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A Gaming Blog by Sean Perkins

Control

I’ve already written about the possible horrors that Kinect could bring to the world, but now I want to tackle the software from a different angle. [Disclaimer – Do not attempt to tackle software. Much of it is incorporeal and trying to tackle such objects will likely result in personal physical trauma.]

As far as I see it Kinect has two major unique selling points: it’s intangible and intuitive. By that I mean that there are no controllers to hold while playing, and the method by which you use the software should come naturally to most; if you’re trying to kick a ball, you just pretend to kick a ball for instance. As a concept this amazes me as it truly breaks down most of the barriers associated with playing computer games. Age and level of ability are no longer a factor, and even hand-eye coordination is an afterthought as even if you’re not good at running you at least know how to run. Physical ability, or rather disability, is still an issue though. Remember that Nintendo Wii advert with the guy suffering from MS who’s in a wheelchair? Of course you don’t, it was never made – and for reasons beyond any fear of causing offence.

As intriguing a concept as this is, I feel that those behind the production of Kinect have failed to realise that they are taking a step backwards in terms of immersive interaction.

Computer games allow us to interact with a world using three of our five sensory systems. The first two are sight and sound, both of which are covered by Kinect; the missing link here is touch. Although we are unable to reach into the game world and physically touch the surroundings or the characters (which is probably a good thing in Lara Croft’s case…) we still have tactile feedback in the form of a physical control device. This feedback is highly limited to a slight vibration now and then, but more importantly it allows us to feel that we have done something in the game world by touching and pressing a physical button in the real world.

Kinect’s use of gestures is a good attempt at filling this void, and certainly the critters of Kinectimles react to being ‘stroked’ realistically. Unfortunately no matter how realistic it looks, no matter how imaginative the player, we will never be able to feel the animal we’re touching because it doesn’t exist. Now I know that we wouldn’t be able to feel the animal with a regular controller either, but we’d at least be able to feel something. The controller could vibrate to mimic the soft purring of a kitten or the panting of an excited dog, but more importantly we would know that we had pressed a button, and that this had caused our avatar to reach out and touch something.

Think for a second about the keyboard on an iPhone. You can’t possibly touch-type with an iPhone because you can’t touch the keys. This makes typing much more difficult on an iPhone, and results in more mistakes. If you’ve never used a touch screen keyboard then just trust me on this – I’ve actually written a whole blog post on an iPhone before, and it took far longer than it should’ve done.

Kinect suffers from the same problem as smart phones. Games that have relied on button inputs for so long aren’t going to make the transition to Kinect without making some sacrifices along the way. The Wii got away with it thanks to the fact that it still has controllers. Playing Call of Duty 3 on the Wii is fun thanks to the fact that you eventually feel like you’re becoming a better marksman, but I honestly can’t see something like an FPS working on Kinect. It’s not just FPS games either.

Music/rhythm games are another genre that will likely have a mixed future with the platform. Dancing games will be fantastic on Kinect, of that I have no doubt. It’s a bit of a marriage made in Heaven, and being able to dance however you want to dance will be a great experience for those who like dancing. For others, the constraint of a dance-mat allows them to follow simple directions while creating the illusion that they can dance. Games like Guitar Hero are very much the same. Again, the issue here is a lack of physical and tactile feedback. Playing Guitar Hero and Rock Band isn’t fun because playing air guitar is fun; it’s fun because you can hold and ‘play’ a physical guitar which causes the immersion and fun of the game rather than enhancing it. After all, without the constraints you might as well just play guitar or dance till your heart’s content – there’s no need for a game to not tell you what to do.

As gamers we have understood from the very beginnings of the computer game medium that what we are playing is an abstract representation of a world, real or otherwise. As part of this comes the realisation that our actions upon the game world, and the way we control them, are also abstract. Kinect does away with this, or at least is attempting to, but if gamers didn’t want abstract – if they wanted real life – they wouldn’t play games.

Like I said earlier I’m fascinated by Kinect and I would love the opportunity to design something for it. However, I honestly don’t think that it will be the glorious future of gaming that Microsoft would have us believe it to be. It will succeed somewhat, and might make Microsoft reevaluate its foray into the casual market, but it’ll end up being no more than a footnote in gaming lore. An interesting one, no doubt, but a footnote nonetheless.

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One Response to “Control”

  1. I can’t wait for Kinect. I’ve tried my best to avoid the negative comments about it failing etc.. I just see it as the next generation in gaming, and by this time next year, the games will rock. The launch games are pretty gimicky, but I watched the clip for Dance Paradise, the game which Universal Music is working on…now that looks like the bomb. I’ve pre-ordered the 250GB Kinect Bundle….I plan on buying a lot of games, hehe. Lucky I got in fast, I read that Gamestop already sold out. Saying all this, one thing I won’t be buying is that dumb boat accessory, can’t believe they even thought to make something like that. At least they could do is make some kind of weapon Kinect Bundle with a machine gun, lightsaber or something, but a boat??


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