Saturday, 9 October 2010

e-Motion: Kinect at Eurogamer Expo '10

The Green Eye of Death
Game shows! Huh! What are they good for?

...Playing around with exciting new games technology, apparently. In this case, Microsoft's 360 gadget Kinect, which easily wins this year's 'hardest name to accurately remember' award, having taken three attempts to type correctly and being mispronounced all weekend by my fellow attendees. But, then, silly names come with the territroy. Eh, Nintendo?

Kinect is Microsoft taking a long, hard look at the future of gaming and, to paraphrase Doc Brown, saying: where we're going, we don't need controllers. Which is an interesting step on, conceptually, from the Wii, going beyond the removal of those fiddly buttons and sticks that put off the older generations and just straight-up waving goodbye to everything.

What looks to be less of an interesting step forward is the games. On the show floor, you had:
-The One That's Definitely Not Wii Sports (Kinect Sports, which seems to be the only thing Rare are working on at the moment, oddly)
-The Proof-of-Concept Minigames One (Kinect Adventures)
-The Honest Guv It's Not Mario Kart Racing One (Kinect Joyride)
-...and a dancing game.

It's hardly inspirational, revolutionary stuff.
Kinect Adventures
Worse, there seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the Kinect attractive. I didn't get to play Kinect Sports, but watching two people limply play table tennis it was pretty easy to see that removing the remotes from, let's be frank, Wii Tennis doesn't make it feel more natural. Having that weight in your hand helped people buy into the Wii experience. Meanwhile, the two Avatars (Mii-a-like cartoony representations of the player) flopped reluctantly along. It was, I suspect, an impressive use of the technology but it just served to reinforce the artificiality of the situation.

The dancing game (Dance Central, to be specific, as according to Wikipedia it's one of three dance games launching with the Kinect) suffered from the opposite problem. With one dancer representing both people busting moves in front of the camera, there didn't seem to be any visual representation of what either player was doing, or not doing. But, perhaps I'm being unfair. I didn't get to play either of these games myself. So let's move on to what I did get my hands on. Um. Not that, err, there was anything to put your hands on...

First: Kinect Joy Ride. It failed to play to any of the 'no controller' idea's strengths, a problem inherent in the Kinect racing genre. Having no physical object to grab meant that when your steering went wrong, you had no indication of why. Were you grabbing this imaginary wheel in the wrong place? Had you steered too far in one direction? Was it that little sidestep you took ten seconds ago? No idea. I won the race, but didn't come away feeling like I'd mastered anything.
Kinect JoyRide
Which leaves Kinect Adventures. Stepping forward as the Kinect's answer to Wii Play - which showed what could potentially be done with the technology in a series of (not very fun) minigames - it was surprisingly the best indication that this might all actually be worthwhile. To return to the eternal question of what makes the Kinect interesting, what its strengths are: it is as a gadget. That's how it's being sold, advertised in shop windows as Christmas' hottest gadget. It exists as something to be filed alongside the iPads and 3D TVs of the world.

The appeal is the idea of playing with sci-fi tech. The Minority Report feeling of flipping through menus floating in the air in front of you. So my first instinct was to play with it, see how it worked, and try to break it.

Adventures offered the best chance to do that, with minigames focused on bending your body in the style of that BBC-adopted Japanese gameshow where people have to jump through Tetris-block shaped holes. This meant being able to test the admittedly quite impressive tech - what happens if I lift my leg? Ooh! Now what if? Ahh! - which wasn't on show in any of the other games.
KinectAdventures
The minigames themselves weren't that brilliant but the novelty of testing the limits of something new can make up for that, as many early Wii games can attest. And so hilarity ensued: watching friends jump in the air and nearly batter a poor stranger over the head in the process. Some guy who decided to see if he could make his Avatar shoot a Nazi salute. Nearly falling over myself...

That is what the Kinect needs to be. It remains to be seen whether the developers are actually going to realise that.

(Likenesses of Mssrs David Inkpen and Geoff Maillard, esquire, used without any permission whatsoever. Sorry, guys.)

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.