A mess with Origin, EA and Xbox One accounts for kids

As a parent/gamer with gamer kids I know that it is important to exercise some parental control over what games they play and where they play them. It is, though, parental choice that should be the overriding voice in setting up any system. There are some games that are not suitable in any way and there are others that are suitable with some controls and changes for any age to play. Each needs to more subtlety than the simple PEGI rating.
Here is the problem I faced this weekend. I have an Xbox One, mine is the primary account. The new terms of xbox live mean that the kids can have live accounts as family members. So I set them up their accounts, using their emails and dates of birth etc. I then upped the access control to that of teens for many things as below that was to restrictive and did not allow them the sort of access they need to have, with parental oversight and guidance, to learn about games and safety online.
Having played Battlefield 4 online myself with the voice comms with other players turned off there was only really a fun game of soldiers. No swearing etc. Now I believe that my 7 year old son is more than capable of enjoying that game in that mode, especially if I am in the room with him. He knows that the single player campaign is off limits. We have played split screen call of duty with bots before too. This is very different from the machismo and potential adult content that the story driven sections provide. It is almost a completely different game, yet it all carries the same rating as it is a package.
So, on the xbox one I logged in as him and was forced by EA the games makers to create an “Origin” account. I did, but it recognised his date of birth from the Xbox One profile and suggest a kids account, with my email as parent. I was happy with that as he didn’t need to be buying things on Origin or anything.
I then sparked up battlefield 4 with the aim of letting him have a go on the completely free of other people test range. Battlefield just hung. So I started up FIFA 14 and it decided that it would use the same Origin account, all very joined up. However it refused to connect too.
I followed the link to EA’s where I figured I would be able to manage the account somehow and check it was all ok. Unfortunately when you create a childs account it uses just an origin ID not an email. The people who build the web maintenance application have only provided a login based on email, NOT email or ID. So online there was no way to administer the account.
Origin login
I signed into my Origin account (using my email which is the same as predlet 2.0 parent email) and I was expecting to see “manage linked accounts” or some such arrangement. I could not see it at all.
So I now had his Origin account bound to his xbox ID with no way to disconnect the two and start again, nor to give approval to use the pieces of software I own that I would like him to use on the Xbox One?
I attempted a live chat with EA help, which first of all did not work on the Mac, lots of web page errors. Luckily I have windows too so I used that. I quickly downloaded the Origin client for windows and found by accident that it allows you to login with ID or email. So I was able to get into predlet 2.0 account and prove to myself it existed, but… still no options to change anything. Nor where there any different options in the PC client on my full adult account.

So I had a live chat conversation that went as follows.
The upshot was that there was constant confusion of xbox one and 360, I had to do a lot of verification that I was me, the account was linked to my account by the final advice was to download a massive EA demo on his account to prove something or other? I was not clear about that. Whilst going to the xbox one and starting it all up I was apparently away too long and the case was closed as Resolved !!! Which it is not!

I even tried logging into the xbox live account for him and changed his birthdate to see if it would trigger origin to “upgrade” him. That of course did not work and I should not have to do that.

Thanks for contacting EA Customer Experience, my name is Sumit. How may I assist you today?
How may I assist you?
hi. I created an origin account for my son on xbox one with my ********** as the parent email. I do not seem to be able to manage his account or see it anywhere. I want it to be an full account for him please
also I cannot login on the web as it is only an id not an email address, thought can log into it on the pc client with just an ID but I cannot do anything to it from my account
his id was ezoomspeedy
Let me have alook to the accounts
Please allow me some time
I want to allow him to play xbox live games such as fifa 14 on xbox one thnx
To proceed further with your request I would be required to verify the accounts
Lets go through the verification process so that i can assist you with your concern
Do you have access to **********?
I have sent you a verification email on your email ID ,Kindly tell me the code in that email.
Thank you
I can see a security question associated to your account ,Could you provide me the answer to that?
What is *************
Thank you for your co-operation,You have successfully verified one of your account
I have checked to the account linked to the id *******
I found that its linked to your email that is *********.com
though it is not showing up on my account as linked
But since the Date of birth criteria did not matched as to our policy its been considered underage account and no changes can be made to the account
However You can transfer the game from that account to your account and go for persona transfer
In persona transfer the ID xxxxxxxxx will be transferred to your account
no I already have an account
Which account ?
I have my own full account ***********.com
Can we just remove ********* altogether?
Yes that is there
So you want to use ********* on your account that is *******.com
Is it?
I want to leave **********.com my account alone
I want you to remove ******** or upgrade it to an adult account please
or tell me how to unlink his ********* account from his xbox one account
Let me look into ********** account in depth now
Kindly hold on so that i come up with relevant information for you
Thank you for waiting
Lets proceed with verifying your sons account
So that I can carry your request forward
May I know the country you are from ?
Are we connected ?
It seems that you are away from the Keyboard, please let me know if we are still connected.
hi sorry had a phone call
I am in the UK
NO problem
thank you
I would like to know the origin Id linked to your account?
******* is my ID and xbox handle
We are in concern with your sons account not yours
I would like to know the origin Id linked to **********?
ah yes. he is actually ******** on xbox
Thank you
Tell me which is the game linked to ******** account ?
we initially did battlefield 4 as I was happy that with voip off he was able to play the multiplayer game, but that failed to even load, so we tried fifa 14. both failed to connect
Kindly follow the steps to verify the account
First visit and sign in with your Xbox Live email and password.
Then click My Account in the top right corner of the page.
After that click Manage Devices.
Then,click See 360 purchase history.
lastly search for the Online Pass and the date associated with it.
Let me know that date after you do so
Let me know in case of any issue
It seems that you are away from the Keyboard, please let me know if we are still connected.
looking for the information
Did you see Online Pass?
no as this is xbox one not 360
So you did not found the online pass
Can you tell me the registration date of the game on the Xbox one if you know
with his account it was yesterday or day before
Can you download any EA Demo from Xbox market place
Let em know after you download any EA Demo game from your Xbox so that I can cross check and complete your account verification
Is it in progress?
Your response is awaited ?
Are we connected?
Since I’ve not heard from you, I need to end the chat session. Please feel free to contact us again. We’ll be glad to help you.
The chat session has ended. Please contact us again if you need further help.
You are not currently in a chat session.

