Developers hate Kinect. No really, they utterly loathe it. We can see it in their eyes, detect it in the tightening of the skin around their mouths, smell it on their breath. They were told that Microsoft’s ‘controller-less’ peripheral would turn the industry on its head, that it would flatten horizons, cancel learning thresholds, revitalise every gaming genre under the sun – and lo, They Believed. But then came the disappointments. No built-in processor. No four player modes. No ‘lie prone’ mechanic. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Granted, you have to read between the lines to get at the wailing and gnashing. When Frontier Development’s David Braben shrugs in response to the question ‘can I sit down to play Kinectimals?’, for instance, it’s obvious that the implied sentiment is: ‘No, because the silly muppets forgot to account for the single most basic piece of player behaviour in the universe. Their stupid EyeToy rip-off is going south like a horde of cokehead lemmings, and I don’t plan on being there when the bodies start to fall.’
A more uplifting outlook is possible, however. Having kicked back at successive press events with both Microsoft’s own Kinect games and those of Ubisoft, we say: ask not, developers, what Kinect can do for you, ask what you can do for (or rather, with) Kinect. Innovation always has its risks, its compromises: the whole point is to think outside your comfort zone. There will be headaches and heartaches, yes, but you know what, I bet Walter Scott didn’t complain of chilblains when he journeyed to the South Pole. ‘Course, he wound up dead. But you won’t, Mr Developer. Unless the unusual strain of standing up during beta tests proves too much for your mozzarella-caked arteries.
Truth is, for all the talk of ‘revolution’ and ‘pushing the envelope’ Kinect is like any piece of technology at heart, be it an abacus or an Apple Mac. There are things it does well, and things it does not-so-well. Here are a few ways developers can draw out the former.
To begin with the blindingly obvious, Kinect isn’t so hot in the latency department. VGD’s first dalliance with Dance Central confirmed this widely reported truth: there was a naked-eye discrepancy between my spasmodic jiggles and the coloured body map in top right. Most estimates put lag in the range of 150 to 200ms, which is definitely the sort of figure that will earn you a swift mouthful of nickel in a high noon duel.
So developers, dial things down a bit. Steer clear of twitch-driven formulas like the online-oriented first-person shooter, and focus on more leisurely experiences like those offered by the turn-based board game Carcassone, or a non-combative survival horror title. (How about a port of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Konami?)
There are plenty of gaming archetypes that foster a thoughtful pace – even in Orc-bashing, terrorist-mashing circles, where the measure of a man’s worth is how many mouse-clicks he can cram into a single round of StarCraft. One unfortunate side-effect of the explosion last decade of online multiplayer is an overvaluing of speed. From the crispness of Forza’s gear shifts to the hundred-mile-an-hour zoom-locks of Modern Warfare, a snappy rapport between button press and on-screen action is now, for many, what distinguishes lightweight from ‘serious’ gaming. The RPG, once a singularly unhurried genre, has joined the race, with BioWare and Bethesda laying on the adrenaline in their most recent projects.
Kinect’s ‘shortcomings’ here could do much to remind us that great games needn’t depend on preternatural reaction times.
Don’t cripple the player
Though among the more rough-and-tumble of Microsoft’s launch titles, Kinect Adventures is never too arduous: it amplifies your movements slightly, converting gentle hops or tilts of the shoulder into wild leaps and dodges. This sort of cunning accentuation will be crucial if Kinect games are to be relaxing pastimes as well as energetic ones.