Welcome to Objection! Where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. In this week’s Objection, take stock of Kinect - how has it gone so far? Has it done enough? And is it really a gaming device to begin with?
MARK: Alright Darren – let’s talk Kinect. It’s been almost seven months since we ‘accidentally’ engaged in Kinect chat in our underwear, are you still messing around with Kinect on a daily basis? Is it gathering dust? What are your thoughts on Kinect so far?
DARREN: Firstly, Superman duds are so you. Secondly, and without hyperbole, I’m glad that Kinect exists – glad and amazed. All those Hollywood visions of similar tech, from Disclosure to Minority Report, have culminated in something that actually exists in real life. This is the future, right here, today! Kinect has offered a fundamental shift in the way we engage and interact with games, a shift that I simply couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago. The thing is, like any new technology, it’s taking a while for developers to explore and implement the full range of possibilities.
Some games nailed it right out of the gate. Dance Central quickly emerged as Kinect’s showcase title, sporting a concept that was easily conveyed and fun to partake in. Others are still finding ways to couple Kinect’s abilities with today’s genres, some more successfully than others. Child of Eden is obviously a shooter – it’s Rez 2.0, more or less – but has incorporated Kinect in a way that makes its offerings feel genuinely new, different. Its creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, has for years longed to bridge the gap between player and game, experimenting with various ways to make the former part of the latter. (Remember the Trance Vibrator?) Kinect’s use in Child of Eden is arguably less tactile, but for my money it’s far more successful – by linking our movements to the rhythm of the music, we’re invited to immerse ourselves in the soundscape in a physical way. It’s amazing.
But such games are, at the moment, a drop in the ocean. We need more examples, more attempts. More outward thinking. Coupling Kinect with the types of games people are currently comfortable with is a logical first step, but it’s not a sustainable one. It needs to be utilised in ways that fully harness the unique abilities of the tech, and it might be that developers are still coming to terms with those abilities, or that research is still being done on how to get more potential out of them. Give us finger tracking and voice control, and let’s see what new genres can be invented.
MARK: I spoke to Mark Pesce, panellist on New Inventors and top notch Futurist – he seemed to firmly believe that Kinect was the starting point in a control revolution. The kind of thing we’d be using to control all of our media in the future.
I remember thinking to myself... yeah, that’s all well and good – but what about the games?
And sitting here now, reflecting, that’s still my position. As good as Dance Central is, that game could most likely have worked using the PlayStation Eye – it’s a game that does a great job of actually disguising just how primitive it actually is. I’d hazard a guess that Child of Eden could also run on the same tech.
In fact – I think playing Child of Eden with two PlayStation Move controllers may actually be a more fun, precise experience – and more tactile.
That leaves us with... some decent exercise games!?
I guess my point is – Kinect is not really for games. Not really. It’s more of an interface – a way for us to communicate with our technology in a seamless, intuitive way. It’s a next generation remote control, not a game pad.
DARREN: But doesn’t this new way of communication, by extension, open the door to a whole world of possibilities that future games can harness? Sure, you can boil down Dance Central and Child of Eden into “primitive” games – into the sorts of feats that can be accomplished via other existing means – but keep in mind these are but two examples from a technology that’s still only months old. It goes back to my earlier statement about the first throw of games being tethered to genres we know and are familiar with – it gives developers a handle on how to broach this new tech, and consumers an easy entry point into the unknown.
I have every faith that bold, new steps are already in the works. I have no doubt they’re on their way. The months that follow a product’s launch are inevitably filled with developers scrambling to make use of it, to understand it, but that time investment can mean a delay in the release of future showcase products. I don’t need to engage with Kinect on a daily basis in order to appreciate what it means for gaming, but I can understand the yearning for more must-have titles to justify that $200 purchase.
That’s the battle in today’s market, I feel. A new product needs to prove its worth almost immediately in order to win over punters, but that’s made somewhat difficult when so much progress is still on the drawing board. That Kinect has already sold over ten million units worldwide suggests it’s off to a great start, but the fact that you and I are having this discussion at all says that progress still needs to be made. And I agree – it does. It always does. Complacency has no role in game development. It’s the responsibility of designers and programmers to make us realise that tech such as Kinect need not be limited to fitness games – it can be used to create entirely new experiences. It might sound like these forward-looking arguments are excusing the here-and-now issues, but given everything that Kinect can do – and has the potential to do – I think it’s important to keep exchanges such as these in a similar perspective.
MARK: Most, if pressed I imagine, would be quick to compare Kinect to the WiiRemote - and in a lot of ways that comparison is legitimate. Kinect probably was a response to a new, simple, intuitive way of interacting with video games. But I think that, in a lot of ways, Kinect is more like a mouse or a trackpad – it’s a new way of interfacing that has been, for some reason, marketed and sold as a gaming device!
On a number of levels I think that’s strange. In some ways Kinect is the first original thought Microsoft has had in a decade and despite the fact it is a device that was created, marketed, and sold with incredible vigor, you still get the sense that Microsoft doesn’t really understand its capabilities itself, as a company.
Unlike Nintendo, for example - who typically launch new controllers with an application that somehow manages to teach consumers and potential developers what’s possible – simultaneously - Microsoft has somehow left this tech flying in the wind. We’ve seen more creative uses of the tech in the hacking scene that anything concrete from developers or Microsoft itself.
I would suggest they have a window – and that window is closing fast. A window of opportunity to convince consumers that Kinect is a device that can change video games. I saw nothing at E3 to convince me of that fact – and that’s quite alarming.
DARREN: I’m sure a lot of consumers have similar windows, defined and drawn according to some arbitrary rule set. But who among us can set a timetable for innovation? What’s the cut-off point for a must-have game? How does one sit down and write the playbook for a technology like Kinect when so much of what it can do has never been seen before?
Developers are learning as they go. They’re still experimenting in the confines of what we have – perhaps a little more reservedly than some would like, but maybe that’s the byproduct of developing within a mass-market medium. Remember, games need to make money – those within Kinect’s hacking scene are able to dive into their left-field applications, free from the shackles of projected profit margins or potential for sequels. In some cases, they’re the test benches for what games will or won’t adopt, in a similar way to how Hollywood’s sci-fi gadgets become sci-fact as soon as our real-world technology catches up to imagination.
With Kinect, I feel the reverse is true: imagination needs to catch up to technology. Kinect exists today. It’s in our homes. Now we need people to consider everything that it can do, and tailor an experience directly to it. Invent, rather than adapt. In its current state, a first-person shooter might not be the best fit for Kinect. Okay, so what are the alternatives? What can be made instead? How can we take those features and make a game that needs them – a game that couldn’t exist without them?
That’s the great thing about this entire medium. It can do anything, but only if we let it.