It seems the battle to own us all as customers, provide these other centralised login and verification systems are just not designed or built properly. Once again I offer my expertise to the gaming industry in how to build web and integrated applications, because at the moment, to use corporate board room speak “it aint working folks!”
When all the apparent protections start not work with one another because each party things they know best it seems the system fails. This links to my previous bemoaning of the DRM and restrictions in streaming TV where I suggested that they want to DRM our eyeballs
I am trying to be a responsible parent, use the service available, not lie about dates of birth etc. In this case it would have been easier to create all adult accounts on the Xbox One, no one would be any the wiser. I could then apply my own physical control and chaperoning to the experience.
I am not sure where the “fault” lies but it would seem Microsoft and EA need to have a chat as I am sure I am not the only one facing this problem! Next post will be a bit more upbeat and positive I hope ๐Ÿ™‚

****Update 21/1/14
I tried two routes to try and resolve this with EA.
The first was to take the advice of the parental notification email

Your child will have access to his or her underage account until he or she turns 13 years of age. When he or she turns 13, he or she will be eligible to register for a full Origin account.

If for any reason youโ€™re concerned that this information is not correct or complete, or should you wish to have your child’s information deleted from our records, please refer to to to contact your Privacy Policy Administrator who will be happy to review, update or remove your child’s information as appropriate. Please note, however, that deletion of this information may result in the inability to access Origin and EA products associated with your childโ€™s account.

After all I am asking for it to be updated or deleted?
The response to my email asking for it to be upgraded or failing that deleted and freeing it from the xbox one account was not very helpful. i.e. contact the live chat again ?


Thank you for contacting Electronic Arts Privacy Policy Administration.

Please let me share that underage account issue requires account ownership verification and all issues that require account verification are handled by the Phone Support or Chat support Team to maintain the confidentiality and security of your accounts. The Phone Support Team can be contacted on <0203 0141818> from 9AM-9PM GMT, Monday through Saturday. You may also use a VOIP service which should allow you to make the call. An example is Skype or Googletalk, which is comparatively quite cheap, if not free.

You can also contact us by logging into and selecting the โ€œLive Chatโ€ option to connect to an agent via chat. To do this:

1. Log into using your Origin/EA email or Pogo screen-name and your Password.
2. Before entering a Product for โ€œStep 1: What type of issue are you having?โ€ click on the โ€œDo You Have an Existing Case?โ€ link on the right.
3. In the โ€œSelect a Caseโ€ drop down, select your case number and issue from the available options.
4. Under โ€œStep 2: Choose a Contact Methodโ€, select Live Chat.

Thank you,
Vikas R

Bear in mind this is a response to an email telling me as a parent if I have concerns to just email the privacy ID. I have already tried to navigate the live help and it was not very helpful and very time consuming.

On twitter I also pinged @AskEASupport who were very quick off the mark and very responsive. They sent me a link to this page which was for Battlefield 3 on the the 360.

It stated

If you’re receiving an error restricting you from access to areas–or the entirety–of your any of your games due to any sort of “Underage Error,” this is caused by a problem with the Date of Birth on your Xbox LIVE account, which was entered during registration.

Unfortunately, our team is unable to assist with errors of this nature as they originate with your Xbox and its configuration, rather than the game being played.

For more information on Xbox LIVE online safety and privacy settings and child account settings (set by Xbox for users under the age of 18), please go here.

Please know that changing the parental permissions and other settings does not guarantee access to the servers, as Xbox may still deny access based on the age on the account. For further assistance or information regarding this error, please contact Xbox Support.

So it is saying its the xbox’s fault for sending the correct date of birth and that they can’t do much about that? The links on the page to xbox support also were no longer valid.

