Microsoft unveiled their Kinect (previously known as Project Natal) device on Sunday, a full day before the official launch of E3. No doubt this was done in an effort to set the stage for the announcement of their 2010-11 games that will use the technology.
Kinect — and Sony’s Move — are obviously golden ring grabs at the motion controlling frenzy Nintendo kick-started almost 5 years ago. Yes, it took Microsoft and Sony 5 years to finally swallow their pride (and disparaging comments) and admit that motion controllers did have a place in the gaming circuit.
I own all 3 major consoles, and play each equally (recently racking up time on Mass Effect, Ratchet and Clank, Fallout3, and Uncharted — can you tell I’m a father? My current games are at least 2 years old!); however, I spend a lot of time with the Wii and DS, mostly because I have a 6 year old who loves to play video games, and those are the consoles that constantly churn out quality, family-friendly (not kiddie!) games that we can all play — and, yes, a fair amount of shovelware that I have to dissuade my son from asking for (i.e. anything Scooby Doo, Spongebob, Ben10, and Nintendog clones).
Read more for my thoughts on Microsoft’s ability to foster the same feeling of trust and consistency in a new Blue Ocean market
So, what draws me into the Nintendo Wii isn’t the revolution of the motion controller, but the consistent quality Nintendo puts out in games. What draws my son in is the motion controlling, but not because he thinks it’s some kind of magic. He’s magnetized to the Wii (and DS) because of their low barrier of entry in controlling. It started simple with Boom Blox. Merely flick the controller to knock down the boxes. No buttons needed (a rare B hold and release; much like fishing), no combos to memorize, no character to control over death-defying, creaking bridges. It was perfect for him.
Then, as his gaming skills progressed, so did the games. He finally turned the remote sideways, and explored character control with buttons (I know, a revelation!). He played New Super Mario Bros. Wii with finesse and speed, and I was very impressed. And, as he quickly out-grew the 2 button + D-pad game, he moved on to Super Mario Galaxy, where analog character control, double jumps, dual-analog manipulation were required. He’s currently struggling a little, but quickly getting the hang of it.
I mention his progression through game controllers to serve a point. Had I started him with the standard “classic controller” of 8 buttons, 2 analog sticks, and a D-Pad, he would have been on information overload. He would have been so saturated by the concept, that his barrier of entry would have put him off games until he got older.
Part of me wants to say, “Well, I never had a Wii Remote to help ease me into gaming. Why, when I was kid…,” but, then I remember that when I did start playing there were only 2 buttons and D-Pad. I did have a lower barrier of entry into gaming than kids do these days. Controllers grew up along with me. As I got older and wiser, they got more sophisticated; but, they did leave younger kids behind.
Now, is that to say a 6 year old can’t play the 360 because of the controller? No. Clearly that’s not the case when I do my weekly spy of what games kids are buying at Target and GameStop (not creepy, just like to stay aware of where this culture is going at all times). But, much like in education, just because a few select can achieve in any environment, does not mean it is the best environment for all to succeed. Just because some kids can master the DualShock3 does not mean it’s appropriate for all kids to grind their teeth on while learning how to control a game.
Which, brings me back to the Kinect. The Kinect aims to remove any need or use of a controller. Surely if the Wii Remote helped lower that controller barrier, the Kinect must completely obliterate it, right? Sure; however, what happens when the kids look to expand their gaming pallette? The only other option waiting for them is the bohemoth that is the 360’s Wireless Controller. There are no baby steps. There is no way for them to dip their toes into the digital waters. They’re thrown straight into the deep end, and left to fend for themselves.
In Microsoft’s attempt to execute the end game of motion controlling, going as far as anyone can go (and really, this is the end. Where do you go after controller-less, full motion analog?), they actually ended up fracturing their audience. Those who want motion controls already own a Wii, are perfectly happy with it, and know the quality that is turned out.
What does Microsoft offer? Wii Sports clones (which they mocked mercilessly years ago), pet simulators (which Sony and Nintendo have already perfected), and a very cool — yet, rumored to be fake — Star Wars lightsaber game (again, already done). Once you are tired of those, it’s straight to Red Dead Redemption and BioShock for you! I don’t mean to use those as an example of mature content being inappropriate for kids, but to use them as control schemes being inappropriate for kids.
Microsoft has made a final grab at a golden ring that has already passed 5 times. And, every time it passed, they mocked it, and laughed at the absurdity of it. Yet, like a little child who casts away a toy in disinterest, they instantly want it back once it proves to be a hit in the sandbox.
Closing Note: I really hope I don’t have to write a companion piece to this when Sony holds their press conference. Something tells me Sony gets this craze much more than Microsoft, and will put it to good use. But, I could be wrong — I mean, just look at the Six-Axis.