Outside of the Kinect Box

June 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Far from being E3’s defining moments, the motion controller demonstrations left me feeling a little disappointed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, both Sony and Microsoft (the latter especially) have divided their audience squarely into two. The casual audience, they’ve decided, are only interested in casual, motion controlled experiences, whilst the ‘core’ audience just wants more guns, more explosions, and generally more of the same.

It’s depressing to me because these stereotypes have been proven wrong time and time again. Casual games will draw people in not if they’re controlled with some goofy peripheral, but if they’re genuinely fun to play (a la Peggle). Meanwhile there’s not one ‘hardcore’ gamer out there who doesn’t want a little variety with their bald space marines.

Microsoft’s Kinect has the potential to add to existing gameplay experiences, but it’s a shame the potential is all being used on games aimed at non-gamers. There’s nothing wrong with these of course – more people playing games is a good thing no matter what – but I can’t help but think there’s so much more that can be explored. For example:

What if games took notice of your body rather than just your hands?

There are some people out there who’ll jump at loud noises in horror games (myself included). Other gamers are braver, and for them playing a horror game is a much less tense experience. Jumping in fear is something that Kinect could register, and use to adapt the game’s experience. A scared mess of a player could be given a slightly easier time than someone who’s sitting there stoically playing through the game.

Similarly if someone’s beating their controller to a pulp in frustration, why not subtly remove a couple of enemies in their path, or reduce the rubber-banding in your racing game by a couple of fractions to ease them through the challenge without making them feel like a cheat.

A more basic application of Kinect could be its use as a glorified pause button. Going to the kitchen for a sandwich? Kinect will notice you get up and pause the game for you. Switching controllers between players during a frantic split-screen session of Halo? Kinect will pause it until you’re all comfortable.

What if Kinect put you in games that were actually good?

In your average game there are dozens of screens dotted around levels showing fake television shows, or mission co-ordinators. Kinect (or the Playstation Eye for that matter) could really mess with you by chucking your image onto these. Walking past an image of yourself gaming in a virtual shop window is a surreal experience I can tell you.

Ok, so maybe that suggestion’s a little lame, but what about the potential for identifying your team-mates as something more than just a screen name and an annoying accent. Remember how in GTA4’s multiplayer you could call up people on your phone to intimidate your enemies? What about if you were able to video call them, for that added terror of knowing your enemy can see you in your undies?

The characters of driving games are traditionally a very stationary lot. The most you’ll usually get out of them is a movement of the arm to change gear, but aside from that they’ll just sit there, much like you are at home. Hows about imbuing these static avatars with a little more character, directly from the gamer at home? Motorstorm had a taunt button which allowed you to shake your fist at other racers when on the back of a motorcycle. What if the character copied your own movements at home, giving the finger to other racers as the pass you online, or gloating as you left them in your dust. It would also be that much more menacing to see someone flick you the bird as they pass, knowing that the player at home had to take one of his hands off his controller to get it to work rather than just press a button.

The ability to scan objects was one of the potential features shown of by Microsoft at 2009’s E3, there with the example of a kid holding his skateboard up to the screen to get the graphic directly into the game. Lame as it sounds, it might actually be fun to have more of that kind of thing. What if Niko’s clothes were a replica of an outfit it your wardrobe? The feature could be taken further in games like the Sims, where it would become much easier to get your exact duvet design (snakes and ladders in my case) onto your sim’s bed.

Kinect has the potential to make many of these games we’re already familiar with into much more personal experiences, but it’s a shame no one seems to have given the possibilities much thought as it stands.

Sex faces

Speaking from personal experience, gamers tend to make a lot of stupid faces whilst playing. This stupidity isn’t limited to their countenance’s however, as my heroic end-of-a-difficult-level dances will attest to.

Most of these things are pretty embarrassing, which means they also have the potential to be quite amusing. Much in the same way as Burnout Paradise, games could record you at key moments, to capture that heartbreaking moment you missed the last jump in a lengthy Prince of Persia sequence. On the flip side, I’d gladly watch back some of my victory dances weeks after getting a platinum ranking in Bayonetta.

Stupid though many of these ideas are, they do show that with a little out of the box thinking, a peripheral which has been passed on by most gamers as being ‘not for them’ could enrich their favorite games in ways they’d never thought possible.

We haven’t even come close to seeing the dozens of Kinect enabled games promised to us by Michael Pachter, so to write the device off at this point could be excluding yourself from one of the most potentially interesting developments in console gaming this side of rumble.

As always, time will tell.


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