When I queried that it was suggest it talk to …. yes live chat again !

So lets just break this down a little.
There is an underage origin account with my as the parent. I cannot get that removed or changed without verifying who I am again, and verifying who the child is. So how exactly would I resolve that is someone used my email in error? The data flow for this is not really making much sense.

Protection is important. Very important. However the wrong protection is inefficient and potentially dangerous. You don’t go swimming in a suit of armour do you ๐Ÿ™‚

**** Update 23/1/14

With a bit of extra clicking around randomly I managed to get onto his web page version.
Using the Origin PC client logged in just using ID not email (as it allows both) I logged in.
When I hit help on that app it then opened up the webpage but this time passed the login credentials.
It has an email address to set to ***************
I was not able to hit save and change the email, but I was able to set an extra security question on the account?

I manged to find a button to unlink the account from the xbox one. I was hoping that then sparking the Xbox One up and an EA game it would realize the account was not the one I wanted to use.
However instead it tried to login and then told me I could use it until I hit re-link. No option to change the id at all.

This is not a very good system!

Grow me a virtual universe – No Man’s Sky

I was excited to see the new project from Hello Games get a lot of blog and press time the last few weeks. If you don’t know who Hello Games are they are an indie development team who brought us the delightful cartoon fun of Joe Danger. A guy on a motorbike leaping and ducking around a number of tricky levels. It is hard not to bump into Joe Danger on every platform now, but I remember their stories of toil and trouble at Develop where they had houses mortgaged to the hilt in a last ditch attempt to get the game out. Whilst they have capitalised on, and followed up Joe Danger they have also been hard at work on an incredibly diverse project.
Joe Danger is a cute, side scrolling reaction game. It has a certain something, using an existing format but making it more fun, rather like Angry Birds has done.
The new work though is stunning in its claims. They have built a sandbox universe, not a sandbox city, desert or planet. No, a huge space of planets with detail on those planets. The claim is that everything is procedurally generated. Just to clarify, that means that rather than sitting drawing everything by hand, it is code that generates the places in a defined style. Behaviours of creatures, races, vehicles etc can also be put into this. Way back elite had a procedurally generated universe of names of planets. However you did not visit those planets and swim in their oceans. It was also not a shared space with others online. Terrain and in particular trees, or anything of a more ractal nature are often procedurally generated, like the famous Barnsley fern. This ramps that up a whole level. Of course in fractal maths complexity is the same at every level of abstraction so the detail of a leaf is the same as the pattern of the universe. It, rather like probability maths, tends to go against our common sense approach to the world. However when you ponder it a bit longer it does start to make sense.
With this sort of background information the video below gets even more interesting. Procedural generation at an atomic level. A world that your presence in influences its development. A place that is not technically infinite, but so big it would take more than a lifetime to explore. That is all very exciting stuff!

There is a good article with some more detail and a proper interview, rather than my speculation based on how I would do this over at destructiod
I am looking forward to this one though. Well done Hello Games welcome to the metaverse industry ๐Ÿ™‚

CKD supercars

Further to my post on digital art I spent a good few hours last night on a version of the Choi Kwang Do logo so that I could plaster that on my custom paint work cars on Xbox One Forza 5. This is quite an undertaking as this is not pixel art. Various coloured stickers have to be manipulated to form the design. The font is not quite right but as this is often fast moving it is the general impression that is important.
****UPDATE 13/12/13 added video
Here is a mini video clip of all the various pieces of sticker used in this

What I really need to prove is that the Drivatar (that is my driving habits in an AI car) is actually using my design. This seems to be the case on the local machine for certain as my Drivatar and car paint work was appearing in other people races on the console. So if you see a CKD logo on a Subaru, Mini, LaFerrari or Viper let me know ๐Ÿ™‚ It could be this is the next frontier of in game advertising. Rather like a tweet or retweet can become. If it is no longer just restricted to delivering your designs to people when you race on multiplayer.
It is approaching 5 years since I first put the Feeding Edge logo out for a test run on a Tshirt and a few other places ๐Ÿ™‚ Here are some of the older ones
There is so much scope over and above banner ads and in game billboards to get a message across. Sounds like another use case I need to isolate and write up?

Art and technology

You may have noticed that whilst I am primarily a techie I do like to dabble and explore the potential of art with technology. I am well aware though, and often have to explain, that I am not a graphic designer or an artist. My creative toolkit is code and components. It may even be considered unusual combination of applications in a sort of collage of code. Nearly everything needs some sort of interface though. I am constantly frustrated that my vision of what something should look like is often not quite what I manage to achieve with the tools I have to hand. However, I have often thought that with a limited number of pixels on a screen and a pallete of colours with enough time and effort it must be possible to make something close to perfect as an image. Of course the key there is time. It is really just a rewrite of the concept of an infinite number of monkeys and typewriters generating the complete works of Shakespeare!.
I was struck, this week, by an ipad painted image of Morgan Freeman that was doing the rounds of social media. I had only seen the finished image. Whilst everything was saying it was a painting it seemed just too good. So I was amazed but skeptical. Then last night I the video below showing the stages of the painting captured as it happened. This is truly stunning.

