Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Toys in the Gamer Toy Box: Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move

I will set the scene for you, a local Best Buy clerk is staring at me with a puzzled shrug, a crowd of onlookers are all leaning on one another to get a good view and my butt is resting, not too comfortably, on a rack of bargain Xbox games. The Kinect tells me once again I’m too close. I say ‘tells me’ because at about ten feet back it is kind of hard for me to read the text on screen. I’m not a tall guy but apparently Kinect needs me to stand in the pop\rock section before I can shake it to a little Bel Biv DeVoe. I did not buy a Kinect that day, however my in-the-crowd view point did give me a good look at a few people who did.

This past September Sony sold me on its motion controller the Move. Years before that Nintendo had me convinced I wanted a Wii. I imagine Sony had an easier job of selling the Move than Microsoft or Nintendo had. Sony’s tagline is simple;

“You have a fancy TV? You like Motion Gaming? Here is the Move just like the Wii but better.”

Proof as they say is in the pudding, that pudding for the Move is Heavy Rain, a game where you waggle the controller to hug your child, to cut off part of your finger and to undo a woman’s bra. Like I said everything you loved about Wii but better, or at least more accurate. Nintendo had me sold the first time I saw a kid playing The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess, hunkered down in the GameStop with his shield arm up valiantly swiping his sword back and forth at virtual goblins. Microsoft may have failed to sell me and Xbox and a Kinect last week but they may get me some day, they convinced a few people.

All of these new technologies pose a real question to creatives, how do you find that magic bullet? At what point does peanut butter meet chocolate with the Move, Kinect and Wii? Remember that first time you played Super Mario Bros.? Hitting the “B” button felt right. It was, pardon the pun, a quantum leap in how we play games. Do yourself a favor and download Bit.Trip.Beat for your Wii, it is a sort of Pong meets Space Invaders where you twist the controller to move your paddle. It feels right. In Heavy Rain to open the refrigerator you reach forward squeeze the trigger and pull back. It feels right. How do you get it to feel right? Wii Sports Tennis does not feel like real tennis so much as it feels like the Cliffnotes version of tennis, all you do is swing, but that swing feels right. Sometimes the sweet spot is more reality, sometimes it is more game.


These new technologies introduce a raft of new features, features that have possibilities. Last night my wife and I played TV Superstars, you look into the PlayStation Eye and it maps your face to a 3-D model making ‘you’ a contestant. While the game is not great that implementation of facial recognition really makes it stand out. These technologies open up new avenues for gaming, but they also open up dead ends. Should a player have to run in real life to run in the game? Should they have to actually speak to the king to start a mystical quest? Bit.Trip.Beat strips down the Wii to one single input (twisting the controller) and it is better for it.

As creatives with new technology in the toy box our imaginations run wild. Think of a game where you actually are the hero and your whole body is the controller. Now imagine having to run a 400 meter sprint then shoot invading aliens followed by negotiating with a hostage taker; sounds pretty exhausting and not particularly fun. Finding the one piece of technology in the toy box that makes your game better is the key. TV Superstars only used the facial recognition for mapping faces on pre made 3-D models, it did not over reach and make a 3-D model based on you. That is all the developers needed to do to sell my wife. Remember when you are going for the cutting edge in gaming not to fall off the cliff, or make your player stand ten feet back when all he wants is to shake it to a little Bel Biv DeVoe.

Written by our MAPA Game Guru, Andrew Ryan

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