement. “You as parents know what’s best for your children — no technology can ever replace that — but we’re hoping these tools can help you to strike the right balance,” it says.

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The Google Assistant can now control your Xbox One

Posted by | Amazon, Android, artificial intelligence, Cortana, Gaming, Google, Google Assistant, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating systems, smartphones, TC, Windows 10, Windows Phone, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

It wasn’t so long ago that Microsoft was betting heavily on its Cortana digital assistant. That’s a bet that didn’t pay off. But because this is the new Microsoft, the company is instead betting on integrating its products with those services that its users do actually use. Today, the company announced that you will now be able to control your Xbox One from the Google Assistant. For now, this feature is in beta, but you can expect a full launch later this fall.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean the Google Assistant is now available on your Xbox One and you can’t ask it for the weather. What it does mean is that you’ll be able to ask the Assistant to launch games on the Xbox, pause them, turn up the volume, etc. (Hey Google, turn off Xbox.”).

You can find a full list of supported commands here.

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This will work with virtually every Assistant-enabled device, including your iOS and Android phones. To get started, set up the Xbox like any other third-party Assistant device in the Google Home app on Android or iOS — and that’s essentially what the Xbox One then becomes in the Assistant ecosystem: just another device you can control with it.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft, which has basically given up on Cortana for the consumer market, is also working with Amazon to bring Alexa to your PC. Microsoft doesn’t really care what you use to control your Microsoft devices, as long as you use a Microsoft or Windows 10 device. Now it’s probably just a matter of time before you can control your PC with the Assistant — or even get full Assistant support in Windows 10.

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Xbox Live is down for many (Update: It’s back up)

Posted by | Gaming, Microsoft, TC, xbox, xbox live | No Comments

If you were trying to sneak in a quick game on Xbox Live during your Friday afternoon lunch break and found that you can’t get online: don’t worry, you’re not alone.

While Microsoft’s Xbox Live Status page still says all things are good to go (Update: Microsoft’s status page has now caught up with the outage, and says that it’s impacting sign-ins, account creations and searches), reports are pouring in of an outage keeping many users from logging in.

Microsoft acknowledged the problem on Twitter, saying that they’re “looking into it now.”

Update, 2:30 PM: It’s back up! The status page shows all lights as green again, and a Microsoft spokesperson says that services have been fully restored.

We’re aware that some users are unable to sign in currently & our teams are looking into it now. We’ll update when we have more info to share. Thanks for all the reports!

— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport) August 30, 2019

 

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Microsoft will offer console streaming for free to Xbox One owners

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Microsoft’s Sunday E3 pressure was all about the games. In fact, while the company did offer some information about hardware and services, the information all arrived fast and furious at the end of the conference. While it’s probably unsurprising that the company had very little to offer in the way of information about its upcoming 8K console, Project Scarlett, most of us expected Project xCloud to get a lot more face time on stage.

The company powered through a whole lot of information about its upcoming streaming offering like it was going out of style (or, perhaps, like the lights were going out at its own theater). The speed and brevity of it all left a number of audience members confused on the specifics — and caused some to speculate that the service night not be as far along as Microsoft had hoped.

We caught up with a few Microsoft reps on our final day at the show to answer some questions. The company is unsurprisingly still mum on a number of key details around the offering. A couple of key things are worth clarifying, though. For starters console stream is not considered a part of Project xCloud. Rather, the ability to play games on one’s own Xbox One remotely is a separate feature that will be coming to users via a software update.

Asked what advantages console streaming has over the parallel xCloud offering, Microsoft’s answer was simple: it’s free. Fair enough. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it helps differentiate Microsoft’s streaming offerings from Stadia and second, it provides another value proposition for the console itself. As to how performance is expected to differ between console streaming and XCloud, it wouldn’t comment.

As I wrote earlier today, the company does see the potential of a large scale move to the cloud, but anticipates that such a shift is a long ways off. After all, if it didn’t, it likely wouldn’t have announced a new console this week at E3.

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What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

Posted by | Apple, e3 2019, events, Gadgets, Gaming, Google, Hulu, Media, Microsoft, Netflix, Nintendo, Sony, Spotify, stadia, Streaming Media, ubisoft, Uplay, xbox | No Comments

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

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Here are the game trailers from Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Microsoft, TC, xbox | No Comments

Trailers. You love them, Microsoft’s got them. According to the company, there were a ridiculous 60 games trotted out on stage at today’s big E3 kickoff. Looks like the Xbox got a little extra love at the event since Sony’s MIA this year. Along with more information on its streaming service Project XCloud a sneak peek at its next console and a very special appearance by Keanu, the company had a LOT of games to show off.

Here are the biggest trailers from today’s event.

Minecraft: Dungeons – Everyone’s favorite building block title gets its very own single and multiplayer RPG adventure.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: Announced in 2017, Moon Studio’s platformer finally arrives next February.

Bleeding Edge: Ninja Theory’s latest is a multiplayer melee combat title.

Flight Simulator: You know, you love it — or are otherwise indifferent. The classic simulator returns in 2020.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition – Coming later this year, the title will also be available for Xbox Game Pass for PC.

Wasteland 3: The party-based role-playing sequel takes players to…Colorado Springs?

Battletoads: Don’t call it a comeback. Zitz, Pimple and Rash return for a new Gamepass title.

Gear 5: Probably the most eagerly anticipated game of the press conference, the new Gears is launching September 10.

Gears 5: Terminator Dark Fate – Here’s a fun reveal. Those who buy Gears 5 by September 16 with get a character pack, featuring the T-800 Endoskeleton from the forthcoming Terminator sequel.

Forza Horizon 4 Lego Speed Champions: The popular racing series gets the Lego treatment.

Kitten Around with RAAM: A series of animated shorts based on characters from Gears POP.

State of Decay Heartland: A new DLC pack for Heartland 2, features two stories and will be available as part of GamePass.

CrossfireX: The latest version of Smilegate’s FPS is arriving on Xbox One.

Halo: Infinite – What’s this, then? Why it’s a brand new Halo title, launching alongside Microsoft’s next-gen Project Scarlett console during the 2020 holiday season.

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Microsoft teases 8K Xbox

Posted by | e3 2019, Gaming, Microsoft, xbox | No Comments

Microsoft is working to create its most powerful Xbox yet as it gears up for the next wave of gaming console hardware. Xbox shared some details on its next hardware at E3 and it sounds appropriately next-gen.

The company teased some huge factoids in a teaser about what it’s calling “Project Scarlett.” The upcoming console will have 8K capability, will be able to handle frame rates up to 120fps and will utilize SSD storage to keep load times low. The hardware will be powerful enough to enable real-time ray tracing.

“This generation is going to be a bigger leap than any generation before,” a video describing the new hardware detailed. Microsoft says the new hardware will be four times as powerful as the Xbox One X.

The next-generation console will be arriving in the holiday season of 2020, the company says. It will be launching alongside a new Halo title, Halo Infinite.

“A console should be designed and built and optimized for one thing: gaming,” Xbox head Phil Spencer said onstage at the company’s E3 presser.

We’ve already heard a bit about PlayStation’s plan for their next generation console, mainly details regarding the system’s transition to SSD storage and its reliance on a third-generation AMD Ryzen CPU.

We’ll see how the systems stack up against each other as we hear more.

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