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Surprise! Razer Cortex and Other Software Have Been Spying On You For A Long Time

Posted on May 25, 2018 by Rae Michelle Richards

With the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) coming into effect today a number of tech companies have been quick to abandon older versions of the software, discontinue services entirely or just simply block EU users from accessing their websites. Perhaps the company in the hottest water right now is Razer, maker of LCD infused Keyboard / Mice and really expensive light-up gaming notebooks. 

See, Razer’s terms of service when it comes to data collection currently allows them to collect, and I quote: 

Data Processing by Cortex. Cortex boosts and optimises your system and game performance by collecting and streamlining data relating to your system settings and system processes. When you launch Cortex, it will collect and use such data automatically. By installing and using Cortex, you consent to certain data collection and usage by Cortex for its recommendation engine to function. Cortex recommends game deals and makes price comparisons based on a variety of websites. To do so, Cortex will need to collect and process certain data from your computer, specifically your email address, IP address, game settings, installed games, game performance metrics, device type, user interaction patterns, operating system and browser type. To optimise the advertisements to be communicated to you and the performance of our services, such data will be used with Google’s Doubleclick Ad Exchange and Google Analytics respectively. For the purpose of highlighting discounts as they arise on other websites and displaying price comparisons, Cortex needs to access data relating to your game-ownership and game-wishlist(s), if any, on retail websites of your choice.” 

Twitter User Stephen Swires pointed out in a recent thread that the older version of the Razer Cortex Eula allowed them to collect a lot more including analyzing your keystroke patterns, logging which web pages you visited and “other information about your activities using our hardware”. Sounds very vague…. 

In order to be compliant with the GDPR Razer has dumped support for older versions of Synapse as well as the Mobile version of Razer Cortex. It is not known as of press time how the GDPR update that was rolled out on the recently released Razer Phone affects European users. 

If you’re reading this and currently use a Razer product, does knowing that for a time they were collecting your keystroke “patterns” and web pages that you visited give you pause? Would you buy a Razer product now? Let us know in the comments section! 


A Eulogy To The Future That Kinect Promised But Never Delivered

Posted on October 25, 2017 by Rae Michelle Richards

Kinect version 1.0 arrived hot off the heels of the motion control craze sparked by the Nintendo Wii with the marketing tagline “You Are The Controller”. Promising players a mixture of easy to understand motion based controls using their own bodies and a dash of science fiction, with almost Minority Report-like gesture control – it seemed like Microsoft had stumbled upon an easily understandable control scheme for those with the mobility to enjoy it. As Kinect is thrown into the technology wastebasket of products past their prime, where did things go wrong? This is a Eulogy for the future that Kinect promised but never delivered upon. 

A Less Than Spectacular Launch Line-Up 

On November 4th, 2010 Microsoft released the Kinect Sensor add-on for the Xbox 360 for $149.99 USD alongside 15 launch titles not only from first party studios like Rare but also major 3rd parties like Harmonix, Konami and SEGA. Smaller publishers & developers were also included in the opening volley for the motion-sensing technology with names like Hudson and Majesco rounding out the pack.  

With both large and small publishers on board in addition to Microsoft’s own efforts what could possibly go wrong with the launch line-up? Well, none of the 3rd party stuff really pushed the envelope in terms of using this newly released technical wonder. Instead of inventive games that used the strength of Kinect to deliver gameplay experiences built around the device players were greeted a number of “me too” cash-in Sports compilations, mini-game collections, fitness games and DDR knockoffs. 

[Image Source: YouTube]

Tell me do you remember any of these masterpieces? 

  • Motion Sports (Ubisoft) 
  • Zumba Fitness (Majesco) 
  • Game Party: In Motion (Warner Bros) 
  • Adrenalin Misfits (Konami) 

Quality software would be few and far between for Kinect during its 7 years of life but even on day one, there were red flags that 3rd party offerings would be hit or miss. At this time Sonic was still a name no one really uttered with excitement and his Kinect game (Sonic Free Riders) was so unplayable that some reviewers attempted to return it after eviscerating it or poor player detection and an unworkable control scheme.  

