#icebucketchallenge

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Yup. This happened.

So now it’s Ken’s, Daryl’s, and Chloe’s turn to do this thing. :)

Remember, if you do this, please donate to ALS research as well. Make a goofy internet thing something that impacts real lives and goes towards research to treat a horrible, horrible thing that affects other humans. You can do that at http://alsa.org/.

Ferguson, Six Days Later

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Last Saturday, Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer, shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager. The following days were a tempest of flared emotions, militarized police action, protests, and controversy. Unbelievable images flashed across my television of riot-geared police firing crowd control measures into the streets of Ferguson, making it look and feel like a military occupation.

As I type this, the situation is still unfolding. Further statements have been made. Facts are slowly being revealed and uncovered. More are to come. The picture of what will happen is still forming, but the mood at the protest sites is calmer and the police presence more reserved and less armed.

This was (and is) happening in the metro area I call home. It happened in the suburb of Ferguson, but it could have happened in many other places in St. Louis and in many other places, many other cities. It could have happened in the suburb where I live.

This past week is now a part of the history of St. Louis, for good or ill. It is something we will—hopefully—remember and from which we will learn for the future. With that in mind, I took the opportunity to go to the site and witness it for myself, to record the scene and see the community affected by these things.

I first went to the QuikTrip where most of the protestors were gathered.

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It’s the source of most of what you associate with the event. There were loud protests most of the time I was there, led by a woman with a bullhorn. They alternated between the “hands up; don’t shoot” and refrains of “we’re not scared”.

Most people milled about, talking with each other and with various people who held recording devices as they interviewed others. There were casual conversations and serious statements about the events of the week and wondering what could be done.

There were many signs, many t-shirts with sayings and slogans, some of them written using large marker. The crowd was composed of all ages, old and young. Some of the people there brought their children along and were explaining the situation to them as best they could.

I was thanked for being there. I was asked by a school student taking notes on the situation what I would do to help prevent such things from happening in the future. People asked me if I wanted something to eat or a bottle of water. Everything felt of community. They were engaging. I felt welcome. I was at one point hugged rather forcefully. :) People were distributing and serving food and water in an organized fashion and volunteers were plentiful.

The media had arrayed their satellite vehicles on one end of the QuikTrip parking lot.

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One thing the local media provided me with was a stark contrast to one of the more disturbing images from the previous week. Instead of a sniper perched on top of an armored truck, now we have this on the scene:

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The immediate sign of expression from the people—other than the audible signs of the protesting and the cars honking in support—was the paint and chalk everywhere in the QT parking lot.

Some were signs of support.

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Some were expressions of frustration and a desire to be heard and recognized.

Some were out of loss—of the life that was taken.

There was a desire for peace.

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But there was also the undercurrent that flows under this all—the distrust of the police and anger regarding their actions.

From there, I went to the apartment complex where the shooting had taken place. There were families and volunteers there, making and serving food and offering it to everyone who came by. They’d set up grills, huge buckets of ice with water and other drinks for the children of the neighborhood, and tents. One man sat under a tent with a chess set on the table in front of him.

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If there was a feeling of community at the QuikTrip, it was even more pronounced at the apartments. This was especially marked given that the scene of the shooting was mere yards away.

And the sign that has been so prominent in news images was still there, resting against a tree across from the memorials that had been placed.

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Is Ferguson About to Get Better, Or Worse?

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Last night in Ferguson (which is around 30 miles from where I am in the St. Louis metro) was a crazy series of happenings, with the arrests of several people in the media, one elected St. Louis city official, and numerous protesters.

Some reports showed/described members in the crowd responding to the police firing control measure by throwing molotovs back in the direction of the police.

It’s been clear from the start that the County PD is largely at fault for what’s going on here. They are the ones with the heavy gear and the armored vehicles, and they have been named as being in charge of the site.

Now comes a handful of news tweets about what’s going on. First, a state representative claims that the county PD is being relieved from the scene today:

Then, the Ferguson PD chief (who is completely in over his head right now) is planning on two press conferences, one around noon and one around 6 p.m.:

And almost right after, that there will be a statement from the President just after 11 CT:

So now, we wait. Does this mean that the police presence is merely being disbanded? Or does this mean that we’ll be seeing the National Guard and a real curfew tonight?

I can tell you which will make things worse.

A Translation to Plain English of Twitch’s New Audio VOD Policy Post

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So if you didn’t catch wind of this yet, Twitch’s general counsel put up a blog post today showcasing their new partnership with Audible Magic, which is apparently a content scanning service that is designed to enrich content creators dinosaur publishers when their copyrighted content is found used in online media.

