A Serious Diskinect

Microsoft Kinect: Wave of the future, or anti-Controller propaganda? I didn’t even know there was an anti-controller movement until now!  It seems like the “convenience” of motion controls is limited solely to not having to interact with a physical device.  The actual actions themselves require far more work than they would on a traditional remote or controller, and for those of us who don’t want our media platforms to be a cleverly disguised instrument of mandatory exercise, the whole thing is entirely unwelcome.
This will be the first console generation where entire GENRES of games are rendered incompatible with current technology.  While I’d love to see a resurgence of the point-and-click adventure, nobody is going to want to play a brawler or platformer (or God of War-style adventure that combines the two) when they have to perform EVERY ACTION using gesture controls.  (Oh no! What will this do to my favorite beleaguered mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog?!  NOBODY will have enough energy to play as Sonic for any substantial length of time!)  And how will 2-D games play?  Will we see any of the insultingly counter-intuitive hardware virtualization so prevalent on the iPod/Phone/Pad, where controller buttons are mapped permanently onto portions of an already small touchscreen?  People knock the Wii (and simultaneously credit it as the salvation of our obese children) but it understood something that Microsoft doesnt: Having a couple of buttons saves a game from being downright EXASPERATING to play.  Example: Gamers groaned at the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess required players to waggle the wiimote fiercely for every sword slash, and that was only ONE function mapped to gestures.  Games like Metroid Prime 3 would be unplayable without the Nunchuck’s analog stick controlling movement while the wiimote controlled the camera.  Microsoft, however, seems to be loudly proclaiming that “gamers are lazy.  Let’s FORCE them to choose between lazy and being gamers!  Then we can turn all the not-lazy people INTO gamers, and flip every convention of the culture on its head and make BILLIONS!”  In the process, they will destroy several different categories of games, and they will tear down all of the elgant usability and Human/Computer Interaction work that went into controller technology.  Games like Guilty Gear, Ikaruga, Mega Man (or I Wanna Be The Guy) or Ninja Gaiden are just too nuanced and precise for flail controls (Flail.  It’s the new waggle!)  and the range of activities you’ll want your avatar to engage in will shrink to what you feel like aping in the real world.
Another factor that limits Kinect’s potential is its vast space requirements. Anyone who has a small room (and a relatively small TV) is SOL when it comes to Kinect, since the camera needs to be able to detect you standing up and flailing and jumping.  Plus, you can’t make any unrelated gestures while playing, which would have been easy in the days when you could pause the controller.  Notice how awkward the demonstrator looked at E3 when his hands were constantly at his sides, waiting for a chance to move and engage the controller.  And presumably you can’t ever say the word “Xbox” near the device, for fear that you’ll activate some voice-sensitive command.  You’ll have to spell out X-B-O-X as though you were trying not to wind up an excitable dog (though I hear that some dogs have learned how to spell 😛 ).

I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one with this opinion on the second motion control revolution (outside of fan boards, of course, but there are haters of every concept known to man on those).  So don’t just take my word for it, take a look at what Warren Spector (designer of many award-winning games) and Tim Buckley (creator of webcomic Ctrl-Alt-Del) have to say!  [Cue Reading Rainbow music.]

From Joystiq’s interview with Warren Spector:  “There are a lot of people looking at gestural control as the future of games, and I think what we need to do is say, is gestural control appropriate for this game or not. If you’re playing tennis, good lord, if you don’t use it, if you don’t do this, you’re crazy. But there are plenty of other games where it’s just better to [press buttons]. And we have to be brave as developers and publishers and retailers to just accept that some games are just going to be better like this. We’ve got twenty years of experience doing this, and gamers have twenty years of mastering it. Most kids today have thumbs that are more dexterous than — than me, that’s for sure. So why should we throw that away?”

From Ctr-Alt-Del’s Tim Buckley: The real kick in the balls came when further footage of the Star Wars Kinect game suggests that it is an on-rails Jedi slasher game. Yes. Because when I think of being a Jedi, I think of standing in one place, flailing my lightsaber hoping that I either reflect blaster bolts or some dumb shit walks into my melee range, and then dashing a few feet forward and doing the same thing. Maybe it’ll be a blast, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s not what gamers were hoping for. Beyond just hoping for a really cool sword/lightsaber fighting game (because deep down we all want to be Jedi) I think we’re also looking for confirmation that motion controls can provide more, daresay, “hardcore” gamers with a legitimate experience. That it’s not going to all be Kinectimals.

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