Last week, I talked to the people who make the best Kinect games. The topic of discussion? One of the worst Kinect games.
I chatted with Dance Central 3 project lead Matt Boch what he thought about the state of Kinect game development, starting off with the mind-numbingly wretched Steel Battalion. Back when Capcom's bungle came out months ago, it was plain to see that the game simply didn't work the way it was supposed to. How does this happen, I asked Boch?
"Design isn't about thinking your template works because you can implement it," he answered, without calling out Steel Battalion specifically. "You can't stop at ‘Oh, it works for me.' Put the user experience first and figure out just how much of your game is playable." Testing is crucial, Boch continued. "It can't just be people working at the studio who step in front of the Kinect. We have a lot of people come in to play our games."
Whatever you may think of Harmonix and the Dance Central games, there's no denying that they're the cream of the crop of the games available for Microsoft's motion-sensing peripheral. From the very first entry, Dance Central has been able to home in on fun, easy-to-implement game mechanics that anyone can jump in front of and play.
"Kinect experiences change depending on people's awareness of their own movements and you need to tune for that," Boch elaborated. "You can't just take a standard game concept and bolt it onto Kinect. Embrace what Kinect can do." He cited Double Fine Happy Action Theater as a game that does that well, remarking that the game asks for big, wacky gestures because they're easier to input.
You can look at Kinect the same way as people once did at touchscreens, Boch said. "Touchscreen tech has been around a while but we're only now getting to a standardized vocabulary of user input." As more motion-gesture games come out, Boch essentially believes that the knowledge base of what works and what doesn't will reach a critical mass that makes for better experiences. And designers will be able to do more fun things with the device's capabilities.
There's a quick bit at the beginning of DC3 where the Kinect looks up and down as if it's scanning your body before letting you into an exclusive nightclub. That moment breaks the fourth wall. Boch called it a Kojima-ism, refencing the Konami designer's iconic trick in Metal Gear Solid. That PS2 game read the memory card to trigger certain dialogue from villain Psycho Mantis, resulting in a moment that fans have remembered for years. You only get there by poking at the edges of what hardware can do," he offers. "But if you don't test it to death, it could backfire on you."