Let’s take a look:

Starting today, Twitch will be implementing technology intended to help broadcasters avoid the storage of videos containing unauthorized third-party audio.

You didn’t ask for anyone to help you with this, but we don’t care.

We respect the rights of copyright owners, and are voluntarily undertaking this effort to help protect both our broadcasters and copyright owners.

We suddenly care about copyrighted material being used on our site, but for some reason don’t care about the DMCA—which is designed to deal with this kind of thing—so we’re doing this other thing instead. Check this out; you’re going to love it.

We’ve partnered with Audible Magic, which works closely with the recorded music industry, to scan past and future VODs for music owned or controlled by clients of Audible Magic. This includes in-game and ambient music. When music in the Audible Magic database is detected (“Flagged Content”), the affected portion of the VOD will be muted and volume controls for that VOD will be turned off. Additionally, past broadcasts and highlights with Flagged Content are exportable but will remain muted.

We’ve muted probably half of all archived videos on Twitch, because we’re scanning for music that is used in the very games we want you to stream.

No; we don’t see the irony in this. Maybe you should mute the games you are playing and just talk when you do a show; it would really help us out. Thanks.

You can even make laser gun sounds when you play. Your viewers might find that interesting.

The Audible Magic technology will scan for third party music in 30 minute blocks — if Audible Magic does not detect its clients’ music, that portion of the VOD will not be muted. If third party audio is detected anywhere in the 30-minute scanned block, the entire 30 minutes will be muted.

Why use a scalpel when you can use a sledgehammer?

Seriously, you should be wowed by what we are doing here. We took the concepts behind YouTube’s ContentID—a system pretty much everyone hates with a passion—and found a way to make it even shittier by making sure that instead of monetizing your content for other people, we’re just making it useless instead.

Audio Recognition will only be run against audio in VODs. We are not scanning live broadcasts and there is no automated takedown of live content.

Yet.

Flagged Content will display an on-screen notification informing viewers that content owned or controlled by a third party has been identified. The progress bar will also be red for the duration of the muted section.

We’d like to make it painfully obvious how many videos have been affected by this change and how screwed you are at the same time. We hope you like this new feature.

Please note that Audio Recognition is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.  It may return false positives or miss content from copyright owners who do not work with Audible Magic.  If you wish to include music in your VODs, please remember that you are responsible for clearing all such rights (this includes ambient music that may be playing in the background while you are broadcasting).  If you would like to include free-to-use music in your VODs, there are a variety of resources available to you, including:

Automated content scanning and action has worked really well in the past, right? I mean, it’s surely not going to end up causing things like this, or this, or even such ridiculousness as this.

Nope; automated scanning has always been the chickenshit way out of defending users’ rights, so we’re taking it because it never goes wrong.

If you believe that your video has been flagged improperly and that you have cleared the rights to all of the sound recordings in your uploaded video, then we will consider unmuting your video if you send us a counter-notification that is compliant with the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).

We are going to make you file a legal statement to defend your content even though the appropriate legal statement to take down your content that would normally cause you to file a counter-notice was never filed in the first place.

We’re either so understaffed that we can’t process the barrage of DMCA notices we get in, we are (as above) refusing to defend the rights of our users (and by extension our own rights), or both.

Oh: we’re not really going to tell you what to do in these cases. Instead, we’ll pretend you know about the law that we’re not forcing copyright holders to adhere to.

Any copyright owner that believes that any of their content is used in any live broadcasts or VOD without authorization should submit a notification of claimed infringement to Twitch pursuant to our Terms of Service. If you are the legal owner of copyrighted music that you would like to protect via Audible Magic’s technology, visit AudibleMagic.com.

If you own the music that is used in a game and have problems with it being showcased on a streaming service that is supposed to be for games, and would like us to mute that content so that people can’t hear the game others are saying is pretty awesome and which might cause other people to buy the game in question and thus earn you more money, please, by all means, let us or our new partner know.

Twitch has partnered with Audible Magic without waiving any rights or defenses available to it under law. Twitch is not obligated to filter content stored on  the Twitch platform by its users and assumes no liability for the actions of its users notwithstanding the implementation of the Audible Magic technology. Twitch reserves the right to stop filtering audio content in VODs in its sole discretion at any time and without liability to any third party, subject only to any contractual obligations.

Legally, we didn’t actually have to do this, but we’re doing it anyway.

No; we aren’t going to tell you why.

We want to hear your feedback and questions. Tune in to the following events to ask us (almost!) anything:

  • Reddit AMA on /r/Twitch: Thursday, August 7, 10:30am PST

  • Twitch Weekly: Friday, August 8 at 2pm PST

We really hate the person who signed us up for an AMA the day after we made this change. And we’ll probably ignore anything that isn’t “how awesome is this new feature?”