Dance Central and Microsoft’s Own “Wii Sports” 

Kinect did shine thanks to the release of Rare’s Kinect Sports and Harmonix’s Dance Central. Both games provided players with easy to understand concepts that for the most part worked given the technical limitations of the first generation of Kinect Sensors.  

Taking a page from Nintendo’s 2006 playbook, Bowling allowed players to throw their arm forward and strike virtual pins. Boxing would let contenders weave left and right in physical space, something that couldn’t be replicated with Nintendo’s Wii Remote at the time. Featuring compatibility with Rare’s New Xbox Experience (NXE) dashboard avatars, comparisons to Wii Sports were inevitable but Kinect Sports delivered on the promise of an easy to understand and immersive sports experience in the living room. 

[Image Source: Youtube]

Harmonix’s Dance Central also lured players to Kinect with an easy to understand concept that most folks can get behind: dance to catchy pop songs to flashy and colorful visuals. Featuring gameplay that tracks the player’s movements that challenge players to perform a number of different dance moves based on 90 different dance routines. It had robust offerings (for a Kinect title) such as a single player mode, 2 player head to head mode and an extensive training mode. Dance Central was the essential Xbox 360 party game and it was so successful that it spawned a number of add-on DLC tracks and two retail sequels (Dance Central 2 & Dance Central 3) 

Accessibility Concerns That Went Unaddressed  

With motion being so prevalent to the use of Microsoft Kinect, accessibility concerns should have been on the forefront of the engineers, programmers, and designers who would build the large glossy sensor. After launch it became apparent that potential players with mobility concerns or certain physical disabilities may have trouble with some Kinect games. Unless the game was specifically designed for a seated experience users could have trouble with body tracking in some circumstances if: 

  • They had an amputation above the elbow and didn’t wear a realistic prosthesis. 
  • Used an arm or leg prosthesis that was made of reflective metal – this could cause the Kinect to consider the limb part of the background (e.g. the furniture) and not register it as part of the user’s body. 
  • Reflective surfaces on larger wheelchairs and armrests on larger wheelchairs also caused detection issues. 

[Image Source: Youtube]

The biggest potential problem with the Kinect arose just days before launch – it was widely reported by the press who had access to review units that Kinect may have problems detecting people of color. Several tech publications at the time reported varying degrees of failure and success with Kinect V.1 recognizing the faces of people of color.  

This particular detection problem, and the use of IR sensors, in particular, isn’t limited to the Kinect. Two years ago a soap dispenser manufacturer faced criticism after it was found the sensors in their product also had problems detecting people of color. Clearly, these are representations of a systemic problem within Tech, where engineers and other designers fail to test their designs and prototypes for different user experiences. When is the majority of your development staff made out of white folks, does this lead to a lack of diversity in user testing? 

Goodbye Kinect

Today Microsoft announced that the Xbox One version of the Kinect will no longer be manufactured. It is a long time coming for a piece of hardware that never really found its footing either in this console generation or the last. After the initial rush of “holy crap it tracks how I move!” Nothing particularly noteworthy came exclusively to the Kinect although a number of large RPGS like Skyrim & Mass Effect 3 did support voice commands when making important choices which is a bit of a cool inclusions, but probably not worth $150 USD. 

When the Xbox One’s initial vision of a constantly connected entertainment hub that would also replace your cable box imploded in on itself all hope that was left for the Kinect was lost. As soon as Microsoft unbundled the once absolutely required Kinect from the console’s retail package, the writing was on the wall.

I also want to clarify that when I say that accessibility concerns were “unaddressed”, I do not mean that Microsoft didn’t put up a exhuastive accessibility FAQ on their site because it exists right here. What I mean is that it feels like a lot of the stuff in this FAQ and issues that arose during the Kinect’s life could have been addressed during the initial product development rather than afterward. 

