The Kinect integration in next year's Mass Effect 3 just might be a great idea. Pardon the skepticism, but after two Mass Effect games that did just fine without any connection to Microsoft's hands-free sensor, it is a surprise.
We found out on Monday, officially, that Mass Effect 3 includes optional Kinect support. (That had leaked earlier). But it wasn't until I rant into David Silverman, a BioWare developer working on the game, that I understood how useful the Kinect support can be.
Here are the key details:
-Players can use the Kinect mic in dialogue sequences. Traditionally, Mass Effect gamers pick phrases from the game's discussion wheel in order to direct the flow of protagonist Commander Shepard's conversations. You won't read Shepard's lines. You'll read the phrases that then make Shepard say his or her lines. This struck me as a bit odd, mainly because I've been playing the first two games in the series with a female Shepard. In real life, however, I'm not a woman. I am a man. Wouldn't it be odd for me to read the shorthand of lady Shepard's lines, I asked? No, BioWare's Silverman told me: think of yourself as the angel and devil on Shepard's shoulders. That made it *click*. I love that way of thinking about it. I'm whispering suggestions, one way or the other to this Shepard, and then she does them. I tell her to be a jerk, so she'll then say something obnoxious. I recommend that she be nice; so she's nice. (We've been waiting for this kind of ability to chat with game characters since last year; it's nice to see it evolving.)
-Kinect voice commands can also be used in battles. The BioWare developer I chatted with explained that, in combat, a player can verbally call for help and Shepard's allies will smartly do whatever is best to assist. That sounded like it might dumb combat down a bit, but it turns out you can still direct the characters manually by placing waypoints with a traditional controller. You'll also be able to use voice commands to swiftly change weapons, saying the names of your guns to suddenly see Shepard wielding it. Thanks to that set-up, Silverman told me, you don't have to pause combat if you don't want to. The voice commands can take care of a lot of what you used to have to pause combat to do.
I'm not sure how much I'll take advantage of either of these Kinect options in Mass Effect 3. But both sound like they've been smartly designed. I will try them when Mass Effect 3 launches in March.