Microsoft’s 2011 E3 press conference put to rest any doubts that may have been present regarding whether they would continue to support Kinect after it’s strong initial launch. The peripheral sold like hot cakes – despite a limited selection of games. It even continued to sell outside of its original launch window even though very few new games supporting the device where released at all. Microsoft said games were coming and their E3 press conference demonstrated how true those words were.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing though? Should Microsoft continue to put so much weight behind Kinect? Should third-party developers create unique Kinect features or stand-alone games for a device that only some Xbox 360 owners actually own? Depending on where you stand, the Kinect could be seen as good for games or bad for games. This article examines both sides of the issue.
Part 1: Kinect is Good For Gaming
Kinect is good for gaming because it lets players get more immersed in the game. It allows gamers to talk to their character as well as characters on screen – and interact with them in an entirely new physical way that isn’t possible with just a controller.
The Mass Effect 3 demo shown during Microsoft’s press conference really illustrated some of these possibilities. The player was no longer just selecting a dialogue option with his or her controller – but rather would say the lines and verbally interact with the game through Kinect. Sure, this might not make the player feel like he or she is actually there but it is a start. How much more compelling is a good table read of a play or script versus sitting home and reading all the lines yourself? The voice commands shown in Mass Effect 3 help immerse the player in the game world.
Perhaps an even better example is the way Mass Effect 3 integrated voice commands through Kinect into the combat – specifically commanding your squad. No longer are gamers forced to pull up a menu or item wheel to direct teammates. Now they can simply call out commands and see the on-screen squad follow orders. That is pretty awesome.
Kinect also gives hardcore-game developers another set of tools to play with. These new tools can give gamers fresh experiences and turn, what used to be just boring menus or text screens, into fun and interactive experiences. The peripheral can turn what used to simply be game info or data screens into a whole new experience. The Kinect application in Ghost Recon highlighted one such use.
Instead of simply listing gun types and providing descriptions or menus about weapon customization, Kinect allowed gamers to literally deconstruct the guns and interact with them in a whole new way. It also then let them take those guns out for a test drive to see how the change-ups might impact gameplay. Will gamers spend hours and hours using this feature, probably not. Gamers will, however, more likely spend way more time playing with the guns this way – than if it was just a simple menu and 3D model of the game with text describing its features.
Kinect also lets families play games together. Games like Disneyland Adventures and Kinect Sports Season 2 might not be for you and me – but it does give moms and dads, and grandparents, etc. a way to play games with their younger kids. Just like many of today’s hardcore gamers likely got into gaming at an early age, these titles will help welcome in an entire new generation of gamers. Just because the parents might not ever become a hardcore gamer after playing some Disneyland Kinect doesn’t mean those kids won’t continue to grow and evolve with games. Games using Kinect can also be played by a younger audience. Kids understand moving around a world faster than they can handle an Xbox 360 controller and all its buttons.
Another reason why Kinect is good for gaming might be the simplest, it is new and different. Sure, most hardcore gamers might love their controllers with four shoulder buttons, face buttons, and two analog sticks but that does not mean all games should only use that specific control interface. Had companies like Nintendo not brought analog control sticks home – who knows where gaming would be today. Different experiences only broaden the gaming horizon. Just because we are comfortable with a certain style of gaming doesn’t mean it is best or that there isn’t the possibility for something bigger and better. The day the industry gets comfortable is the day it will start to die. While indie developers continue to push games forward too, it is nice to see the big companies not just resting on their past successes.
Part 2: Kinect is Bad for Gaming
Kinect is Bad for Gaming because Microsoft is seemingly dumping money into Kinect instead of spending the time, money, or resources developing new, original, or engaging games. This year’s Microsoft E3 press conference featured sequel after sequel after sequel. The only real new or original games shown were Kinect titles – and they all looked pretty awful as far as any hardcore gamer is likely concerned.
Just because a company has the technology or device does not mean they need to force it into games. Sometimes the best decision is knowing when to cut losses or wait to release a product. Rumors say that Apple had prototype phones for years before they ever released the first iPhone. The same is supposed to be true about the iPad.
During Microsoft’s press conference the Kinect seemed laggy and unresponsive, not to mention the Kinect-only games featured far inferior graphics when compared to other Xbox 360 games. When you have something that works and works well there is no reason to force change just to provide change. People have been driving and interacting with cars in pretty much the exact same way since the first car was invented. That does not mean that there has not been innovation in the industry, it just means that they realized there was no need to reinvent that particular wheel.
Kinect’s motto is that “you are the controller.” That might be true but only if by you being the controller means that some forms of control, like moving around, are taken away from you. While Kinect might free the player up to do some things, it takes away a lot more – things like movement and precision.
Now because Microsoft has invested so much money in the device it looks like they are leaning heavily on third-party developers to add Kinect functionality into their games too. Instead of spending more time balancing a game, per se, developers need to split resources and learn how to use Kinect tools and how to shoe-horn some form of Kinect integration into a game that was not necessarily created with Kinect in mind.
Instead of truly progressing games, Kinect is having games take a giant step backwards. Technology has moved past the “on-rails” gameplay type and graphics are at a point where a world can be truly immersive. Instead of allowing a gamer to really feel like they are in the game, Kinect games constantly remind gamers how removed they are by limiting the amount of movements that are recognized by the hardware. Waving my arms around crazily and jumping at random times after my character has moved to a pre-set destination is not the immersive game-world I want to live or play in.
Forcing a developer to use a certain tool does not foster creativity. Developers should be able to experiment and play with the tools offered and possibly support Kinect if they want to – but that does not seem to be the case here.
Then there were the Kinect kids games, Star Wars, Sesame Street, and Disneyland. These games will likely sell really well but they are not games that really push gaming or advance the medium in any significant way. Instead, these games show that you can entertain little kids by having them flail around in-front of a TV while their favorite cartoon characters move around the screen. Gaming does not need more mini-game collections and cheap cash-grab games. Innovation is good but only when it truly moves things forward and raises the game.
What do you think? Do you think Kinect is good or bad for gaming? Does Microsoft’s press conference at this year’s E3 make you more or less likely to go purchase a Kinect? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.