This is my eulogy to the full body motion control future that the Kinect never fully delivered on. What are your memories of the Microsoft Kinect? Let me know in the comments! 


LiquidSky’s New Free Tier Offers Cutting Edge Gaming Performance To All

Posted on January 6, 2017 by Rae Michelle Richards

Playing the latest AAA games like DOOM, Battlefield 1 and Tom Clancy’s The Division at high or ultra setting can be a daunting task even for some top-end rigs. Trying to play the latest games on PC at the best graphical fidelity while on a budget can be a literal give & take scenario – sacrificing some graphic options for others in order to maintain stability. Cloud gaming provider LiquidSky aims to make these sacrifices a thing of the past as they open up their platform to everyone as their product approached the end of beta at CES 2017.

LiquidSky allows players to offload the graphical processing and complex computation of today’s’ games to their cloud-based infrastructure – delivering the rendered image and accepting controller input from a number of different devices. In theory, this opens up the world of high-end gaming to a number of folks who do not possess the dedicated hardware necessary for complex games – Imagine being able to play The Witcher III anywhere from your Macbook Air to an iPad to right on an Android powered smartphone. This is exactly the kind of universal accessibility that LiquidSky promises to offer to not only potential subscribers but everyone when the service’s new range of tiers launches in February.

Other streaming services have offered similar tantalizing visions of a cloud-based gaming future, most notably Gaikai and Online, Both of those services either ended up folding or being acquired – OnLive underwent a number of iterations and product line-up changes before being dissolved in 2015 and Gaikai was acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2012 to develop the backbone of both the PlayStation Now and Remote Play services. LiquidSky says that their services will not repeat the latency issues of prior cloud providers. During their CES presentation LiquidSky quoted speeds of up to 1GB/s down and 100MB/s upload when using one of their Sky Computers.

Gaming PCs For Everyone

Potentially the most exciting announcement during their CES Keynote was the unveiling of an add supported free tier which will provide players with up to 3 hours of gameplay per day with 100GB of storage in exchange for 6 minutes of ads per hour. This works out to 10% of total playtime being used for advertisements in order to subsidize the cost of running the latest titles.

In terms of system specifications, LiquidSky comes in a number of configurations depending on a user’s preferences. The company is poised to offer three levels for the average consumer:

Free Plan
3 Hours of Gameplay Per Day
100GB of Online Storage
Add Supported

Pay As You Go Plan
100GB of Storage
No Advertisements
Priority Support

$9.99 Gamer Plan
1TB Storage
Roll-over of unused Pas As You Go credits
No Advertisements
Priority support

One might wonder what kind of system specifications are available under these plans. During their CES presentation, LiquidSky mentioned a number of different system configurations available to players. Depending on the type of performance, the price of the packages increases in the company’s Pas As You Go “Sky Credits”.

Here is a look at the different virtual computer configurations and their in-game targets:

Gamer Package
2GB Virtual Videocard
3 Virtual CPU Cores
8GB Virtual RAM
Will run most games @ 30 FPS at 1080p

Pro Package
4GB Virtual Videocard
6 VirtuaL CPU Cores
16GB Virtual RAM
Most games @ 60fps at 1080p
Elite Package
8GB Virtual Videocard
12 Virtual CPU Cores
32GB Virtual RAM

A World of Support

Unlike previous cloud gaming providers LiquidSky allows users to bring their existing gaming libraries with them to the services. This means that players won’t be paying full price for a game and then having that game tied specifically to one service. Initially supporting Battle.net, Steam, Windows Store and Origin users of Liquid Sky will be able to sign into their virtual machines using the launchers and chat platforms that they are already used too. A LiquidSky Sky Computer also comes with complete USB 2.0 pass-through meaning that existing gaming mice, specialized controllers, headsets and other peripherals will be supported right away.