It is the work of Kyle Lambert and looking at his portfolio it is hard not to feel that he has reached a level that very few other people ever will. What is great though is a link to a lot of tutorials he has created and various articles so he is not keeping this talent to himself.
I would have though a picture of the quality of Morgan Freeman would have put me off even ever trying but instead I am more inspired to learn more about artistic techniques now and try and level up my coder art just a little bit.
Even tools like Forza 5 let us express ourselves artistically through the media of the automobile. The tools (as in previous Forza’s are a decal based approach, similar to Second Life prims that you have to shape and skew, layering up to create the look you want.
I have now upgraded my feeding edge logo and predator face a bit more and my flagship car (which was the Ferrari 430 is now the LaFerrari The predator mask has always worked well (IMHO) on cars with front scoops like the subaru Impreza.

However the LaFerrari has a brilliant cut out front that is even better. The back of the car has hardly any surface so I popped on a very small Feeding Edge logo under the Ferrari logo.
Ok so it’s not a 200 hour Morgan Freeman ipad painting but its a start ๐Ÿ™‚

Early adopting an Xbox one

Friday 22nd November was the release day to Xbox One. As an early adopter and Xbox fan (though I own all the consoles) I had my preorder with Amazon in since May. I sometimes think I should try the midnight queueing in the cold at a store for the ultimate release day excitement but instead I opt for the pain of waiting all day for a delivery to arrive. To be fair to Amazon it did arrive on day one but just at 4pm.
I was joking around on the day that it was a race between @elemming flying back from a work trip to Dubai and the Xbox One arriving. @ids pointed out on twitter that this sounded like a Top Gear race ๐Ÿ™‚
The Xbox actually arrived 20 minutes before @elemming due to some flight delays out of Dubai due to rain! However she had the last laugh in the race as having unboxed and plugged in the HDMI and audio cables and got it all going I was in the mandatory day one patch downloading sequence.
#xboxone won the Dubai race with @elemming by 20 mins or so
though @elemming may have lost the race with the delivery but she beat the mandatory software patch #xboxone
I have to say that this day one experience, or any day for that matter was incredibly annoying. It is of course part of the point of early adoption that you end up waiting on progress bars. It, like waiting for a delivery is a good exercise in patience!
My internet is slow, BT still have yet to provide Inifnity to me despite being in an enabled area. I had to leave work uploads to a code management system for 9 hours. So seeing a brand new mating sat there demanding that it does a mandatory 600Mb patch in order to do anything with it was strange. It did work for me though, it took a while but then I was in the new dashboard. It plays a nice video to welcome you, and I wonder if that video was part of the 600Mb “patch” if it was then I could have done without it!
The new Kinect 2.0 worked really well straight away as I signed in and picked up my Xbox Live account. I took the Day One giant QR code for Fifa 14 and the camera picked it up straight away and set about the digital download of the game. This of course was going to take ages too as it was 10gb. Oh well, I thought I would leave it in the background anyway. I had the discs of preordered games. I had Call of Duty Ghosts, Ryse Son of Rome and Forza 5.
So excitedly, now I had a brand new patched console I put the disc in the drive. There it was Forza 5. It then started to install, no more playing from the disc you have to fill up your hard drive. However I was met with a message that this also needed a mandatory patch. It then told me the “patch” was 6GB! With my 4Mbps line that would be about 4 hours. So I did not expect to be able to play anything on day one as it was already late in the day. It seemed each game required a huge update for Day one. I tried COD and Ryse and got the same message.
I left it for an hour or so and cooked tea put the predlets to bed etc.
I checked google a few people suggest a fix. Turn off your internet!
So I did! I cancelled the Forza installation and started again. The game then installed from the disc and started up. I was greater with the awesome introduction/ training of getting to drive the Maclaren P1 around a street circuit. Feeling the new features of the controller with independent rumbling on the triggers. This meant the wheel spin of acceleration or sliding feels different to the ABS judder of the brakes. I did a few races and was pleased with the depth of integration of Top Gear, especially the 3rd race around the Top Gear style “simulation” of London. I won’t spoil it for you but if you like Top Gear/Clarkson/cars its brilliant.
I was eager to try each game now I was disconnected. Each disc needed to do its hard disk install. Those install times seemed rather slow but they worked.
Ryse, as a new game, was instantly visually impressive. It is a hack and slash game with a relatively simple dynamic. It is a bit like a 3d version of Streets of Rage or Double Dragon. That is a good thing BTW! It is rated 18 for its violence, unlike Call Of Duty that is now a 16 though for swearing and violence. You engage as a roman centurion in sword and shield combat. Most of that occurs in real time. It relies on timing blocks, shield breaks and slashing with the sword. Eventually you wear down the opponent and skull appears over their head. Then it is time for an execution move. Here, when you trigger it, everything goes into close up slow motion, lots of cinematic camera moves. The moves become QTE (Quick time events). A subtle colour flash around the victim indicates yellow or blue buttons need to be pressed. Each time you do it speeds up and performs a suitable move. Before long you are seeing limbs loped off, swords driving up and through and out of victim and various stomps onto a downed opponent. It sounds horrible, but it has a sort of boom, boom, bash, take that bad guy feel to it. The viciousness of this is very much in the style of 300 or Gladiator. I am not sure it needs to be 18, though I have yet to complete the game. It is great fun though.
