Kinect: The opportunity of a lifetime

Goddamn game.. peripheral… critique corner?

I played Kinect this morning at a local HMV, me and my best friend played a game of the rafting thing and two games of the dodgeball game. There was a queue so we were in and out in fifteen minutes, we went in to play Kinect and to buy Fable III (his copy, I ain’t picking that thing up yet). I barely had enough time to get into the thing but I quickly realized a few things. Number one: performance wise it excels. Number two: My best friend is monstrously tall, he once jumped and hit his head on the hanging light. Number three: this thing has the potential to be a complete revolution. I said potential.

I managed to get 30 seconds with the Kinect dashboard, found out I couldn’t buy anything without a controller (sort of kills the whole thing) and I also had to sit through a patronising little tutorial on what to do in Kinect Adventures. Kinect plays well, it moves well and everything about the tech is very well designed. It hits its audience dead on target and practically re-invents the whole ‘casual’ approach. I can safely say that with a slew of Disney Kinect games soon to hit the market, Sony needs to start concentrating on getting their core guys (who’ve owned a PS3 for years) to buy their Move. They’ve already started too with games like Killzone 3, LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2 and Dead Space Extraction having Playstation Move support.

Microsoft however are now in a position to do something that I’ve been begging Nintendo to do for the last few years. The social gap between ‘core players’ and ‘casual players’ is perhaps now what is taking the industry hostage. We’re not making games for people anymore, we’re making games for demographics. What Microsoft Kinect has the potential to do, given it is a new device and isn’t totally centred on a controller conduit, is bridge the gap between these two separate groups of people. I honestly think if Microsoft wants to strive for a half of the pie, they should go the full pie. It’s all for the taking. At the end of the day they’ll make twice as much monies; everybody wins.

So the tech is there, the potential is clearly there and it’s obvious that Microsoft want to break down casual gaming’s house and take it hostage. That last one may be what is going to hold it back. There is nothing compelling about the software that’s been released, or is said to release in the next year or so. Making something compelling on the Wii takes a damn lot of design ingenuity, making something compelling on Kinect requires a lot of money and a lot of big ideas. To drive it home to the casual audience completely is to rid if of the ultimate potential goal that we’ve been trying to achieve for the last few years; complete and utter world domination.

So, how do we make a ‘compelling’ experience with Kinect. I mentioned Fable III at the beginning… here’s just maybe a few design thoughts on how to integrate Kinect with the controller conduit experience.

  • Have the player actually point at the person they wish to send to death, or who they want to save (make the question obviously clear).
  • When their companion is down or their dog is on the ground, let them reach out and pull them up.
  • During the whole ‘kingdom decision’ thing, hold their thumb up or down depending on which decision they want to make. Could also be done when a Jester is performing for them.
  • Have a picture of Peter Molyneux looking at the player at all times, and when you bite your thumb towards him, have everybody in the world turn into Richard Madely.
  • Clear dust off the ground to find hidden arrows leading to treasure.

That’s just a few things off the top of my head. All of them both reach out to the core audience and the casual. They’re interesting design features of the experience, but they’re not the experience itself as the Kinect software line-up already is. I am talking multiple interfaces with the experience, resulting in something that keeps both demographics entertained and somewhat immersed in the world. If Fable III had all of these and was without all of the bullshit player identity, touch expressions and all that other stuff (and maybe was also a first-person perspective game, not a FPS) then it may just be the most immersive game of the year.

But it’s not, it’s just potential on the table. That’s along with everything you could practically build into every game. All of these different interfaces would not be explained to the player, as that takes them out of the full experience, it’s just natural instinct to do these sort of things. Maybe have a little guidance in the game but not blatant “PUT YO HANDS UP, ERERYBODY IN LOVE.”

Maybe that’s what is stopping video-games from completely becoming universal experiences full of exploiting all the powers they possess. Player agency, immersion, choice, interactivity and all of that baloney. Fully augmented reality without the need for buttons/ conduits for the experience to take place. Kinect could well be the start of a revolution, but given Microsoft’s current thinking of hunting down and killing Nintendo’s casual babies, it’s not very likely this will happen. Maybe all it will take is for one little studio to tell Microsoft that they want to hunt down both audiences and make them shake hands for the first time in history.

This was a less game centric article, I understand, but I don’t want people to totally write off Kinect as they have done with the Wii. This is dangerous technology, and if put in the right hands, it is dangerous for all of the good reasons. Once we bridge the gap with a universal compelling thing, then we will have potential hundreds of millions crying out for the next big thing, instead of simply stagnating in the same Wii Sports rip-off.

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