Friday, 2 August 2013

Motion Gaming Becoming Emotional Gaming:

Contrary to a certain vocal crowd's opinion, the Kinect has been both a mildly critical, and hugely commercial success. The hardware itself, when first reviewed, received a lot of positive feedback outside of the complaints related to latency and the issue with space. The software on the other hand, wasn't so well received and generally hasn't lived up to the potential touted by Microsoft.

It is a interesting piece of hardware, one that has been well received by a very large audience, but one that still has its detractors who use its somewhat lacking software as the crux of their argument against it. This is all honest criticism, but it tends to then spill into being critique of the hardware (some justified), and then further into critique and skepticism of the potential of motion gaming.

Outside of the commercial success of the Wii and Kinect, motion gaming is still not fully accepted as a way to improve or diversify the experiences that we currently enjoy. Arguably, it took until Motion+ and Skyward Sword until Nintendo themselves were able to display how motion controls can be used to build an experience. There is no doubt that a lot of motion games have been massive hits, like the Wii Sports titles, but they haven't really show how motion gaming can improve or build on traditional gaming experiences.

What we have now, from a hardware maker perspective, a great way to sell to the mass market. But from a traditional gamer perspective, something which has yet to really prove itself in how it can create more immersive experiences. Still considered as "gimmicks", shrugged at, and from some of the more emotionally irrational; despised. And this is where we are right now, and this is where Kinect 2.0 enters with the Xbox One.

One of the common critiques of the Xbox One is that it comes with Kinect 2.0. There doesn't appear to be any separate bundle, and actually, it seems to have been made integral. As it stands, you will not be able to buy or use an Xbox One without Kinect 2.0. This has some speculate that it is the reason why the console is as expensive as it is, and the more paranoid will likely link it to Prism in some shape or form...

Perhaps some potential consumers would find this a more attractive deal if Kinect on its first outing, was supported by some top quality titles. But outside of Kinect Sports, Child of Eden and Gunslinger, the content which could justify it is pretty thin.

There are of course, the alternate applications. Like the voice element and how Kinect will be used to control your TV. But again, this console, from a traditional gamers' perspective, is a games console. And gaming is certainly what they want to see as being the focus, with the hardware and built in software existing to elevate the gaming experience. Due to this, it's important for Microsoft to show that Kinect 2.0 is a step up, and a step up which will be a benefit to games.

When looking at a lot of motion games, we tend to see how these games essentially use the body of the player to replace the controller. Instead of pressing a button, you are moving an arm. This, although creating a different way to play, isn't really creating new forms of gaming. It isn't allowing for things that were not possible before. Although Wii Sports allows you to play tennis, you have always been able to play virtual tennis. Perhaps you haven't been able to swing the virtual racket with your arm, but you have been instigating the same movement with the touch of a button. But, Microsoft did pitch "you are the controller", so it is doing what they said it would, but this is what they need to ditch for the Xbox One and Kinect 2.0 to really shine.

The new Kinect has been said to be able to recognise faces, track the bone structure of a person, and also work in a much smaller space. The latency has been reduced, and the accuracy increased. But more importantly, it's will be packaged with every Xbox One. So now, developers who want to use this technology can now be safe in the knowledge that the Xbox One audience is also the Kinect audience. Now is the time to experiment, and to feel more comfortable with taking a risk on Kinect integration. But this doesn't mean that hand movements, and gestures to trigger actions are what is to be expected of every game. It can be more than that.

We are entering a generation with more power being packed in the consoles, with greater AI being possible, along with more animations and variables. But all of this isn't too much when you consider that you will be essentially playing these experiences the same way that you have been through the last generation. And it is here where Kinect comes in.

The best way to help explain something, is to offer an example, so I will do just that:

You and your party of a standard RPG fare, a high-fantasy environment, are taking a brief respite to make your next move. In current RPG's, there may be a dialog exchange which results in a dialog tree and the decision itself, being what changes the game moving forward.

Taking one of the answers present, may also have some impact on your party depending on how the game is designed. This itself is still pretty rare in games, but we can still go further than that.

Let's consider that Kinect is tracking your face and body. Body language is a huge factor in how we communicate, the lack of it is one of the reasons why there are so many misinterpretation when having discussions purely through text with other people.

Anyway, the question is asked, but while you are choosing what to say, shrugs, sighs, tension through twitches can be picked up, interpreted and transferred to your party members. Perhaps a party member losses a bit of patience, judges your ability to lead. Maybe a little trust is lost. The shrug may even prompt another of your party to make the decision instead. A new dimension is added to dialog trees and making decisions. It is no more about just the choice, but the atmosphere around these choices and how your party members react to you.

Now, if the voice recognition is improved to a point where it can detect tone accurately, your angry cries have an impact on your companions too. They can fear you, lose respect. Alternatively, they'll react to your positive expressions, and support you further if you show appreciation to actions which they make.

This design can also be applied to any games which require a level of management, whether that be in conquering worlds or taking your football team through the season. Your emotions become just as important as your actions. You angry shouts as to why your forward didn't take a shot are now reacted too.

The times you laugh at in-game dialog will be heard and reacted to, out of place or not. You shake your head at questions and a real reaction is recorded. It takes your genuine emotion and inserts it into the game, with the game reacting to you as a person, and not solely to what you are allowed to do through detached button inputs. This how motion gaming could work, and how Kinect could be used.

All of this is nothing unless applied. And even though it may be possible, we likely won't be seeing much of it until later in the generation.

But regardless of when or if it happens, it is there as an opportunity to really change the way that we play. It can provide new experiences that we have not been able to have before. A new level of immersion where you as a person become more important to the game than you as the player character.

Now... if you add the Oculus Rift to this equation, it starts to be really exciting...

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