Wednesday, February 23, 2011

58. kinect hack for couples? move gyroscope hack? now you're just showing off.

kinect's guts (image from crunchgear)
i wrote a while ago about motion gaming and whether it's just a novelty or here for the long haul and determined that the wii/kinect/move movement is just the beginning.  the kinect on its own has blown up in sales.  but since kinect release day last year, what has me interested more than the games that utilize these motion control systems is the system hacks.

now by hacks i don't mean game piracy or unauthorized stuff - please note the difference.  i mean hack in the sense of finding ways to use hardware and equipment in ways they weren't designed for, for either novel purposes (i.e. just for kicks) or with an actual goal in mind.  one of the first hacks was simply getting the unit to work with a pc instead of needing an xbox console.  and once that was successfully done last year, the possibilities became limitless and developers went to work -  within one month of release, there were real time lightsabers, interactive puppets, and 3d video capture.  you can see video showing these three things and more first-month hacks at crunchgear, and they're all nuts impressive.

but the hacks have gotten better - more sophisticated, more ridiculous, and sometimes just more bizarre.  gamesradar has a story today on controlling a bowling game through kissing.  that's right.  kissing.  one partner out of the pair wears a headset while the other wears some sort of magnet on their tongue, and the bowling ball's position and speed is controlled by tongue speed and movement (just sounds weird when i read that back to myself) to eventually knock pins down.  certainly strange, but could at least be more fun than just waving your hands around.  and could be worth some cred on the educational circuit too, as the creator, hye yeon nam, is a ph. d. candidate at the georgia institute of technology.

now the playstation move, while not really having the huge following kinect has, can still show off as well - god forbid the kinect devs have all the glory, right?  now this hack isn't exactly as "fun" as the ones popularized for the kinect, nor is it really a "hack," but from what i see on joystiq, it's still damn cool even if only as a physics experiment.  using a move controller, a 45rpm turntable, a power supply, some wire and a pc with bluetooth, modders at PABR technologies (with video of course) made a "copernitron" that can confirm the earth's rotation, in the spirit of foucault.  confused yet?  plain and simple, they can use the 3-axis gyroscope in the playstation move controller to do this, as well as find latitude, longitude and true north.  may sound fairly mundane to the game-minded, but it's cool to see what the tech is capable of with a little tweaking.

so why is it that kinect does have such a huge developer following that the move seems to lack?  it's all in how the two companies handle it.  microsoft has finally decided to open their kinect tech to anyone who's interested in using it for things other than playing xbox.  a development kit is going to be released soon in two flavors - a personal edition and a commercial edition.  they've seemed to realize something that sony has not - that their technology is bigger than just console gaming, and can have a serious impact on the way we do things in science, computing and simple day to day life.  the hacks that have been developed are far more relevant to the world en masse over the small number of xbox games that can use gesture control and there are seemingly no limits to what it can be tweaked to do.

sony, on the other hand... their policies are more... well, let's just say they've got their hands full with geohot.

kinect hacks
microsoft research
wikipedia article on the geohot saga

Friday, February 11, 2011

57. common damn sense - threats are taken seriously, even through xbox live

about how i felt reading about this
i think i've done enough of these "common damn sense" segments for you all to know that what's coming will involve technology being used by the catastrophically inept.  this one comes to us thanks to kids being jackasses and xbox live.

in late january, messages went out from an xbox live account to about 100 students at berkeley heights high school, claiming that they would be showing up at school the next day with a gun with the express purpose of shooting other students, according to prosecutor theodore romankow.  recipients of the message and their parents, naturally concerned, contacted police in berkeley heights, nj.  a few hours after the message went out, detectives, with the help of their high tech unit, traced the message and xbox ID back to a local high school freshman, who as any kid would do, denied that it was him that did it.

turns out that he was telling the truth.  after some further investigation, microsoft stepped in after checking their user logs, determining the message actually originated in maryland, not new jersey.  a road trip later by detectives and the high tech unit, a maryland teenager (whose name was not released) was arrested.  apparently the whole thing was a prank after some kind of shady transaction between the two high schoolers over xbox live.  no new details were available but thankfully, no students were in any real danger.

this is 2011.  the obscene amount of digital contact and communication methods isn't just available to adults.  this is the technology the current generation of kids are growing up with.  things like facebook are only one form of social interaction - services like xbox live and the playstation network also provide a platform for digital communication.  and of course, what comes with every method of communication is the ability to cause havoc.  as these methods become more mainstream, and with the ease and instant transmission speeds they provide, a simple statement can have a big impact.  so it was just a prank, right?  the problem was that this prank involved making death threats to children.  for high school students that grew up in this digital age, they should really know better.  the nature of this prank registers it as a crime, and the maryland student will be prosecuted locally.