And, as always, please feel free to leave your comments below. We will answer as best we can.

We are high as a kite.

Title Safe

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This past weekend was Evo weekend, which means that for most waking hours for three days, I’m tuned in to Twitch streams from SRK and watching the best fighting game players in the world do things that I’ve only dreamed of.

It’s a fantastic weekend and overall, the streams are well-produced and it’s easy to follow along with the action, get excited, and have a good time. I can’t recommend it enough if you like anything competitive and strongly suggest you watch next year.

While watching, there’s a great group of friends I hang out with in IRC and we discuss the competition and the games being played. Some of us sit at our desks, and some of us sit in living rooms watching the action on a PC display, a tablet or even a phone, or a TV through a device app, like the options available on Xbox 360, PS4, and Xbox One. (Hey, Twitch – how about an Apple TV app?)

I gave no thought to this, but one of that group mentioned that he couldn’t see the players’ names and what sides they were on during the broadcasts from srkevo1. Taking a look, I thought about this and it’s true. On some TVs and using some options on some TVs, the information that was on the screen would not have been visible.

The reason why is what’s called overscan. Let’s take a look at what that means.

Overscan

Traditionally, televisions have had at least some portion of the image outside the bounds of the actual “frame” that was visible. I won’t bore you with a discussion of the history of television, but originally this was because of manufacturing imperfections in CRT (“tube”) displays.

The solution to the manufacturing problem was to put a certain percentage of the display area of the set outside the physical frame of the TV set. This would mean that some of the image would not normally be visible, and a different “slice” of the image wasn’t available to different people.

Today, HDTVs use technologies that measure panels in pixels, so theoretically there should be no overscan. Sets are capable of 1:1 mapping of the pixels of the transmitted image. In practice, this is not how TVs are configured, especially straight out of the box:

I have a Sharp Aquos, and out of the box, it does not display 1:1 pixels, though you can change that and have the TV show the exact image. The same for the Sony set I had previously (both LCDs). The DLP set I had before that had a non-adjustable overscan and I would lose something like 7% of the image.

No; I don’t have any idea why HDTVs overscan by default. The only thing I can think of is that it might be some kind of self-perpetuating problem; broadcasters continue to plan for overscan, and so TV manufacturers build it in by design to make consumers think they are seeing “more” of the image. (Try looking at the ESPN Bottom Line on a display with no overscan and you’ll see what I mean. It takes up a whole lot of real estate.)

So tl;dr: on a lot of TVs, the people watching can’t see all of a given 720p or 1080p image. It’s stupid, but that’s the TV industry for you.

The solution for this in the days of CRT televisions—and something that lives on to this day—is a set of recommendations called safe areas.

Playing It Safe

To make sure information shown on a TV can be seen by all people, various broadcasters came up with the idea of safe areas. These are guidelines for the image to be broadcast that try to make sure that what you put on screen can be seen by as many people as possible.

For various TV standards and various broadcasters, these suggestions have been different over time. To help with the visualization, I’m using this blog post from developer Allen Pestaluky, which claims that the Xbox certification team had (has?) definite guidelines for safe areas on the Xbox 360. It’s in turn based on these comments by Shawn Hargreaves in the XBLIG forums:

Native Xbox games have two different safe areas. They are strongly recommended to keep everything within 80%, and strictly required to keep everything within 90%. A single UI pixel outside the 90% region is an instant cert fail. UI outside the 80% region is going to get mentioned in the cert report, and they’ll most likely be asked to fix it, but if a big commercial developer pushes back and decides they don’t want to do that, it’s not a totally rigid requirement.

For indie games, there is no official cert and thus no rigid fail threshold. Our recommendation for indie games is exactly the same as for commercial titles: Microsoft thinks all games should keep all UI within the 80% region, and would love it if every developer would do this.

These comments are pretty old now, but I think the 90%/80% rules are pretty good. And as we’ll see later, they have been followed quite well. You can see what that looks like in this HD frame:

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The guides to follow are the insides of each line. To use the traditional terminology, the 90% is action safe and the 80% line is title safe. That means that:

  • You should assume that anything outside the 90% line can’t be seen by anyone and should not put anything there at all.
  • You should assume that anything outside the 80% line can’t be seen by at least some viewers and you should not put anything you definitely want people to see there.

Now, I’ll assume you are reading this as someone broadcasting to Twitch. This means that you should not put any tickers, donation notifications, counters, or anything you want to make sure people can see outside the 80% guideline.

