One of the most exciting aspects of working in the industry is the chance to try out new games before the general public does. With those new games sometimes comes the new emerging technologies as well. This year at San Diego Comic Con, Kinect (formerly Project Natal) was available for the press to try out in Microsoft’s private press lounge. While there, I got the chance to try out two of the upcoming Kinect titles, Kinect Sports and Dance Central.
At first glance, many people would look at Kinect Sports and say it is a rip off of Wii Sports. To an extent, their claim is warranted. Kinect Sports is a collection of minigames using the Kinect motion controls centered around various sports. One can’t fault Microsoft for creating this title. It is no secret that Wii Sports helped drive sales of the Wii above the 25 million unit mark to non-traditional video game players. Sony is also producing Sports Champions for the PlayStation Move. It’d be leaving money on the table if Microsoft didn’t capitalize on this trend as well.
The first thing you notice about the Kinect is the lack of tangible feedback. During Kinect Sports, my first instinct was to grasp the bowling ball as my avatar’s hand went over it. The game responds by automatically grabbing the ball, regardless of whether you actually close your hand around it. For a moment, it catches you off guard that you aren’t really holding anything.
The camera is incredibly accurate monitoring your movements. From how you pull your arm back to the speed of your throw to the angle your arm ends up after the release, all these are factored into the game. You cannot just make a simple swipe of your wrist with this game. You have to follow through on the entire motion. This does however mean that you have to stand while playing the game, a change of pace for the more hardcore gamers who are used to sitting on their couch or gaming chair during play.
One very cool feature to note is that you don’t have to bowl with a traditional throw. Steven Brand, head of publishing over at Rare, developers for the game, let me in on a little secret and told me to give the ball an overhand throw down the lane instead of a traditional bowling throw. So, I wound up and threw it like a baseball and the Kinect responded with my avatar whipping the ball down the lane and even splintering it as the ball made contact with the ground. Though not the most accurate throw in terms of taking down pins, it was very interesting to see just how accurate the Kinect’s sensors were.
Along with bowling, running hurdles was also in the game. One of the developers hopped in next to me and was instantly recognized by Kinect. The race is a great workout as the speed in which you run in place and the height you lift your feet off the ground both affect the speed of your runner. Your timing also plays a big part as the visual cues on screen let you know when you need to jump to overcome the hurdles.
Right now, Kinect Sports feels like it would be an ideal bundle game to go along with the Kinect units. Especially competing against the close release of Sony’s move, it makes the most sense to compete with a similar gaming product with similar software that has a proven track record with motion controls. While the Kinect games will be retailing for $50 instead of a full $60, it remains to be seen if Kinect Sports has enough long lasting content to be its own full retail release.
A game that can hold its own though is certainly Dance Central. Being produced by the team at Harmonix, you know the guys who have a little bit of music game experience with Rock Band and being partnered up with MTV games, Dance Central is a drastic improvement over the days of the Dance Dance Revolution floor pad. Why? Because you have to actually dance. Instead of just mindlessly stamping your feet like a robot going through a seizure in one of four directions, the game features all real dance moves. Coupled with a large selection of classic and current dance hits, this game could be another hit on Harmonix’s hands.
One important thing about the realism of Dance Central is that you actually have to be able to dance to be good at the game. While playing, you see the video capture of yourself as Kinect reads your moves. If your arms are in the wrong spot or you aren’t on with the beat, you will lose potential points. The game is aware that not all of us are professional backup dancers though and has a tutorial mode where players can break down entire routines step by step and in slow motion. In theory, this game could actually teach you how to dance.
We are looking forward to more time with Kinect as more software makes it our way. Right now, it is too early to tell just how big an impact the industry will feel from it but talking to those over at Microsoft and Rare, they feel it is going to be a game changer for the video game world.