Support isn’t just limited to the end-user, LiquidSky’s platform also offers a number of features that should entice developers to support players on LiquidSky’s network. While users can install applications & games through any of the approved launchers the platform also has built-in DRM protection baked in, preventing players from launching illicit versions of games. The company also makes mention that they have a program in place to allow developers to be paid from a user’s SkyCredits to ensure that developers are paid for their titles being paid, further information on how exactly this would work was not available as of press time.
Speaking about the accessibility of the service CEO of LiquidSky said:

“By delivering the power of an ultra gaming PC to nearly any device for free, with the convenience and simplicity of consoles, we’ve made gaming more accessible than ever. Gamers across the world can finally enjoy experiences previously unavailable to them at home or on-the-go through the power of LiquidSky.”

Final Thoughts

The promise of LiquidSky has me genuinely intrigued and I write those words not just as a games journalist or independent developer but someone who travels with an older Macbook Pro and who is cut off from her expansive library of games while away from home. I look forward to being able to try the free tier of LiquidSky’s service on my Macbook Pro, even on less demanding titles like Eve Online. Being able to check up on my daily market transactions or get in a quick round of Overwatch or DOOM while away from home is something I don’t currently have the luxury of and for work I’ve never seen the point in spending $2.000 CDN+ on a gaming laptop. I can also definitely see the appeal to gamers who aren’t as fortunate as I, with access to a high-end gaming rig at home. Being able to stream the latest titles from the cloud could introduce the world of PC gaming to an entire market of people for whom it has been out of reach.

We will have more on LiquidSky’s free tier of service when it becomes available.


AMD Announces New Processors & Motherboards To Exist Alongside Current Offerings

Posted on February 2, 2016 by Rae Michelle Richards

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) has announced new entries in its existing line of “A Series” APUs and “Athlon” brand processors that will co-exist alongside existing offerings. They have also announced that they will begin producing motherboards for their current AM3+/FMS2+ socket types that will feature more modern connectivity options such as USB 3.1 with the C-type connector.

In terms of new processor AMD will roll out the A10-7860K, the A6-7470K and the Athlon X4 845.  The A10 is currently AMD’s most powerful all-in-one APU providing Radeon graphics processing and a multi-core processor on one dye. The new A10 APU will run at a boosted speed of 4.0GHZ, had 8 GPU cores and has a reduced power footprint over previous versions – 65W down from 95W.

The Athlon X4 845 will run at 3.8GHZ boosted / 3.5 GHZ stock and also boasts a lower consumption compared to other Athlon X4 models – coming in at just 65W.

Both the A10-7860K and the Athlon X4 845 will be compatible with the new Wraith Cooler that AMD unveiled at CES this past month. The Wraith Cooler will replace the existing stock cooler on several of the company’s chipsets including the Athlon X4 870K, A8-7670 and other processors.

New motherboards will manufactured by ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI and ASRock.



Does AMD’s Crimson Driver Suite Really Increase Performance By 20%?

Posted on November 25, 2015 by Rae Michelle Richards

As we reported earlier this week AMD has released an elaborate overhaul of both it’s Windows 10 / 8 / 7 drivers for AMD Radeon Cards that support the Graphics Card Next (GCN) architecture. In the interest of performance, I’ve decided to test the performance of the last AMD Catalyst Software / Driver versus the newly released AMD Crimson. Check out my testing methodology, suite of games and results after the jump!Read More


Twitter To Layoff 4000 Staff

Posted on October 10, 2015 by Rae Michelle Richards

Reports have surfaced that Twitter is planning to layoff over 4,000 staff members and cancel a major expansion to their San Fransisco headquarters. The reason behind these cuts – spearheaded by the company’s new CEO – are an effort to curb rising operating costs and a lower stock price.

How will this affect users of the popular social media site and its plan to move beyond the 140 character limit is unclear at this time. Recently Twitter has talked about expanding the amount of characters – giving users more room to express themselves.

Do you use a lot of Twitter, readers? I’m a bit of a Social Media junkie with well over 12,000 tweets to my name. I’ve made some of my very best friends via Twitter and I’m sad to see a lot of people about to lose their jobs 🙁



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