Starting at E3 this year, Microsoft has been making a real push to convince so-called "core gamers" to get on board with Kinect. The peripheral has been a hit with the casual market, but has failed to draw in customers looking for more traditional or complex gaming experiences. With games such as Fable: The Journey and and Kinect: Star Wars in the works, Microsoft hopes that core gamers will be lured to the device. In fact, Microsoft representatives have recently stated that they hope to see all of their games featuring Kinect in the near future, and that they believe that core gamers are demanding Kinect functionality in their games.
Still, the current direction that Microsoft is taking the Kinect has failed to fully convince the core gaming community that Kinect is the way to go. There are several major hurdles facing the company, including the anti-controller stance that has been set up by the Kinect marketing campaign, the tendency for developers to use motion controls when they aren't the best choice for a game, and the limitations of the current generation of Kinect technology.
"You are the controller" isn't a bad slogan. The problem is that Microsoft's marketing has also been pushing the idea that a controller is a burden that gets between people and their enjoyment of their entertainment—and they've been pushing it hard. Kinect marketing has even been implying that controllers are too difficult or complicated for casual or non-gamers to understand, which is why the Kinect is supposedly such a great way to enjoy games. Even ignoring the fact that the Xbox controller is less confusing than the typical universal remote control used to access the Xbox 360 in the first place, this claim of controllers getting in the way of gaming rings rather false.
The biggest problem with this marketing campaign is that it has caused Microsoft to paint itself into a corner in terms of how Kinect can be used in games. By refusing to entertain the notion that Kinect games can be enhanced by controllers, games that are primarily motion-controlled become limited in terms of the exploration and combat experiences that they can provide. A common complaint about Kinect games is that they are "on rails," meaning that the player is stuck walking pre-determined paths instead of being able to freely explore the game world or move around a battlefield. While limited directional choices can mitigate this problem somewhat, movement and exploration are far easier to execute with an analog stick.
Truly interesting combat is also difficult to pull off without a controller. With only Kinect controls, how does one effectively signal a way to flank or get behind an enemy? What's the best way for a player to pull off exciting combat manoeuvres like flips and dodge-rolls that can't be executed by an ordinary person in their living room? Strategic positioning and flashy combat moves are important parts of modern combat systems, and while the Kinect could theoretically allow players to signal these moves using gestures, wouldn't it be easier and more accurate to have a small controller in one's right hand and push a button instead?
That question leads to the second hurdle Microsoft faces for the acceptance of Kinect by core gamers. Like the Wii before it, Kinect games can suffer from attempts to shoehorn motion control into situations where it's not an effective means of control. This became known as the "waggle" issue on the Wii, in which players are asked to make some kind of tiresome physical gesture to perform a game function that would be more easily made with simple button presses or the movement of an analog stick. Kinect is great for allowing players to make easy physical motions that can be duplicated in a game, such as jumping, ducking, swinging a sword, or throwing a ball. It's not as great for performing other regular gaming functions such as looking around, switching between walking/running/sneaking, pulling fancy skateboard or snowboard tricks, or performing any of the combat functions listed in the previous paragraph.
Unfortunately, game developers often give into the temptation to try to force motion controls onto abstract game mechanics. This tends to lead to gamers feeling annoyed by repetitive and unnecessary gesture controls, or frustrated because a game expects them to make an unnatural motion that is difficult to replicate and isn't easy for the motion control device to recognize. Again, sometimes a button press is best, and combined with full-body motion control, could make a player feel personally involved in a game's action while also being able to satisfactorily perform actions that are difficult or impossible to replicate while standing in a living room.
Finally, the current Kinect technology simply isn't quick or accurate enough for many hardcore gamers. This isn't a permanent problem: the technology will certainly improve over time, and the next Xbox console is very likely to have improved built-in Kinect functionality. In the meantime, core gamers quickly become disenchanted with games that suffer from input lag or inaccuracies in motion and gesture recognition. Microsoft may wish to consider waiting for the next generation before fully taking the leap into motion-controlled gaming.
Ultimately, Kinect technology has promising applications for core gamers. However, even full-body motion control has limitations that could be overcome by allowing Kinect games to be enhanced with a split controller similar to that employed by the Wii and Move. Without a reliance on a "wand" and its associated gyroscopes, a controller-enhanced Kinect experience has the possibility of being even more interesting and versatile than the motion control experiences on the on the other systems. It's simply up to Microsoft to abandon its ill-advised notion that controllers get in the way of Kinect. With more flexibility and improved technology, motion-controlled games could become valued addition to core gaming lineups, but that's unlikely to happen with the current trajectory that Kinect is taking. Hopefully Microsoft is watching how its core gaming audience is reacting to demos of the current crop of "core" Kinect games, and will consider taking a second look at our old friend the controller.
CCC Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*