Near the beginning of my trip out here in Los Angeles for E3, I heard the oddest of rumors: Microsoft's controller-free sensor array, Kinect, would only work if you were standing up. No way, right?
For the last several days I've been peppering the conversations I've had with game creators at this massive video game showcase with the "sitting question." Can Kinect really not work when you're sitting? Is that the reason why every Kinect developer makes me stand to play their game? Is the future of voice-controlled, gesture-triggered television viewing a future of watching TV while standing up?
What Microsoft says
Officially, Microsoft says that the sitting question is unfounded. In a mock Q&A that had appeared on the company's press site but has since been removed, they field this question themselves:
Q: Are there any games or experiences I can do while sitting on the couch?
A: Absolutely. The games and experiences are designed to be as fun to watch as they are to play-they're designed to get you off the couch. And when you want to enjoy movies, music, and ESPN on Xbox 360, you can control your entertainment hands free from the comfort of your couch.
Couch potatoes have nothing to worry about, then, right? They shouldn't fear a future that would have them enjoying ESPN and Forza Motorsport on their own two feet?
No. There is some cause for concern.
What Game Creators Say
One developer with whom I spoke and who is familiar with how Microsoft is briefing studios making games for Kinect said the company has specifically advised developers to not make games that would involve the player's sitting down.
None of the games shown for Kinect at a showcase early in the week were set up for sitting. Kinectimals, a cute take on Nintendogs-style games, but with tiger cubs, was presented as a player-stand-here demo. That's logical, because the game involves walking up to the animal and then jumping or running or doing some other action you want the animal to replicate. The game's lead creator, Frontier Design's David Braben shrugged when I asked him if the game could be played sitting down. He guessed some of it might work, but it didn't sound like he'd tried, possibly because it was irrelevant to his game design.
You might have expected a seated Kinect experience from the Forza Motorsport team. Those folks are making Kinect driving games and tech demos. They've got a fun highway driving challenge that involves standing in front of the Kinect and steering by holding your hands in front of your body as if you were turning a real steering wheel. The perspective for this game experiment is inside the car, through the eyes of a driver. Rolling your shoulders in front of Kinect turns the game's camera view slightly, letting you look around inside the car. Your lower body is not used — no foot-forward-to-accelerate as was seen in a similar demonstration last year with racing game Burnout. Nevertheless, you have to play this one standing up if you are playing it at E3.