With the reveal of the next Microsoft console coming tomorrow, there’s probably a larger portion of people than Microsoft would want to acknowledge who still shudder at the mere mention of the name Kudo Tsunoda, creative director of the company’s Kinect add-on for the Xbox 360. While I wouldn’t call Kinect an abject failure, it certainly did not live up to the hype nor the potential of the accessory. I fear a forced feeding of Kinect 2 or more motion controls that aren’t necessarily wanted in the 360′s successor system. While there are problems that any new hardware faces, I earnestly hope that Microsoft has considered some lessons from its Kinect past.
Do not sell what you do not have
Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to full-on Kinect adoption was that we believed — or at least hoped — that Microsoft was offering a controller-less PlayStation Move/Nintendo Wii control scheme. “You are the controller,” we were told. Unfortunately, the delay between movement and onscreen action was a little too noticeable to be as fun or connected for what serious gaming requires. While anticipation could be negotiated in lighter fare like Kinect Adventures, the lag between a person’s actions and the resulting onscreen acknowledgement dooms any game needing immediate, precise movement.
In an ideal world, motion controls for Tiger Woods seem like it could or should be a golfer’s dream — an off-season way to stay sharp and hone and improve real wold skills. But Kinect is not a fine enough sensor to capture the subtleties of a golf swing. Heck, even using Kinect to navigate menus, the goals of ease and simplicity are clearly further away than just picking up a controller and using the analog sticks and buttons. That the Xbox controller feels so comfortable in the hands of the player makes it that much tougher a sell what appears to be an over-promised gimmick at best and a complete pander to the Wii family crowd at worst.
It’s the software, dummy
Games, game, games. As great as the technology may be, if there’s no appropriate software to take advantage of the beast under the hood, then what do we have? Not a big step from the current generation. Certainly, systems have had weak launches and still succeeded, but to have an “it” game can really get the ball rolling in the right direction. Halo — ’nuff said, right? Looking at the Wii U launch, I don’t know that I could tell you what came out on day one. I’m guessing a Super Mario Bros. of some type?
But really, what makes a person make the jump? I have pondered during this past year the thought that I feel perfectly satisfied with the current console generation. Unless I’m offered something I don’t know that I want or need right now, launch day becomes more about the experience of getting on board early and less about playing what I can’t currently play.
For Kinect, Dance Central did just that. It was the game I could depend on to show my family and friends my new Xbox peripheral. It worked within the Kinect’s limitations and provided a show piece — fun play where frustration was minimized with no fail conditions. But before I realized it, “poker face” was irritatingly and irreversibly etched in my subconscious.
Of course, part and parcel of the “killer app” is the all important next wave of games. And for Kinect, I don’t count Dance Central 2 or Dance Central 3 or Zumba Fitness or Zumba Fitness Rush or Zumba Fitness Core as worthy successors. Gunstringer, Child of Eden, and Fruit Ninja all showed promise, but most often, software support didn’t come in the form of innovation or originality. Instead, options were limited to fitness and dance titles and their sequels.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should
The last thing I think Microsoft can learn from its Kinect experience is that just because all these bells and whistles are available does not necessarily mean you need to use them. Microsoft described a number of games that were Kinect compatible but not required as “better with Kinect,” and yet, I don’t know that many (any?) of these titles were actually better. Did anyone use Kinect with Mass Effect 3, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Forza Horizon, or Tiger Woods? No, no, no, and no.
Of course, as with any new toy, I can see why a company would want to tout all of its features. But there’s a point where it’s too much. Don’t let features be crammed into a game just because your system can support motion or voice controls. If it’s part of the game … fine, but when it’s an add-on, the forced gameplay detracts from the natural flow and progression.
I have no idea what to expect come tomorrow, but let’s hope Microsoft remembers the past and heads in the right direction.