If you are showing just the game, you do not need to worry about this because the game designers already have. You’ll see what I mean in a bit here as I’m going to show you some examples.

I know this sounds ridiculous. “Why would I need to follow these guides if I am streaming in HD and most people are going to be watching on a computer screen—in a browser?” Look at the proliferation of apps embedded in TVs, installed on our game consoles, or used in set-top-boxes like Apple TVs and Rokus.

And if you are also pushing your broadcasts to YouTube, you need to be thinking about this as well because YouTube already has a much greater foothold at the device level. If you are pushing to YouTube you should be more worried about using safe areas.

If we streamers as an enthusiast community want to see the medium gain more mainstream acceptance, we’ll need to consider a broader set of rules for a broader set of devices.

So let’s see how this works in practice.

SRK versus CapcomFighters: FIGHT

Here’s a capture of the titles being used by SRK in their Twitch broadcasting this weekend, conveniently overlaid with the safe areas mentioned above:

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Oof.

You can already see the game UI and how it’s plotted through the Evo titles. UMvC3 pushes display all the way out to the action safe area. (This is probably why the positions of these elements are adjustable in the game’s options.)

But the Evo stream data is way out of bounds. Because they are using the boundaries of the game UI to position their elements, almost everything they are adding to the game image is unsafe. This explains why my friends were unable to see the elements.

Not being able to see who is playing what side sucks and can dramatically change the tone of the experience. Some device viewers might just turn it off because they can’t get the information they want out of the frame.

But oh—what’s this? It’s a frame grab from a match (not from Evo) showing the UI frame CapcomFighters uses for its streams:

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You can see the difference immediately. Again, you can see what the game itself does to keep things safe; for SF4, the UI elements that matter are all within title safe! Everything the stream adds that is necessary information is within the 90% boundary. The only elements outside that are the Capcom logo and part of the CPT logo, neither of which are important to someone seeing what’s going on.

Care has been taken here to make sure that everyone will be able to see the status of the match, who is playing, and the score.

CapcomFighters used the same UI bits for their Evo streams. (I like their consistency.) With just a little bit of tweaking, SRK’s streams could do that as well. This isn’t just something that professionals should be paying attention to: if you stream on Twitch or record for YouTube, or do whatever with online video, you should heed these guides and make sure everything you broadcast is at least within the 90% safe guides.

You can download a PNG template for this with transparency here. Add it as an element in your XSplit or OBS scenes as you arrange elements to make sure they fit within the guides. (Just toggle it on and off as you build to make sure.)

You can safely ignore the next section unless you have natural curiosity regarding how games adhere to the guidelines. Go forth and use these guides in your next broadcast!

In-Game Examples

I was curious to see what other fighting games did with this, so here’s a collection of frame grabs I took, with as many direct grabs as possible. You can see how the information is arranged for each game to make sure it doesn’t get crowded out by overscan. UI designers are still dealing with this even in the age of ubiquitous pixel-oriented displays.

BlazBlue

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This is one of the lesser safe designs I saw. Everything necessary is within action safe, but some elements that should probably have at least some portion within title safe (like the health bars) don’t.

Injustice

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All of the UI is outside of title safe on Injustice, but it’s all action safe. This is the worst one I have found so far.

Killer Instinct

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I thought that perhaps being on Xbox One would mean that the UI would be pushed further out, but for KI, all the health information is within title safe. You could theoretically infer the timer information with only the bottom half of the numbers. The meters at the bottom are just on the edge of action safe and it’s possible that some people might not be able to see them by default.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3

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I posted this above with the Evo chrome but thought I would put a clean one here just for reasons. I think the health display is pretty clever as the active main is always in title safe and in action safe you are missing only one team member’s health. The super meter is a different story.

Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix

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I’m including this mostly for fun, but it’s interesting that the health being title safe and the super meters being action safe appears to be somewhat consistent for Capcom. This one’s very conservative.

Virtua Fighter 5

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This is pretty safe. Even if you were way out at 80%, you’d still be able to see the health bars somewhat.

Ultra Street Fighter IV

This one’s interesting because there are two separate defaults in the game options. There is one that is the default default, and a setting for “arcade” default. This is the standard default:

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Super-safe. Everything necessary is within the title safe area. I really appreciate the design thought that went in to this because it’s literally just the basic information. Any UI that could be trimmed at title safe is.

Here’s the arcade default setting:

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This pushes everything out to action safe. I’m assuming this is because arcade operators would have more control over the display panels that are used in the machines and would have to worry about overscan much less than Capcom apparently needs to worry about to keep the game in cert.