Kinect and other Motion Gimmicks

Quick question: is anyone here actually excited about the Kinect?

I was totally underwhelmed by it back when it was called Project Natal and Peter Molyneux was telling us that it will change computing forever and be more ground breaking than the invention of a mouse. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. Motion control is not ground breaking in any way shape or form – it’s a gimmick. Nintendo has shown that it is a gimmick that can actually make money, but it is a gimmick nevertheless.

Have you ever seen a Wii game that really uses the motion control to do something really cool and innovative? No, of course not. Wii games can be usually lumped into one of two categories: party games and regular games. The former are usually collections of mini-games that make the extensive use of the Wiimote basically aping the Wii Sports formula. The later use standard controls and have one “shake the Wiimote” action that unleashes a special power or whatever. Why is that? It’s because the Wiimote accelerometers and optical sensors are not that accurate.

Actually, that’s a lie. The technology itself is accurate enough. It’s is just not practical. The way we use it is what creates the inaccuracy illusion. For example, how often do you make an awkward swing in Wii Sports that the game does not even bother registering or misinterpret completely? It happens all the time. If you stand at a wrong angle the optical sensors may not register your motion properly. If you swing to vigorously, or start with the controller in a weird position (ie. recovering from a previous swing) the accelerometers may also be fooled. And even if you are aligned properly and your motions are perfectly executed, it is still incredibly hard to make precise motions because you do not have a reference point or feedback. When you use a traditional controller you eventually get a feel for how hard you actually need to push the analog thumb-stick or hold the button for your in-game avatar to do something. You get a tactile feedback so if you want to move just a smidge you just tap the button. Could you be as precise with a Wiimote? Could you roll it or twist it just right to perform a timed precision jump in a platformer? In most cases, the answer is no, not really. And it’s not really because of the technology it can detect small precise movements. The problem is that it is much easier to lightly tap a button than it is to rotate the whole controller a fraction of an inch. While the motion controls attracted non-gamers to Nintendo’s console, the tactile feedback of a button or a thumb-stick turns out to be much more reliable and usable game-play mechanic for anything that is not a casual party-game.

That is not to say people are not doing cool things with the motion technology. It’s just that most games are either full on “get drunk and swing the controller as hard as you can while laughing hysterically with your friends” or “you know, you should probably buy the classic controller for this” and not much in between. The possible third category are the racing games which use the Wii Wheel accessory but since I don’t play racing games, I can’t really comment on that. I’m told the wheel works surprisingly well so there is that.

Now Microsoft has come up with an even less precise motion controlling device which has no tactile feedback at all. They tell us this will revolutionize gaming but I just don’t see it. The problem here is the same. It is not a matter of your hardware detecting precise movements – I’m sure all the new motion controllers can do that just fine. The problem is in making those movements in the way a game can register them, in rapid succession and under pressure (as this is what happens in non casual games). Again, this is not about hardware. Can you, the player, pull it of?

Let me put it another way: have you ever played Dance Dance Revolution? The game looks easy deceptively easy. You just put your feed where the game tells you to put them. But as soon as the song speeds up you realize how hard it is to keep up. This is how I imagine playing a hard core Kinect game would be – difficult and exhausting. And it is fine if you want your game to be like that – if that’s part of it’s appeal. My question is, can you make a game that uses Kinect style controls without actually sacrificing the depth of game play? Can you make a FPS game as engaging as Half Life 2 or Team Fortress 2 without actually using a traditional controller? How about Halo? Are you going to implement Kinect version of Halo?

Here is a little challenge for Microsoft: I want to see the next Halo game to have full Kinect support. Also, I would request an Air Guitar Hero game – you know, like Guitar Hero but without an actual controller. After all, I’m the controller right? I don’t need some plastic wiggle-waggle to play games, no? If you pull this off, then I will truly believe that you have made something revolutionary. Until then, I will treat Kinnect as a very expensive controller that essentially lets you play Wii Sports knockoffs on your Xbox.

The problem with that is that if all I really wanted to play was pretend-bowling, fake golf and pseudo-tennis I could just pay $50 more and buy a whole Wii system – complete with free games. In fact, chances are that I already had a Wii in my house for the last 4 years.

Here is my prediction: Kinect will be the new Power Glove.

Edit: I just learned that Fable III will have Kinect support and that Peter Molyneux had a raging boner for the Natal technology for years now. Considering is involvement, it would probably fair to expect the next Fable installment to make quite extensive use of this new platform. It will be interesting to see how they implement that. I guess that game will be the real test of what can be done with Kinect and to what extent it can be really applied to a popular action-RPG title. Still, I’ll believe it when I see it done.

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12 Responses to Kinect and other Motion Gimmicks

  1. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    From my experience with the Wii, motion control is extremely fun when played with others, but extremely boring and awkward when played alone.

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  2. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Oh, and games utilizing motion control for the sake of it is extremely annoying. I’m looking at you New Super Mario Bros Wii!

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  3. speaking of power-glove… i just saw a video of some kind of full-arm-exo-skelleton-controller somewhere (damn.. cant find a link)
    this would imho be the much better approach to motion detection, because then it would be easy to implement both, feedback and exact recognition.

    …allthough in the video i’ve seen it still seemed a bit sluggish to control, but some guy was allready able to show some nearly usable moves in a FPS-Game.