this should be a warning to parents.  a game console isn't just a game console anymore, it's a network-equipped computer.  educate yourselves on what your kids are using and how they work.  there needs to be an awareness about what kind of technology kids are using and what it's capable of.

and so i offer my services, as should every geek to non-geek friends and family.  hell, even strangers.  we fix their computers, set up their networks and do a myriad of other geeky tasks for those around us - just giving them some facts on what technology is available to their kids is part of our responsibility.  i've had talks with curious parents in video game aisles at my local best buy about what games would be good for their children of various ages.  i didn't volunteer this, but they asked, and as someone in the know i felt responsible to answer fully.  they leave educated, with a thank you, and i know that i've helped someone make a better decision than what they would have made before.

i can't really hold a kid to have too much common sense.  but we do.  and as it fits appropriately with the current trend of game / tech marketing and advertising, it's really some common damn sense that needs a viral campaign.

to see the official press release on this incident, go here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

56. buildings aren't the only things that need accessible design

screenshot from video on overclockers uk forums
in the number of issues with the gaming arena and the digital world at large, there are certain things many other players may face that may never cross your mind.  we generally take simple things like control schemes and key-mapping to be not much more than an extra - we won't necessarily use it, but it's there if we want to customize things a little bit for our playing experience.  but what if key customization was necessary for you to play the game at all?  what if you had a problem where you couldn't use one hand?  or an arm?  or both?  in this case having complete control over methods of input and key mapping are absolutely important, since the scheme you'd be using will likely be far from what's considered "standard" controls.  this is the route many disabled gamers have to take.

so it became a problem for gamer gareth garratt when any sort of control customization options were nowhere to be found in his recently purchased copy of dead space 2.  gareth lives with cerebral palsy and can't control games with his hands.  his solution is operating a mouse or controller with his chin to control characters and vehicles in most games that he plays, which is done through control customization.  a few days ago he posted his issue on the overclockers UK forum as well as the official electronic arts forum, to see if there was a way that dead space 2 could have that kind of customization.  a lot of forum users offered help and and tips as far as third party applications or scripts that would allow remapping where software wouldn't support it, which got him to the point of "kind of working."  you can see videos of gareth gaming in his style on the overclockers UK forum.  the most ridiculous part is that there were people posting in that thread that wouldn't believe that this was a legit question. EA forum admin EA_BGY-11 promised in a post to "send this up the ladder," and it seems that those a few rungs above have listened.

visceral games and executive producer steve papoutsis told joystiq that a patch for full control customization is coming, and will be formally announced after it has been fully tested.  his full comments:
Dead Space 2 PC Players,
The Dead Space 2 team is aware of the issue that disabled players are having with Dead Space 2 PC. In fact a number of folks on our team are so passionate about getting this fix done that they are currently working hard to allow players to re-map key bindings to the mouse which should help disabled players enjoy the game.
I'd like to say I'm very proud of the people on the Dead Space 2 team for coming in today and jumping on the fix first thing. Working with such a talented and compassionate group of people is incredible and makes me proud to be a part of the Dead Space 2 team, Visceral Games, and Electronic Arts. 
In addition to the key binding fix the patch will include other fixes for PC players. Thank you for taking up the cause for our disabled players and letting us know about this problem. Once the patch is fully tested we will announce a release date.
this is just the latest point of contention in what has been a long campaign.  comedian chuck bittner of AskACapper, the self-proclaimed "can't stand up comedian," started a petition in 2009 asking video game developers to include this functionality on behalf of all gamers - disabled and non alike.  according to an interview with digital hippos, he was injured in a car accident in 1995 which left him paralyzed from the chest down with limited use of his arms and hands.  his petition outlined the following requests:
Option 1. Developers: Could spend the time and resources needed to build reMapping into their games.
Option 2. Console Manufactures: Build reMapping into your systems. Allow users to build reMapping layouts and save them. What are the benefits of console side reMapping? 
1. It will free the game developers from needing to do any more coding or QA testing.2. One reMap for multiple games. For example if a player has one Call of Duty layout he can use it across all CoD games.
take a look at that link - you'll see that chuck is not a man that is easily held back.  a quadriplegic himself, he still makes it happen in FPS games like call of duty.  you can watch him rack up some kills on the video on his site, controlling his character using his face on the controller.

a positive step in digital accessibility.  if you'd like to sign the petition, which is aimed at many other developers, you can do so here.