Finally I popped COD Ghosts in and was greeted with the usually things we see inn the franchise. I think knowing that the exact same game was out on the previous generation I was not instantly blown away. However I have played all the COD single player stories all the way through since the original one. I know it will drag me in.
After getting to play a bit on Day One despite Microsoft’s best efforts to stop me due to the patch sizes and mandatory nature of those (which was clearly not the case as the games ran fine!) I thought I would reconnect to the net. I sparked it up and popped Forza 5 back in. I was expecting to trigger a background download, but instead it went back to saying I couldn’t play until 6Gb was downloaded. This was surprising. The previous Xbox 360 did do patches but they were always really small, and quick, 5 minutes max. It was the Sony PS3 that annoyed me with its mandatory patches. You wanted to have a quick go on something and it would stop you and demand you patch, for hours. I double checked my Xbox packaging that Sony had not bought out the Xbox and applied this draconian patching to Xbox!
I gave up and started all the downloads. It only does one at a time, it queues the others. Obviously the pipe into the house is way to slow (Come on BT fix it please!!!!) but it seems to have a go downloading one thing, then swaps to another in a queue. I am not sure if there is a setting (who can tell in the confusathon of the interface) to ask it to finish one thing first but the end result after a nights sleep was this.
Still updating after all night d/l ! Microsoft gone all sony on me #xboxone
That’s right, only Ryse Son of Rome had “completed” Fifa was at 91% but was apparently able to start. Forza 93%, COD 97% and the demo of Kinect Sports only 28%. I checked the Xbox network settings and despite a 4Mb line it was claiming 1Mbps. I guess the servers were somewhat slammed by 1 million xbox’s trying to patch !
I clicked on Fifa 14, as it was ready to start. It started a bout then said it need to patch some more, and dropped back to 90% !
I was pleased then to just shout at the Kinect “Xbox Turn Off” (and was prompted with a yes/no) so I said yes definitely ! The downloads still happen when the box is off so I thought I would let the poor thing concentrate!
So I am not overly impressed with all this extra delay, which of course is compounded by horrendous internet speeds. However, I do not understand how, after all the online/offline fuss and reversals of policy Microsoft managed to pick the worst of both worlds?
Anyway, back to Forza 5. It is all working really well now (I am just dreading any more game stopping patches).
Forza 5 has utterly stunning models of the cars with lots of information, voice overs from all the top gear team and much more. Back once again is the really enjoyable car painting. Each Forza generation I end up spending a bit of time adding to the cars. 3 to 4 allowed an import of the vinyl sets, but this gen was a start from scratch moment.
Forza 5 #xboxone feeding edge livery scooby
I have once again created a predator style face, similar but different to previous versions. It still works really well on the front air scoop of the scooby. I have my Feeding Edge company logo, g33k script work too.
One of the interesting things the Xbox One provides is recording of game clips. This used to be only in a particular game. However now any game will record clips. If something interesting happens you can bark out to the Kinect “Xbox record that!” and it saves the last 30 seconds of gameplay. You can set up a recorder for longer and you can still use Forza’s replay to go back and find the moment. Once you have the moment recorded you can go to upload studio (another app you have to download!) and do some basic editing. This includes being able to record a voice over or picture in picture combination. It is going to be interesting to see what people do with this. I had a scary near miss at Spa (as I have full damage turned on in Forza 5 so this would have been race ending if I had hit the wall). I also added the “night vision” intro template in a predator style reference.

All the cars in Forza 5 are supposed to not just be in game AI but are Drivatar’s. When you play it collects data on how you drive, you style and pace. It then sends “you” to other games when you are not racing online. It seems a lot of early Drivatars want to brake going up the hill at Eau Rouge. It has a blind crest at the top and the compression on the slight right hand leading up to it unsettles the car, but don’t brake so much ๐Ÿ™‚
I think also the Drivatar’s may take their paint jobs with them too. There is an option to turn off accepting paint work. That means, in theory, when I am not driving my Feeding Edge company car with my epred and company logo is busy turning up in peoples living rooms around the world. Up until now that had only been if I took my car into an online race. I expect some more advercar/Drivatars will start appearing very soon?
There is a great video here of a real car on the real track hitting that corner and nearly losing it about 40 seconds in. I think it shows how far simulation are getting, and yet still being playable.

