EyeToy... Natal... Kinect: The "Future of Gaming"
When I first played with an EyeToy, it entertained me for all of 20 minutes. After that my arms got tired and I started getting bored. Additionally, let me go on record as admitting that I don’t like “party games” like Mario Party or Warioware. As such I’m not going to be won over by advertisements in which a group of racially, sexually and chronologically diverse people are franticly huddled around a TV while displaying a level of enthusiasm you wouldn’t even find at an orgy. So forgive me if I’m not all atwitter about Microsoft’s
Project Natal Kinect (which sounds like the name of a German online dating service).
At first, second and third glances, it looks a lot like an EyeToy, except now it’s for the 360 instead of the PS2. So, can Microsoft upstage Sony when it comes to motion sensing gaming? Hell if I know. However, I can point out that I lack confidence in Microsoft’s ability to actually produce something that advances gaming as we experience it. One of my happiest moments in the last few weeks occurred when I found out that Fallout: New Vegas would not be another Games For Windows Live release and would instead be a Steam title. Why did that thrill me so? Well, because while Steam requires its client to be on in the background, it doesn’t force me to login online whenever I want to play Bioshock 2. Also, I still remember that whole “360 fall 2006 update” controversy, as well as the “30% defect rate” controversy. So the question I have to ask is “will this thing live up to the hype?” And from what we’ve seen out of E3 so far the answer is “who the hell knows?” Will the Kinect really be able to tell you from your friends? Will it be able detect your movements fast enough and accurately enough to actually be useful? Will it pause or make your character jump whenever your cat wanders across the back of the sofa behind you? And if you’re going to watch a Netflix movie on your 360 do you have to sit perfectly still or risk jumping
But what about the motion capture gaming concept? Well I don’t really expect too much from it. It’s a cute idea but a bit impractical as far as gaming goes. It feels as though advertisers are trying to portray gamers as being a much more active group of people then they really are. If you were to believe the ads, every Wii owner plays his or her games while standing an optimal distance away from the TV while wildly waving his or her arms about like an epileptic Muppet. The reality is that most gamers will lie back on their sofas, controlling their Wii’s with just a few flicks of the wrist. The same can be said for more active games like Guitar Hero. While it might feel cool to stand there strumming on your little plastic guitar like a real rock star (ok, more like a real rock star’s 3-year old cousin), it gets tiring after a few songs. Eventually you’ll get tired and sit your ass down on the couch. This cruel reality of gaming might be somewhat mutually exclusive with Kinect’s gameplay unless Microsoft has taken this laziness into account when designing the games.
The core problem here is that while it’s fun to flail about idiotically for short periods of time, it gets dull fast and it this kind of gameplay lacks the staying power needed for anything other than casual gaming. I can’t imagine playing a normal 40 hour game this way. Most of the planned releases for the Kinect would appear to be the usual fare: party games and the obligatory snow/air/skate/whatever-boarding game. Child of Eden looks interesting but then it also looks like a sequel to the PS2 game Rez. Though I’m wondering if Child of Eden will also include a similar…um, game enhancing peripheral.
One game that looks suspiciously interesting is the Star Wars game planned for the Kinect. Though the video I saw of the demonstration at E3 would have been far more impressive had the guy on stage not been a half second behind the action on the screen. That aside, it’s still an interesting concept though it’ll probably end up being a disappointment. Why am I instantly pessimistic? It might have something to do with the scores of crappy Star Wars games I’ve waded through over the last 20 years, but it could also be because I’ve actually developed the ability to detect patterns like any other sensible human being. For a game like this to work one of two things will probably happen. It will either be so realistic that you be forced to actually learn how to fence in order to last more than 10 seconds, or (more likely) like most rail-shooters and Wii games, Vader will telegraph his moves so blatantly that even your grandmother will be able to take down this Sith Lord.