E3: Hands on with Kinect
Remember those alternative arcade games you used to play as a kid, the ones controlled by some “state-of-the-art” device that was typically unwieldy, unresponsive, and yet kept us coming back because of all the flashing colors and loud noises? Car games controlled by a jerky plastic wheel, or skiing games controlled with our feet come to mind. Or when the Wii came out, and we put that strange little controller in our hands for the first time, and we all marveled at how so much technology could do so little for the fun centers in our brain? Well, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, Nata- I mean, “Kinect” is kind of like that.
The fireplace begat radio, radio begat television, and now Microsoft would like us to think that television begat the XBox 360, or more specifically their new Kinect hardware. Certainly the images I was inundated with in the long line to put my hands on, or should I say, swing my hands wildly in front of, this new product would have made it seem as if Kinect was destined to be the new mecca of the modern family unit. Some clever cuts and fanciful editing portrayed an absurdly sexy woman doing yoga on a floating piece of wood, an Abercrombie model punching balls of colorful smoke, and of course, a mom and her son playing soccer together.
Saturated with these repeating images and the glowing green light of the hallway, I prepared for my 2 minute hate (that’s how you start to feel after waiting long enough). As a hardcore gamer, I tend to be very cautious when a company that is known for lovingly catering to the hardcore, Microsoft, ventures into casual gaming territory. This situation was no different, and in this case, the product was exactly what I expected. It feels like you think it would: airy (which I suppose makes sense), inconsistent, and incomplete. I got to witness two games from the “Adventure” series, a river rafting game, and an obstacle course, that latter of which I got to actually play. All the games involve freely moving your body, be it to dodge obstacles by leaning, sidestepping, jumping and ducking, or to shift a raft left and right with similar movements. The problem is that the controls just don’t feel responsive; they feel like you’re constantly trying to make up for your lack of real controls. The problem is that while the Wii release games were a novelty, just having motion is no longer enough, and these Kinect games in particular just feel like an pointless exercise. But the real problem is that these games just aren’t fun, and I think I know why.
They aren’t meeting any need for me as a gamer. These games feel like a step backward in what I see as an industry progressing toward truly immersive and creative experiences. Rather, they are meeting the needs of Microsoft who has clearly developed this software as a tool to dominate the living room, not to cater to serious gamers. And honestly, that’s fine with me, as long as I’m not swept up by the hype and accidentally think that full body motion games are actually fun. What I’m really excited about, and of course what they didn’t have demoed, is the controls being used for everything but games - you know, the Minority Report stuff that we keep seeing. It doesn’t offend me that Microsoft is going this direction, it’s a great business strategy. I just wish they would hold off on games until they are actually bringing something new and fun to the table.
Perhaps it was an unwise strategy for Microsoft to only demo the most casual of games at a hardcore gaming convention; it is certainly possible that if Your Shape had been more predominantly featured, which also was demoed as part of Ubisoft’s lineup (casual yes, but it seems to have more acutely developed the motion controls), I may have been more impressed. I’m sure 3rd parties will be utilizing the software in much more creative and fun ways. That said, it’s still up to Microsoft to show us their very best, and I can only judge them on what they show me.
There’s a translucent plaque cleverly placed on a mirror in the Kinect line that says, “This is replacing fourteen buttons.” As it is, I’ll stick with my fourteen buttons, thank you. Will I buy it? Yes. Will it be a fun diversion with friends, from time to time? Undoubtedly yes. Have I been convinced that this is the future of gaming? Not even close. Hopefully come November, Microsoft will unleash some software that truly showcases what the technology can do. I have faith in you Microsoft. Not unlike the Wizard of Oz, you’ve put on quite a show with some impressive technology, and that’s grand; now pull aside the curtain and bring out the good games, and I’ll be the first to have a heart and shower praise upon your emerald throne.