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  4. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    This reminds me of the long raging argument for keyboard/mouse over gamepad for shooters. Not long ago playing a FPS with a gamepad was considered heresy, now some people actually use gamepads to play them on their computers. I think it all depends on the game. Developers have learned how to design a FPS playable with a gamepad, with fewer enemies, aiming assist, etc… Give your new hardware to lots of game developers with ideas and you can end up with something innovative.

    Current and older games are designed to be played on the controllers of their times. You couldn’t play Doom or Quake 3 with a gamepad, because it requires too fast movements and aiming. It’s obvious trying to copy the game while changing only the control scheme is not going to work, or not as well. But if games are designed around a new system, like Guitar Hero and DDR are, I don’t foresee any problem in their controls apart from the usual learning curve that comes with them. A plastic guitar or a DDR mat doesn’t impress me technically speaking, but these two are great games when played with their special controllers, yet very dull if you use the classic one.

    If Microsoft can come up with a brand new idea for motion detecting gameplay, their newest gimmick can be quite successful.

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  5. ST/op DENMARK Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Dr. Azrael Tod wrote:

    speaking of power-glove… i just saw a video of some kind of full-arm-exo-skelleton-controller somewhere (damn.. cant find a link)

    Oh, you mean
    or ame-controller-hands-on-video/
    I guess :)

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Perhaps it would be better but it will never catch on because:

    - it is technically a powerglove
    - it is not casual enough

    What kinect has going for it is the casual vibe of “look at us adults being spastic playing this game, LOLOLOLOLOL isn’t this even sillier than Wii! Look, I just kicked my kid in the head by accident. LOLFUN! Look at me I’m waving my hands and shaking my ass… I look twice as foolish as if I was playing Wii… PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BUY THIS THING! PLEASE! WE MUST WIN AT CASUAL GAMES WITH NINTENDORKS!”

    Putting on a glove feels more like “virtual reality” shit which will probably scare away the crowd they are trying to attract with Kinect.

    @ Zel:

    That’s true. I used to play the original Diablo on my PS1 back in the day. The mouse intensive game play actually translated fairly well to the console without dumbing it down to much – instead of point and click system it had direct control for movement and auto-targeting which worked fairly well unless you happened to be fighting near some barrels or chests. :P So yes, you can adopt a game to a controller.

    Still, is anyone using the Wii motion controls in a very serious and/or innovative ways these days? We have tons of Wii developers out there working on all kinds of games, but it seems that majority of them is unable to figure out how to use the motion detection other than the “shake for special movie” gimmick.

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  7. JKjoker ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    let me make another prediction, all fable 3 will use kinect for is for the context actions (you know, waving hands, farting and other pointless actions)

    Zel: have you played a new fps on pc ? difficulty is completely broken when the mouse controls are not ruined by forced mouse smoothing, the game usually becomes extremely easy because enemies tend to stand still so you can pull off headshots in consoles (making them sitting ducks in pc) and bullet time tends to last long enough for you to clear an entire room with a mouse but just kill 1 or 2 with a pad

    i remember when i used to feel useless playing unreal tournament and constantly having my ass handed back to me by both humans and bots, these days i beat singlep fps without even trying in the harder difficulties and im pretty sure i suck at them so please dont think consolized fps escaped unaffected

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  8. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak: It’s been a while since I played a Wii game, but I liked how Zelda: Twilight Princess used the Wiimote for aiming ranged weapons. The transition from classic controls to aiming mode was very smooth, and it’s an ability I missed when I later played the game on my Gamecube. Usually it’s small additions instead of gameplay overhaul, like the ability to balance the character while walking on a pole, or aiming a gun a little more precisely, but they work.

    @ JKjoker: I don’t play many FPS. I think the latest was STALKER: Call of Prypyat, and I didn’t find it easy even on normal difficulty (until I got the overpowered gauss rifle, but that’s near the end). As far as multiplatform games go, I remember Bioshock was quite easy because of the resurrection chambers, and Modern Warfare was quite an ordeal to finish on hard difficulty – damn sniper escape. I’ve never been good at quick paced games like Quake or UT, so I haven’t felt this much of a dumbing down.

    Still, even I noticed changes from the old days, my point was not that the games were unaffected, but that they were adapted to be playable with a gamepad… and by a larger audience. They succeeded: you can play such a game with a Xbox controller and not feel hindered by the control scheme. I suppose if you were good or decent at FPS before, playing one designed for a gamepad with unhindered mouse controls would be like playing DDR with a keyboard. It’s just not the way the game’s designed to be played, so no wonder the balance is messed up.

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  9. JKjoker ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Stalker is a pc based fps, and there is a difference between “hard” and “unfair”,in MW1 in the harder diffs a few parts when you are alone against a lot of enemies its almost impossible because they pretty much never miss and everyone is shooting at you even when you cant see them, you still can get head shots pretty easily with a mouse

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  10. @ Luke Maciak: Of course it will never catch on… and there is even another reason for it: Noone wants to play 3hours straight with holding his arms up in front of himself. :-D

    But at least it looks some kind of usable and with force-feedback it could become something cool, that at least geeks will want to try.

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  11. Chrissy UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    I’ve played a couple single-player Wii games that used the motions well, such as swinging the sword in Zelda: Twilight Princess, or using the grapple beam in Metroid Prime 3 (especially for yanking away enemy’s shields).

    Although the use of motions in Call of Duty 3 was just worthless and difficult.

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  12. jovlem NETHERLANDS Internet Explorer Windows says:

    This is how shooters might work with Kinect:

    You stil use a normal controller and you can switch any time between “normal” dual stick and motion controls.

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