Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some further analysis of Kinect

So, after my last post, I started wondering if I was too hard on Microsoft's Kinect. The next day, I got a bulk email from Microsoft advertising their new 360 games and hardware from E3, with Kinect front and center. So, I clicked on it to see what their big promotional videos and landing pages looked like, hoping they were going to sell me on their new game-changing peripheral.

I was greeted with 8 launch titles, 7 of which had videos (apparently Sonic Freeriders didn't get their video in on time). So, what kind of completely original and crazy titles are going to convince you to drop $150 on a new camera?

Here are the eight that Microsoft is featuring:

- Dance Central: DDR with hands. Could be fun, but not exactly shocking.
- Kinectimals: Really pretty tamagotchi, clearly aimed at elementary schoolers.
- Kinect Sports: Wii Sports, only with a camera. Should be a fun tech demo. However, I have to say, Kinect Sports doesn't roll of the tongue nearly as cleanly as Wii Sports.
- Kinect Joy Ride: Crazy driving game where you drive with your hands. I have my doubts about precision, and as far as I can tell this could easily be played better with a controller.
- Your Shape: Fitness Evolved: Exercise "game". Wii Fitness was popular, but this isn't exactly a killer app.
- Kinect Adventures!: Looks to be a more "adventurous" version of Kinect Sports. More minigames, should be fun, but again not going to offer a lot of depth. I'm going to lump this in with sports minigames, because the gameplay really is similar.
- Zumba Fitness: Hey look, another exercise game.
- Sonic Freeriders: Don't know much about this one, but based on the title it likely will be a sort of racing game, perhaps having the players leaning to steer Sonic and friends through levels. Might be pretty, but I have my doubts about it being something you can't play with a joystick.

And here are the 7 additional launch titles that appear to have not made the previous cut, possibly by being too early to really tell much about. The comments below are based on a combination of information found and guesses from me.

- Game Party In Motion: This one will likely be terrible. The first three Game Party titles on the Wii have Metacritic scores of 25, 29, and 37 respectively. I suppose it's heading in an upward trend, so maybe we'll get a 45 from this one.
- Motionsports: Another collection of sports minigames most likely. Ubisoft sometimes puts out good stuff, but I doubt it's gonna really stand out from the other sports minigames.
- Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout: Wow...3 exercise games out of 15 launch titles?
- Adrenaline Misfits: Some sort of extreme sports game. Perhaps of the mini variety?
- Deca Sports Freedom: Wow, this one is the definition of sports minigames. I'm sensing a pattern here...
- Dance Masters: Dancing game by Konami. I suppose this is DDR with arms, and Dance Central is just a poser.
- EA Sports Active 2: Oh, wow...sports mini games... At least the original one on the Wii was well-reviewed.

So, geez, let's do some summary statistics on that staggeringly varied collection of launch titles.

7 Sports Games (mostly mini-games)
3 Exercise Games
2 Dancing Games
2 Racing Games
1 Uber-cute, very shallow Tamagotchi Game.

I suppose it's not surprising that a peripheral named "Kinect" (a portmanteau of Kinetic and Connect, or so I assume) would generate a lot of motion-based games, and sports, dancing, and exercise are the most obvious ways to go. I think my disappointment is that there's just such a lack of creativity from developers. I'm sure some of the games will be cool and have some clever mechanics, but is this really all we can expect from the peripheral? How many different sports minigames is a person really going to buy? Honestly, the Tamagotchi game, as silly and boring as it looks to any post-pubescent player, is probably the most creative entry, allowing you to pet and play with your virtual pets, even having them mimic your movements.

However, this is the first generation. Games always get better with time (assuming they have time - this is year five of the 360 after all), and hopefully we'll see more creativity. But there was something else that was much more alarming to me in all of this. Go check out the Kinect Adventures! video on the Microsoft link I provided. Watch carefully as the little girl moves at the beginning, and at when the avatar moves. Yep, you're not imagining that: there's a very clear delay of somewhere around 1/4 to 1/2 a second. Apparently, the video processing is heavy enough that there's actually a noticeable delay in movement. I worry that this could spell doom for the peripheral reaching anything farther than the most casual audiences. The inability to control quickly and precisely, the loss of an additional 1/2 second of reaction time, is going to make precision and reflex heavy games almost impossible to play.

When I was pondering what to write this post about originally, my idea was to try to come up with some creative gameplay ideas for Kinect despite my negative review. I got sidetracked by the disappointment in the launch titles and the shocking delay in motion control. Perhaps next time I'll offer some new gameplay ideas - it should be a fun exercise if nothing else. I certainly can't do much worse than the current offering. Room for growth might be there, but a weak launch with no killer apps could doom the peripheral at the starting line, keeping us from ever seeing if it actually did have the potential to change the way we interact with our TVs.

(I feel the need to add that the peripheral is well-targeted towards younger gamers. My wife was impressed with the videos and could see family members really jumping into these games. So, from the perspective of Microsoft stealing some market share from Nintendo, Kinect could be a real win. My interest, academically speaking, is more from gameplay innovation. Keep in mind that the Wii is a huge financial success but I still consider it generally a failure from a gameplay perspective.)


  1. I'm interested to see where you'll go in terms of creative ideas for the Kinect. It's such an interesting platform; technically, it's leaps and bounds beyond the Wii - especially in terms of non-controller control innovation and what it means for games, of just about every genre.

    CellCraft for Kinect would likely be Very Interesting.

    ...Of course, programming for the Kinect is likely to be leaps and bounds more difficult, too...

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