Strategy games on the Kinect

I’ve always said to people that Nintendo’s obsessive pandering to the casual gaming market was going to come back and bite them in the ass one day. Whoring yourself out to the masses is always risky business because the masses are fickle, and easily tempted away from the flashy, gimmicky novelty toy du jour by a slightly flashier, gimmickier novelty toy. Lo and behold, Nintendo’s shiny arm-flailing Fisher Price Wii plaything has been usurped from the arm-flailing crown by Microsoft’s Kinect, and casual gamers are jumping ship to the tune of ten million Kinect units sold and counting. This wouldn’t be such a problem for Nintendo if they hadn’t, I dunno, systematically alienated their fiercely loyal hardcore fanbase with a deluge of games that come with a DVD telling you how to play games.

That’s right, I’m looking at you.

So with the Nintendo party-faithful defecting like Cold War spies, and Sony’s PS3 Move  doing what the Wii did worse than the Wii did, the Kinect now holds dominion over the casual gaming market, like a young prince suddenly made king of a land of ADHD children and bored housewives. But in the words of the great autocratic philosopher Uncle Ben from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Microsoft may have the moistened the underwear of the casual gaming crowd with the Kinect, but if they’re going to turn the sweaty lust of initially booming sales into the ongoing marital fidelity of consumer loyalty to the platform (was that metaphor contrived enough for you?), they’re going to have to start taking this stuff seriously.

Microsoft have been doing pretty well making what are essentially Kinect rehashes of Wii Sports and Just Dance, but if the Kinect is ever going to have any kind of longevity as a peripheral it’s going to have to find a way to appeal to hardcore gamers. So far, developers’ attempts to make actual games for Kinect have been a little, shall we say, disappointing. Kinect Star Wars is on its way, which in theory sounds like exactly the kind of thing that the Kinect was invented for, but the footage of the game leaves me feeling a little hollow. Groups of enemies seem to just wander in to your path of fiery hot laser death while you remain more of less stationary, and then, once all the bad guys have been dispatched, you zoom to the next area, where more suicidal Stormtroopers await. The Kinect is an incredible piece of technology, a marvellous invention, and we’re using it to play whack-a-mole? I would say that Lucasarts are phoning it in with this one, but then, when have they ever mercilessly flogged a beloved franchise to death?

Oh.

BioWare have said they’re going to integrate Kinect functionality into Mass Effect 3, but I have to put aside my usual conviction that everything BioWare do is faultless and say that it sounds awful. I guess the problem with stuff like this is you never actually know whether it works or not until you actual try the damn thing, but I just can’t see how it’s going to work without being intrusive. Fair play to BioWare though, at least they’ve said that fundamentally integrating Kinect into the game would be impossible, and that they’d have to design a game from the ground up specifically for the experience.

That ideology is kind of a step in the right direction. Look, Gears of War isn’t going to work on the Kinect. Modern Warfare isn’t going to work on the Kinect. The gesture-based mechanics of the Kinect only work along a two-dimensional plane, there’s no way to move forward of backwards. Every Kinect game at the moment involves you standing still – ok, you might be jumping up and down or popping and locking, but you’re essentially rooted to one spot. Sometimes Kinect games even feel like rail-shooters, where your journey is basically scripted for you, as in the surreally pointless rafting extravaganza Kinect Adventures. No-one’s figured out how to use the Kinect to navigate a three dimensional environment yet, and until they do first person shooters and over-the-shoulder action games are gonna have to wait.

Wired’s Duncan Geere made a similar point about the iPad – sports games and shooters don’t really work well in tablet format because you need the tactile feedback of a controller to make those game experiences work. But, Geere says, strategy games work well on tablet. They work really well.

Imagine touching this. Not in a creepy way.

I’m going to skip any build-up and just get straight to point – strategy games be awesome on the Kinect. This was made abundantly clear to me watching my flatmate play Starcraft 2 on his monolithic new desktop PC setup. Aside from the sheer joy of watching that game played at an obscenely smooth 111 frames-per-second on ultra-high graphics settings, it made me realise that the gesture-based mechanics of the Kinect are perfectly suited to the strategy game experience. Imagine scrolling through the landscape by swiping your hands across the screen. Selecting units and then selecting the enemy you want them to attack by hand. Tapping buttons on the sidebar to build structures and then tapping on the landscape to place where you want it built. As anyone who has seen some of the great things people are doing with Kinect hacks will attest, these are the kind of interface interactions that Kinect does really well. It sounds dorky, but navigating through menus, swiping screens from left to right, is glorious on the Kinect. A real joy. It’s like being in Minority Report without the horrifying reality that you’re Tom Cruise.

The thetan levels in his haircut alone are astonishing.

The same goes for adventure games. One of the reasons that there’s been such a resurgence of old-school adventure games on tablets is that the touch screen makes playing them such a pleasure. I got Broken Sword on my iPhone, and even on the tiny screen it’s really fluid and fun. Putting adventure games onto Kinect would probably be a little harder, but I think playing L.A. Noire (without all the needless cover-shooting) or Heavy Rain (without all the needless opening-of-fridge-doors) with Kinect would make them so much more immersive and involving.

The Kinect is the first truly revolutionary piece of technology to come out of this generation of consoles, but unless people start making the right games for it, it’s going to end up in the same cheap novelty graveyard the Wii is being buried alive in. That’s a pretty sombre metaphor to end on, so here’s a picture of a kitten:

The objective of this game is to STROKE A TIGER. Seriously.

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