Finally Fifa 14. we are not really a football family, though Predlet 2.0 is growing to love footy. Fifa 14 (and I have had a lot of other Fifa games) is really slick. The players seem to be a koch more complicated physical model as running into one another rather than just slide tackles can cause all sorts of fouls. We have had some great games as 2.0 has got the hang of the mechanic of Fifa, mostly from playing the iPad version. Predlet 1.0 is also getting to grips with it. It’s a great game, and was free with the Xbox One Day one edition. That was a good call, it is just a pity they didn’t pre-install so that you could just plug and play in seconds.
There is a lot more to experience and figure out. Do I bother plugging the Sky box on the HDMI pass thru? So the Xbox in a pre Sky filter? I am not sure that gives me much? Especially as each box in my set up is an optical output to the 5.1 speaker amp. There is a “beta” setting on the Xbox to enable 3d surround to be passed through, but that means its going to have come down HDMI get processed by the Xbox and pumped out. It sounds a lot of messing around, though it will removed the channel selection on the AV receiver. However it also means the Xbox has to be turned on all the time the TV is? Oh well I beset go and experiment. Feeding Edge – Taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to ๐Ÿ™‚

Dear BBC I am a programmer and a presenter let me help

I was very pleased to see that the Tony Hall the new DG of the BBC wants to get the nation coding. He plans to “bring coding into every home, business and school in the UK”.
So I thought, as I am lacking a full time agent in the TV world, I should throw my virtual hat in the ring to offer to work on the new programme that the BBC has planned for 2015.
It is not the first time I have offered assistance to such an endeavour, but this is the most public affirmation of it happening.
So why me? Well I am a programmer and have been since the early days of the shows on TV back in zx81/c64/bbc model a/b/spectrum days. I was initially self taught through listings in magazine and general tinkering before studying to a degree level, and then pursuing what has been a very varied career generally involving new tech each step of the way.
I was lucky enough to get a TV break with Archie Productions and the ITV/CITV show The Cool Stuff Collective, well documented on this blog ๐Ÿ˜‰ In that I had an emerging technology strand of my own. The producers and I worked together to craft the slot, but most of it was driven by things that I spend my time sharing with C-level executives and at conferences about the changing world and maker culture.
It was interesting getting the open source arduino, along with some code on screen in just a few short minutes. It became obvious there was a lot more that could be done to help people learn to code. Of course these days we have many more ways to interact too. We do not have to just stick to watching what is on screen, that acts as a hub for the experience. Code, graphics, art work, running programs etc can all be shared across the web and social media. User participation, live and in synch with on-demand can be very influential. Collections of ever improving assets can be made available then examples of how to combine them put on TV.
We can do so much with open source virtual worlds, powerful accessible tools like Unity 3d and of course platforms like the Raspberry Pi. We can also have a chance to explore the creativity and technical challenges of user generated content in games. Next gen equipment like the Oculus rift. Extensions to the physical world with 3d printers, augmented reality and increasingly blended reality offer scope for innovation and invention by the next generation of technical experts and artists. Coding and programming is just the start.
I would love to help, it is such an important a worthy cause for public engagement.
Here is a showreel of some of the work.

There is more here and some writing and conference lists here
So if you happen to read this and need some help on the show get in touch. If you are an agent and want to help get this sort of thing going then get in touch. If you know someone who knows someone then pass this on.
This blog is my CV, though I do have a traditional few pages if anyone needs it.
Feeding Edge, taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to.
Yours Ian Hughes/epredator

