Before Avatar, 3D never really mattered. It was the moment when people started backing the technology for its merits, not just its gimmicks. Now 3D is everywhere, in virtually every TV and built into games on both the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Kinect still feels like it's stuck in the before time: it hasn’t had its Avatar moment. While there have been incredible sales numbers, there has yet to be a title truly worthy of critical acclaim.
Kudo Tsunoda, Microsoft’s creative director of Kinect, begs to differ. Kinect: Star Wars, he says, is going to be the hardware’s breakthrough moment.
"So many people love star wars." says Tsunoda. "There are things that happen in the Star Wars movies that people have always wanted to do."
“It’s super hard to fulfil that Jedi fantasy when you're using the force by pushing a button or moving a lightsaber using an analogue stick. I think that’s why Kinect: Star Wars resonates with so many people and why it's such an exciting title for Kinect as well.
“There really are things that people have wanted to do inside the Star Wars universe that they have never been able to do before because of the technology limitations.”
The problem is, from the reception it’s been getting, Kinect: Star Wars just doesn’t seem to be fulfilling that fantasy. We can’t imagine many fans of the films wanting to dance as Han Solo in the carbonite chamber.
So if Star Wars isn’t going to do it for Kinect, what is? Perhaps that killer app could come from the community? The deluge of hacked devices and cool tweaks applied to the hardware has given it a sort of viral credibility.
A lot of developers look to the community for ways to improve software. Take Epic’s Cliff Bleszinsky. Speaking to him a few months back, he told us that part of the lighting effects in Gears of War 3 had been something he spotted online, created by a small team of code-tinkerers.
“People see stuff on the web but really getting the chance to go and experience it for themselves is what makes it enjoyable and real and really spurs peoples' imaginations on for how they can use it in another context,” says Tsunoda.
“I think that kind of experiential interaction is what really will get people adopting it in other mediums.”
So the more people play with Kinect, the more Microsoft takes notice. It's amazing really that Microsoft doesn’t take issue with so much fiddling with its hardware. The Kinect SDK in particular has opened up the hardware to everyone with a bit of coding knowledge.
“Xbox really has the widest variety of tools behind it in order to have your IP come to life as close as possible to how you envision it in your head,” says Tsunoda.
“It’s one of the reasons that both developers and publishers, and really some of the more mainstream entertainment brands, want to have their IPs come to life on our platform.”
One issue that still plagues the platform however is the size of the space you need to play with Kinect properly. Designed more for the jumbo-size American household, it doesn’t fare so well in a semi-detached Victorian house. We Europeans frequently have to move coffee tables and sofas in order to get the best from Kinect.
“There is just such a wide variety of different things that you can do with Kinect that makes it compelling and working in all different types of scenarios,” says Tsunoda.
“There are games like Kinect sports, where you’re moving around a lot or games like Kinect: Star Wars where you are standing in one place, using your lightsaber and using the force.
“But then you also see things like Mass Effect 3 where you really use voice in a super compelling way.”
This doesn’t fix the fundamental issue of space and the Kinect sensor. There are third-party solutions like that of Nyko, but it’s most likely a flaw we hope to see fixed in the next version of the hardware.
What is interesting is how the hardware is being put to different use by different developers. Even the likes of BioWare has now boarded the Kinect train, using it in Mass Effect 3.
“As with any new technology that comes out, the longer developers have access to it, the more different kinds of experiences they are going to be able to create using it. Mass Effect 3 is a great example, in that maybe it doesn’t make as much sense to have people moving and jumping around.”
Kinect doesn’t just need to be about running around your living room. Its voice control and ability to recognise more subtle body movements, mean games are now turning up which you can play entirely while sitting down. Fable: The Journey springs to mind.
Kinect does away with the controller altogether. In doing so, it removes any sense of touch you could get from a game. In a very basic way, the controller allowed for rumble or force feedback with steering wheels.
“Even in existing game controllers today the sensation of touch that you get through rumble you can use creatively, but I dont think it's the end all, be all of physical interaction.
“I think with Kinect we have done a lot with both visuals and audio to create physical reactions from people when they interact with content. A lot of times you will see people react when they get hit with something in game and their body will react to it in real life like they are actually being hit.”
So how could Kinect change in the future? How could it incorporate different software concepts into a controller-free environment?
“I think that as far as how games are played in the future, there are probably two different areas that we are excited about creatively," says Tsunoda. "One is just starting to build kind of gaming experiences that help teach you real world skills. It’s amazing to me how much you’re actually able to start teaching people something by having them play a game.”
And the second things? Mass Effect 3 showed another innovative way Kinect can be used. Being able to reply to character's questions just by talking is a fairly amazing feature. Kudo agrees.
“I am really excited about the potential for redefining how interactive narrative works through the Kinect technology. I think Mass Effect 3 is awesome and I think we can do a lot more with how people interact with digital characters.
“Communication is not only what you are saying but also your tone of voice or your physical expressions and your body language. I really believe that with Kinect we have a way of doing interactive narrative that makes you more like an actor inside the story. Having a story unfold that is very personal to you makes something unique.”
What do you think of Kinect: Star Wars? Let us know in the comments below ...