A Different Way to Look At Kinect

By Chad Awkerman

September 13, 2010

While the battle wages on between two new pieces of hardware from opposing companies – the PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s Kinect – I tend to view these two distinctly different “motion controllers” in the terms of what new and interesting experiences it can bring my way. I’m of the opinion that we still, in fact, do need a controller for many gaming applications. After all, imagine how awkward it would feel to pretend you’re holding a steering wheel driving a car around a track or to pretend you’re holding a gun, pretend you’re reloading the ammo and pretend you’re switching weapons.

Microsoft seems to be catching a lot of flak from their hardcore contingent because it seems like they’re going in a more casual direction with Kinect. You can use it to feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report to navigate around the dashboard, through Netflix and Zune and numerous other applications outside of gaming itself. Then, we have more casual experiences like Dance Central and Kinectimals coming our way. Regardless of what you think about these games individually, you have to admit that, for the most part, they are experiences that may not actually need a controller, like it seems a racing or shooter game might. Even at that, I still think it would be a bit awkward trying to pet an animal without one physically in front of me, but to each their own.

The Move offers a more tactile experience, and Sony is making it painfully obvious the applications it has in mind, especially with its numerous tech demos and community events, which all focusing on the variety of ways you can use this new device to fit your play style. So, on one hand we have a more tactile, traditional experience, still using a controller. Then, on the other, we have more of a hands-free environment that seems to be little more than a fancy navigation device in most people’s eyes.

I don’t fault Microsoft for going the casual route, however when I think about Kinect, I tend to feel much like I stated in the introductory paragraph – what new experiences can Kinect bring to me that will enhance my life as a gamer? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is one thing Kinect can do that the PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii can’t, and it does have to do with the whole hands-free selling point, but somehow I don’t think Microsoft is marketing it with these ideas in mind.

Some of the best game play experiences I’ve had deal with not just typical games, but those that attempt to go outside the boundries of tradition and reach for the stars, so to speak, bringing innovative new ways to experience the medium. Mind you, motion control is nothing new to Sony – it has been in their PS3 controllers since day one. Yet, to this day, not many games have been able to capture something special with that ability. Flower is one game that did, it attempted to bring a whole new sensory experience to gamers, with its idyllic setting, zen-like mood music, subtle visuals that excited the senses and ignited the imagination of what can be seen, heard and felt within the medium.

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I feel it is experience like that that Microsoft should be gearing Kinect toward. One big reveal that may have passed under most people’s radar at E3 was Child of Eden, the new game from Rez studio Q Entertainment (to be published by Ubisoft). I’ve seen that part of E3 replayed on video, and read numerous articles about it, including a great hands-on preview and interview in the latest Electronic Gaming Monthly. Is this a hardcore or a casual game? I say neither, or both, as it goes outside those confining definitions and transcends to a whole new realm of truly experiencing a game.

Child of Eden, much like its spiritual predecessor Rez, sees players shoot at various visually stimulating targets on-screen, and, upon destruction, these targets produce melodic sounds. While this is in development both for the PS3 (with possible Move support) and the Xbox 360 (with Kinect support), I see this as mostly a majestic controller-free experience.

To understand why, we first have to look into why games like Rez and Child of Eden were developed. It has been stated that these games were developed as an experiment in synesthesia. For those unfamiliar, synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition where stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (from Wikipedia). Basically, it is a cognitive condition that allows someone to experience audio, visual and tactile stimuli (or any combination thereof) into one overarching experience.

You might find it odd that I’m talking about controller-free gaming along with tactile stimuli, both in the same sentence, but it could also be the lack of that stimuli – or a floating feeling. When you see visuals of Child of Eden, it is the type of game you can just imagine yourself floating through, shooting at the various colored creatures, waving your hands to interact with the various game features and just experiencing the moment of simulated synesthesia.

That, my friends, is the power that Kinect can give you. I’m not saying one device is better than the next, but just like the consoles themselves, each has their pros and cons, and a truly hands-free experience – completely separate from this hardcore vs. casual debate – is what I see being a huge strength of Microsoft’s fancy camera. This is the direction Microsoft should take things – not in trying to mimic controller functions by way of a hands-free device, but by creating experiences that can specifically be designed to deliver something you can’t get anywhere else in the same manner.

I mentioned that Child of Eden was also going to be available on the PS3 with possible Move support. This is not the same thing. The PlayStation Move is a controller and it will not provide the same experience as I see Kinect providing for this particular title. While the mechanics and the game itself might be the same, the experience will not be. This is the selling point Microsoft should be using, and I think that is going a bit over their head. Instead, they are focusing on gaming applications that are just as good if not better with a controller in your hand – driving, shooting, rowing, petting an animal, dancing. I hope they focus more on what experiences we can get nowhere else – much like exclusive games – and in that way, make Kinect special in its own right.

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Chad Awkerman

Chad joined the DualShockers staff in mid 2009 and since then has put much of his time into covering RPGs, with a focus on the Japanese side of the genre, from the obscure to the mainstream. He's a huge fan of iconic games like Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 yet enjoys the smaller niche titles, as well. In his spare time he enjoys experiencing new beer, new foods and keeping up with just about every sci-fi show on television. He's married to an intelligent, beautiful Southern Belle who keeps his life interesting with witty banter and spicy Cajun cooking.

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