Virtual World Jet Lag – Los Santos style

Last week Grand Theft Auto V was released. That of course is something everyone probably spotted. In amongst all the hype, the outrage and the $1 billion dollars in takings there are some interesting nuggets that may have been missed.
GTA V is a giant virtual world simulator. Whilst GTA V Online is not yet live it is a single player experience, it does have a very large and detailed environment. The attention to detail is almost so good as to not be impressive as you tend not to notice it. The environment is very big from a sprawling city, to a desert and a mountain range and lakes that you can explore on foot or on a variety of vehicles on land sea and water ( or even in a cable car or a blimp) act as a backdrop to a set of mission and story arcs. The place is bustling with activity, people and cars everywhere. It is a pity that it could not just have a mode or version of this world that removed a the swearing and the violence just a little. The reason I say this is that just exploring, being in the place would make a great experience in its own right. Heading off to the lake to watch the sunset, flying and landing planes on the runway. The games or darts, golf and tennis that are just sitting in there as a side task all make it a fine example of game technology and design in action. As it is it obviously deserves its 18 rating which in context all makes sense. You can’t though drive down the road or listen to the radio or even play the iFruit Iphone companion app without a torrent of abusive language.
Chop on Ifruit the companion app.
Me as a gamer and an adult I find this all more than acceptable, however as a parent I would be worried because I know many people will end up letting much younger kids play this without fully appreciating whats going on. Tone and intent is everything in a narrative and the cartoon violence of stealing cars and having shootouts is pretty normal and I would say acceptable. However there are part of GTA V that enter other territory. A scene with the psychotic Trevor extracting information which has to be played through made me wince. I am not sure what is coming next as that is only 1/4 way through.
There is something that felt different though. In GTA V you swap between 3 characters. This stops them seeming like they are your character and turns them more into toys or puppets that you are playing with. The 3rd person view helps re-enforce that as you can clearly see which character you are. Character swaps happen in other games such as Call of Duty but in 1st person if becomes less obvious you are not you. So playing GTA V, customising the characters with hair, clothes and tattoos becomes more of a dress up doll experience than a “hey look at me” experience. I am not sure if this makes it easier to cope with the excesses of some of the characters in that you are almost in god mode rather than sinking into the character. That may just be me but it is definitely a different feel. It is more like looking into an aquarium than being in a swimming pool.
That said is is a very absorbing experience, exploring or following the story. It has always been fun to just drive around in a car listening to the really good soundtracks playing via the various radio stations. The news reports that interrupt the music also match nicely with the activities you have been up to. Again so we done you almost don’t notice.
The in game web experience is also very neat. Facebook and twitter are copied and mocked but if you bother reading the details you will see, just as with the radio news there is a consistency with the in game social media interactions. There is also a working stock market, investing in the right things before a mission that alters the share price is a clever way to get cash.
GTA V has also reached out to the actual web, lifehacker (the Facebook clone) exists for real. Before the game was released could stalk (i.e. like) various business pages such as the barber shops. That then linked in game to a discount or a freebie.
I already mentioned the iFruit app but it too affects the game. If you train up the tamagotchi style dog Chop his action will alter in the game. If you buy custom car parts they will appear. This feature obviously had some trouble at launch, it was not scaled to cope with the day 1 blitz but it seems to be fine now.
I entitled this virtual world jet lag because I have certainly experienced a form of jet lag, or tiredness as you might like to call it. Late nights playing and exploring Los Santos have been needed in order to understand the game and it’s development. However it does feel like I have visited somewhere, in the same way exploring Second Life and alike does. The experience and memories are rich enough to make it feel like a journey has happened. It is large free roaming worlds that have this impact more so than the frenetic close in shooters. They leave you dazed and adrenalin pumped, you remember the small experiences, taking a flag or an unusual frag. GTA V and alike provide so many memorable inputs and ones that are linked to discovery and learning that they are really a place. It is something everyone should try and experience to feel the difference between this and other styles of game. I hope this Los Santos model world can be used for some other experiences too though for those who are not gamers but who might change their minds about the art of game creation and the technical expertise of its creators.

Disney Infinity – Money Grabbing but Metaversal

Disney Infinity arrived on the scene recently. It is Disney’s response to the clever development of Skylanders. Where physical toys are used to select what happens on screen. If you thought Skylanders may have had a slightly cynical collect ’em all, spend ’em up side to it then Disney have ramped that up to a new level.
Skylanders you typically get a set of characters that you can experience the main game with, without buying new characters. Getting a new character for ยฃ8 or so gets you some new powers, effectively new lives for a game session and possibly access to a bonus level.
Disney have chosen a more complicated (and expensive route it seems). The starter set gets you 3 characters. Each effectively from a different set of game levels. So you get Cap’n Jack Sparrow, Mr Incredible and Sully from Pirates of the Caribbean, The Incredibles and Monsters University/Inc.
You get a “level” select piece (they call them play set pieces) that when placed on the USB powered platform selects the available levels. This happens to be multiple one for the 3 games but others are individual tokens.
There is also another token type that unlocks a little bit of content. These are the sort of pocket money prices elements, like buying a lego minifig. Ours unlocked a background from Wreck It Ralph.
It is the collection on the right of the picture. A “starter” set.
Disney infinity
So we plugged it is sparked it up and I wanted to play with the predlets. After all the games are multiplayer and there is space for two characters. The problem is that as you enter the Pirates of the Caribbean world you are only allowed to take a pirates character with you. So the base starter set does not let you play the actual game levels as multiplayer. So you have bought 3 single player games.
What you need to do is shell out another ยฃ25 on top of the ยฃ50 already spent to by the “sidekicks” a character from each series. (On the left in the photo above).
Other playsets feature 2 characters from the same experience, Cars, Lone Ranger etc. So then you are buying a multiplayer game.
You can buy individual characters for each game type, and there are sets to collect, and buy extra characters for the same games. You are enticed to do this in game as it points out you don’t have a character by showing a video.
Not allowing Sully to wander around The Pirates levels or have Cap’n Jack in the big city with the incredibles sounds like an attempt at not having some sort of brand pollution. Or some odd technical reason. However that makes no sense when you get to the more interesting part of Infinity which is the toybox.
This is a freeform multiplayer environment where any character and anything from anywhere can be added and created.
It is a metaverse, a shared world with all the user creation tools we expect in virtual worlds. It is a great leap forward too bringing a degree of quality to the experience of building we don’t often see.
I had a flashback to my first Second Life island when it was just flat land and the possibilities were endless about what could be done there and how it would evolve (and change the path of my life as it turned out). Big stuff!
Deja vu flat piece of land and an avatar # inifinity
Cap’n Jack just stood in a field.
Then a quick menu selection and a little bit of racetrack (in the background) and a physical active beach ball with live shadows and all the trimmings was in world with me.
Deja vu flat piece of land and an avatar # inifinity
Then we found that any character could join so Sully was soon in world and before you knew it we had some funny little games going. Predlet 1.0 made an obstacle course, 2.0 made a floating race track. We found ourselves setting little challenges with the basic things we had.
The trouble with this is that there are thousands of pieces to play with, but…. they are all locked away. As you “play” or explore you complete challenges and achievements. Those unlock stars, as does levelling up or playing the main stories. Those stars let you get a random spin in a selection of the devices and objects available. It is painfully slow grind to unlock things. Not being able to pick and it being a random selection gets very annoying. We wanted more vehicles, we got a buggy eventually but lots of things we didn’t want first.
For a creation tool it is missing the ability to just get on with it. For experienced virtual world builder like the predlets, used to Minecraft creative mode it is a ridiculous application of grind. Worthy of Nintendo’s grind tests.
I hope they patch this and let us just select anything from the palette. Mind you they will probably make us buy some more physical product. That after all is what the extra collectible power disc (the one that unlocked a wreck it Ralph backdrop) does. However these are sold in closed packaging so you don’t know what you are getting to end up with “rare” items and swaps for the playground. Something I have never really liked in kids toys.
So Disney have made something really clever, interesting and wonderful and then locked it behind a big paywall or a giant in game fruit machine. All things that can be rectified to make this brilliant!
I should say too that The figures look like they are good quality but Jack Sparrow must have had too much Rum as he broke off his stand. Not sure how much force cause that to happen but characters on stands with just two small bits of plastic feet might make these not as playable with for kids as Skylanders.
Disney infinity
Brand pollution isn’t so bad it it? (Just updated with this vine ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Oculus Rift arrived

