Kinect

Whelp, it looks like it’s time for me to do a piece on the Kinect. After all, what self-respecting geek blogger would I be if I didn’t put my three cents (inflation) into the subject? So, here it goes!

First, the obvious comparison, the Wii.

I’m betting that most of you have a Wii. Now, tell me, when’s the last time that you “serious gamers” broke out that little white box? A month? Three? Personally, I hadn’t used my Wii for at least half a year until recently, when I rented No More Heroes. Why? Because it’s not for the “hardcore” gamer.

I take back that last statement, as what constitutes “hardcore” is a subject that has been widely debated. After all, there are hardcore Farmville players. Perhaps the more appropriate term would be “violent” gamer. You know, the kind of gamer that doesn’t mind a little blood and guts in a game; in fact, they usually prefer it. This is the traditional “gamer”.

The Wii came out with a few titles for the “gamer”: Metroid Prime: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, Mario Galaxy, so on and so forth. However, there were limitations, as there always are.

  1. The Wii’s processing power was crap.
  2. The motion sensor didn’t operate on a 1-to-1 basis.
  3. It’s Nintendo, by the terror of the Dark Gods. That’s almost synonymous with “kiddy”. (Note the “almost”, fanboys. Don’t rage on me.)

The Kinect can deal with #1 and #3, but what of #2?

The system supposedly works very well, tracking every part of your body via the camera and sensor. On an aside, the first time I heard about the sensor on your spine I couldn’t help think of the plugs from the Matrix… huh. Anyways, let’s pretend that you have the ridiculously large room needed to play the Kinect correctly, and it can sense your movements perfectly. Does that make it a good system?

Answer: Not really. See, the problem with the Wii’s controls was that they weren’t perfect. Note that I didn’t say that they were “bad”, they simply weren’t perfect, and that was the reason for their downfall.

Motion controls work on the same principle as the uncanny valley. It’s okay if they’re completely crap, because then you simply won’t play the game. If they’re perfect then there’s nothing but flower and unicorns. However, if they sit in the valley between unplayable and perfect, where they’re good enough to tear through the game but still annoy you to no end, then that’s the real problem.

The key to the success of the games I mentioned before was that the motion controls were reserved for what were essentially gimmicks, mostly. Okay, Metroid had you point and shoot, but that barely counts. They took advantage of the motions, but they didn’t rely exclusively on them. When push came to shove, there was always good old buttons to get you out of a jam. This was especially useful for the twitch aspect of gaming, where you don’t really have time for the system to figure out if that imperfect motion you made was to draw your bow or swing your sword.

However, the Kinect won’t have the ability to use buttons for anything. This might be their big position, the “Pff, who needs buttons?” idea, but let’s face it: games will have to be fairly easymode to compensate for any kind of mechanical failing. Basically, the Kinect has two options: it either works flawlessly out of the gate, or it’s going to find itself in a cardboard box.

And before you lot say anything, yes, all of these things apply to the Move as well. But at least *that* has buttons all over the lollypops.

However, let’s pretend that the motion controls are perfect, for the sake of the argument.

It’s still not going to surpass the controller. Why? Because the end goal of gaming is to lose yourself in the game, which motion controls simply can’t do without a holodeck situation.

Why? Immersion. That all-too-common word that we hear again and again from game reviewers everywhere. The exact definition of immersion varies, but the general idea is that the game draws you in enough to make you forget that you’re playing a game. It’s like reading a really good book, eventually you stop noticing the words and the fact that you’re turning pages.

Motion controls kill immersion like no other, because thinking about what motion you need to do in order to perform a certain action will rip you out of it faster than… I don’t know, a really fast thing. You don’t want to know what my first thought for that analogy was.

Anyways, in order to cut back on movement failure you have to have one motion, such as pressing a button, always respond to one action. If you want to convert that idea into motion form then you need to make your body waggles very specific, but also very forgiving. You couldn’t have your sword slash as a horizontal slash but have your Magic Death Spell be diagonal, because then you would have players casting that spell by accident when things got hectic. Plus, arm flailing? Not quite immersion-making.

Thus, it isn’t for the gamer.But hey! It’s not meant for us, it’s the system for the casual gamer, right?It’s the toy that the nuclear family will play with in-between going to family reunions and telling each other how much they love each other!

Except for the fact that selling the system to what we affectionately will call “non-gamers”, who will be referred to from here on in  as “your mom” (yes, I am going there. It fits!), will be an uphill battle the entire way, as it’s only cost-effective if the family already owns a Xbox.

Think of the mindset of the average person. They want a videogame system. There’s three choices: the Wii, the Xbox, and the Playstation 3.

First, let’s examine the sheer cost of the systems, which will probably be first and foremost on the minds of the Kinect’s target audience. Your darling mother doesn’t care about brand loyalty, or exclusives, or backwards-compatibility, or any of that. She just wants a game system. Thus, which is she going to favor the heaviest in the trio? The Wii, of course, which costs half as much as the Xbox.

Secondly, the Wii has already been well-established in that classy lady’s mind. It has been the baby of the media for a long time, with so many stations running stories about how the system helps the elderly, how it brings families together, and so on. Thus, when your matriarchal figure thinks of a gaming system then she is going to think of the Wii.

Thirdly, it’s fucking Nintendo. Enough said.

In all, I’ll be really interested to see how well the Kinect actually sells over Christmas. Microsoft is predicting 5 million sales, and I have to say this: I sure hope that launch is outrageously successful, because who knows if they’ll get a post-season.

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