Following on from the burial of the conference by all & sundry (well, apart from "B+ N'Gai"), 360 Magazine have jumped on in there as well, & has also been quoted by BBC News Technology:
360 Magazine’s Deputy Editor laments Microsoft’s focus on the casual markethttp://www.360magazine.co.uk/360-editor ... rence-yet/
Update: This story has subsequently been quoted by the BBC on BBC.co.uk
There are a couple of important factors behind the direction that Microsoft has taken at this year’s E3 press conference. Firstly, Kinect has cost Microsoft an undisclosed amount, but when you add together the amount the company has spent on development, marketing, and third-party support, the figure you end up with is something not a million miles away from the cost of a new console launch. Microsoft cannot afford to write it off.
Secondly, it was reported in March that Microsoft had sold some 10 million Kinect units. However, this figure has been widely reported as sold in, not sold through. How many Kinect units are actually in people’s homes then is something only Microsoft can tell.
Put these two factors together and you have a hardware launch that simply cannot, must not fail.
For me, though, Kinect just doesn’t work well enough to support core games as we know them.
The games industry has been ploughing in a very specific direction since it began. In a nutshell, it has aimed to create more realistic experiences for us, the consumers. You may quack at how a fantasy RPG, or a space opera like Mass Effect can be more ‘realistic’, but think about it: more lifelike characters, richer vegetation, believable weather. All these things mean little when compared to how hard developers have worked to make us feel like a part of the world they’ve created, how hard they’ve worked on our means of input and feedback.
From FPS’ to sports titles, the interface is, more than anything else, what translates gameplay into a language we can all understand. Breakthrough MMA title UFC 2009 was great because of its depth of control, not because of its visuals. How good would it have been if, for example, instead of complex reversals, executed with precision, timing and skill, we had to clap our hands in time to a flashing pair of man-shorts? Not good. Not good at all.
A control system defines how games develop over time, and the good old pad has guided that path across four generations. What Kinect asks of developers is the near-impossible. Because to do away with the pad is to do away with two decades of progress.
The upshot, as proven in yesterday’s Microsoft press conference, is that without the option to drop Kinect, and without the ability to rewrite videogame history, what we’re left with is a bunch of on-the-rails bore-trains that belong back in the arcades circa 1995. They may be fun for five minutes, but where is the gameplay? Where is the skill, the goal to overcome, and the satisfaction gained from achieving it?
All that: “Xbox! Movies! Latest! Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1!” Selecting menu options with the wave of your hand, moving a spaceship using the force – since its release I haven’t seen one game, one interface, or one part of the Xbox 360’s dashboard that wouldn’t be more easily operated using a game pad.
So developers have had to think ‘Okay, well, there’s no need for Kinect here. What we’ll have to do then is find ways in which we can use it that aren’t needed, but that will persuade people who spend a hundred and fifty bucks on it that it’s not completely useless.’
Because when exactly in the Star Wars films or TV series does a Jedi say ‘Lightsaber on!’ to activate his Lightsaber? Perhaps the Jedi used to, but then so many of them died because their saber didn’t understand a Kashyyykian accent, that they eventually relented and reverted to a button. Because a button always works. A button knows what it is you’re trying to do.
Third-party attempts to understand how to force Kinect into accepted gameplay norms are, in my opinion, nowhere near where they need to be. Nothing highlighted this in greater clarity than the Mass Effect 3 demo, where Dr Ray Muzyka introduced us to voice control. We thought this was a great idea, but, seconds later, we find out that it’s not Shepherd’s lines we get to speak, but his internal monologue, which Shepherd then translates into the actual dialogue. What?
What Microsoft promised from this E3 was to deliver ‘Core Gaming Experiences’ to Kinect. What we have here are some core-like experiences. We have a Star Wars game that makes the Jedi on-screen look like a bloke thrashing about in his living room, and the bloke thrashing around in his living room look a bit of a numpty. We have a Ghost Recon title whose gun customisation involves waving your hands about just like you wouldn’t in real life, and we can even become the sniper who raises his hand in the air to see down his scope. A sniper. Who raises his hand in the air.
As far as Kinect-specific content goes, we have a rogues gallery of saccharin Disney content, Sesame Street, and a bunch of Kinect ‘Apps’ that, broadly speaking, do nothing useful besides acting as competent tech-demos. The rest of the games were on the rails, and most of these are quite obviously designed so that it’s impossible to fail at them.
Because Kinect, in my experience, is inaccurate. Deadly inaccurate. Inaccurate to the point where even something that should be relatively simple for the technology, such as force-lifting a giant spaceship and putting it ten yards to the left, takes three or four frustrating tries before Kinect even begins to understand what the player is attempting to do.
This is what Kinect is forcing games to become. No more thinking, no more skill, no more intelligence required; just flail your arms roughly in time with the action and you’ll get through it when the device finally cottons onto your intention.
A new Halo game in 18 months time? An old Halo game re-mastered? Is this what we have to look forward to for the next year and a half? I’m as excited about Forza 4 as it’s probably possible to be, but Microsoft needs to take a serious look at its core audience and get things back on track by providing for their needs. If all this Kinect content – which is irrelevant to me – had been announced alongside a plethora of real games, I wouldn’t care. Let the casual crowd have their toy and I’ll stick to the games that involve skill and satisfaction. But, sadly, what we have is Kinect replacing the announcement of exclusive core titles.
For me Microsoft has lost touch with the people who made the Xbox platform the success it is. It promised to deliver to its core gamers, but instead it’s filled their core titles with a bunch of Kinect irrelevances, and made 2011-2012 the best 12 months on Xbox 360 for eight year-old girls.
Not quite the press MS were probably hoping for heading out of E3.