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Posted on October 6th, 2011 by
The Kinect, for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, came out almost a year ago. It’s a control interface that uses only motion sensors and voice recognition to control the gaming console. It was accompanied by a lot of games where users jump around, dance, or talk to the screen. But last month started the release of the second generation Kinect games that take advantage of the unique interface opportunities afforded by motion controls.
Twisted Pixel, a small game development company, came out with a game that would be unique regardless of the controls, Gunstringer. The user plays as a marionette skeleton gunslinger intent on revenge against those that killed him. They control the marionette strings with one hand and his gun with the other (switchable for player preference).
Some of the most popular titles for the Xbox 360 are first-person shooters, and Sega’s Rise of Nightmares (rated M for Mature) is taking on the challenge. Though walking can be awkward, using shoulder movements to turn from side to side and placing one foot forward to determine how fast the character moves, there’s definitely more to this game than just jumping to get coins or boogying down. They also include portions where the player must perform a specific gesture, such as reaching out to open a door or pulling a lever down. This can get a bit tedious after a while, but they're attempting to immerse the player in the game environment.
One of the biggest second generation Kinect games is Kinect Star Wars, scheduled for 2012. It features lightsaber and force push gestures, though moving may still be a bit awkward. It requires a user to duck their head to go into a run. Other details about the interactions haven't been released.
The most difficult hurdle for all these games is allowing the user to control forward motion while standing still. Gunstringer is “on rails”, which means the character moves forward at a standard pace at all times, only allowing the user to move him from side to side or jump. This isn’t ideal for many first-person shooters, which rely on cover-based action where the character hides behind something and then shoots and rushes forward. Precise timing and movement toward a specific location or in relation to an enemy can be key to moving forward in the game. Rise of Nightmares gets around this somewhat, because it requires close quarters combat. They've also implemented an "auto-move" feature for most areas of the game, where the player can raise their arm and the game will take over movement.
The physical actions performed by the users also have to be sustainable over long periods of time, by people who are not typically active. Gamers are known for playing games for hours at a time, so requiring they sustain an awkward position, such as a crouch, could deter them from certain games. The physical actions for games have to be precise, easy to perform, and immersive for the user, allowing them to lose themselves in the flow of the game-play experience.
These early experiments may not be perfect, but they do show where the Kinect is trying to go and perhaps how it might get there. And don’t worry, there will still be new games for dancing around and cutting up fruit.
The next area of the Kinect to get some attention from Microsoft will be non-gaming aspects, such as the voice control and more streaming video options included in the next update, due out this holiday season.