Yesterday was a very interesting day all around. The main event for me was the arrival of my Oculus Rift development kit. This is a Virtual Reality (VR) headset. We have had these before but not ones that are this cheap (relatively) and that just plug into any machine and work with Unity3d !
It came in a cool case too. Some nice big clicking catches on it like something James Bond would get from Q.
Oculus rift arrived
I had to dash out and get a mini display port to DVI adapter as I had that frustrating moment we have all had at some time when you realize a tiny piece of cable is missing. I only had a VGA adapter that I usually need to projectors at presentation. Handily there is a Mac store in Basingstoke and also Apple kit stocked in the nearby PC world so I had that covered in minutes.
I ran the Tuscany demo straight away. This is a small, but lovely rendered, building in the Italian countryside and on the coast. I was, despite having experienced this sort of stuff alot before suitably amazed and excited by it.
I did not hog it though and got each member of 3 generations in the house to have a go.
I was really happy that the predlets got how cool it was too. There was a suitable amount of bemusement and wonder.

The unit is two screens one for each eye and the ability to track head movements. So these head movements can then inform a game or application that you have moved you view.
The unity 3d integration is the library that is able to talk to the rift, but it is also a couple of prefabs (bundles of reusable code) that lets you change the normal single view camera to one that generates 2 views from slightly different angles to then feed to the rift screens (one per eye). Elegant and simple. It also has a controller prefab that takes the input from the headset movement and feeds that into the unity environment.
So it is not going to take to much to test some of the applications I have and make them rift enabled, though they have to be native application publications not web ones I am assuming.
It was not the only tech of the day though as in the morning Predlet 1.0 went and experienced indoor skydiving at Airkix.

Something I remember well from the TV show ๐Ÿ™‚
She had a blast doing that.
I had a go on the iracing sim rig there had there too, this is basically a high end pc with a hydraulic chair and some force feedback steering.
We have yet to try the brush boarding or the skiplex slope (a skiing conveyer belt).
Just to juxta pose those though predlet 1.0 finished her Revell glue together and paint kit of the Titanic. Don’t worry though, it was all perfectly normal as predlet 2.0 was completing levels on Lego Indiana Jones 2 on the Xbox ๐Ÿ™‚

InfoQ – virtual worlds interview – me again :)

As I was on the roster as the rather excellent Goto conference I was asked by Ben Linders a few questions on virtual environments and where they fit in the world of software engineering. This turned into a slightly longer interview and has just gone live. It is always interesting to frame the answers about virtual worlds into a slightly different context or industry but of course when it comes to the software industry, the fact that this is software anyway has a nice meta element to the conversation.
The article is live here.
Along with my super g33k bio picture ๐Ÿ™‚
It is also cool that you can now just search “epredator” on infoq and tadah! ๐Ÿ™‚
I guess this may seem more of me going on about the same things, but there is a reason for that. These technologies make a huge difference to a lot of use cases. I am getting more calls and questions again about how these may work (post bubble). Ignoring the possibilities for anyone or any industry could be costly this time around. I just want to help ๐Ÿ™‚