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Xbox Adaptive Controller Preview: Inclusive gaming

Solomon Romney, a Learning Specialist at Microsoft, changed the way I thought of the Xbox Adaptive Controller in the span of around ten minutes.

Romney patently – and repeatedly – corrected me as I talked about the Adaptive Controller as one meant for those with a disability. I’m sure he’s heard the same from countless others as Microsoft was in the process of designing the controller, and he’s certainly heard it after the peripheral’s announcement back in May.

As he showed me all the controller was capable of, it eventually sunk in: the controller isn’t one meant for those with disabilities — it’s simply an inclusive controller.

I’ve a 9-year-old nephew — it’s actually his birthday today – who lives back in Canada. I don’t get to see him very often, but when I do, video games are always involved. As early as Finn was 4, I remember him climbing on my lap and demanding the controller in my hand so that he could play LEGO Batman himself.

It only started to go well at age 7 and up.

The Adaptive Controller would have helped immensely in Finn’s younger years. The large, arcade-stick like controller has been designed to sit comfortably on a lap and is slanted for ease of use on said lap or even on the floor (we’ll get to that later). While there’s a Guide button, d-pad and more on the left, it’s hard not to notice the controller’s two (very) large black buttons on the right. This controller, plus the Xbox One’s Copilot feature, would have solved all our problems.

Copilot is a tool on Xbox One that lets you tie two controllers together – in this case, I could have paired a standard Xbox One controller with the Adaptive Controller, mapping its two large buttons to jump and punch. While Finn focused on fighting and jumping, I could quite easily have taken care of character movement. While it’s true that I could use Copilot with two standard controllers, it’s the complexity of the standard one that threw my young nephew for a loop. This new setup solves that problem – past-Finn would have been involved, controller in hand, and pleased as punch.

Copilot could also be used to tie the Adaptive Controller with a steering wheel peripheral (or standard controller) for the likes of Forza Motorsport 7. By mapping the left and right triggers to the Adaptive Controller and setting it on the floor, one could instantly have brake and pedal inputs that free up the hands up to steer and better simulates a driving experience.

The Adaptive Controller can do much more than I’ve described above, but my examples have nothing to do with disabilities and everything to do with providing gamers with different ways to play. That was my biggest takeaway from E3 2018, and one that the likes of Romney is trying to impress upon the public.

For those who rely upon alternate control schemes, the Adaptive Controller has them covered. The back of the controller has a series of 3.5mm jacks which support accessibility control devices that are already on the market. The functionality allows a player to map on/off switches, breath-control devices, Wii nunchuck-like devices, motion-controlled sensors and many other control types to any button they choose. Quite literally, the sky is the limit when it comes to control combinations – and the possibilities of the controller itself.

There are 19 total 3.5mm ports, meaning that everything from joysticks, buttons and d-pad directions can be mapped. When you think about it, the ports are just like button-mapping on a standard controller, just with far more control — and that’s precisely what Microsoft was going for.

“We wanted to make something that looked a controller, not a medical device,” Romney told me with a smile.

Designed in conjunction with AbleGamers, Warfighter Engaged, SpecialEffect, Craig Hospital and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, the Xbox Adaptive Controller will be available in September of this year. It’s designed for both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC and will retail for $129.99 AUD, exclusive to the Microsoft Store.

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About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for close to fifteen years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.