Gamescom 2010: Kinect Interview - Kudo Tsunoda Talks Core Games, Response Times and the Future
Written Sunday, August 29, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
There were two things on my mind when we walked in to interview Kudo Tsunoda, Kinect's Creative Director, at this year's Gamescom. 1. "Why does he always wear those glasses?" and 2. "Hmmm... Kinect, where do I start?"
I'm being serious here, there was so much confusion surrounding Kinect before we went in, that we knew that our 30 minutes with Kudo would throw up awkward question after awkward question. If we - the press - don't ask them, who will?
So sit back, grab a drink... and probably a pillow, and read the monstrous interview with Kinect's Creative Director and find out all the answers to questions like, just how many active players work with Kinect? Is a response time of 1:1 really possible with the device? What's with the dumbing down of the device? Where's the core gamer love? Find out all those answers and more below.
Kinect's games look good from a family perspective: Kinectimals looks perfect for young children; and Kinect Sports looks good, but it's a collection of mini-games like Wii Sports, and the titles announced so far are really only the same type of fare we've seen countless times on the Wii. When are we going to see the kinds of games that can only be done on Kinect?
I don't think any of the games you just mentioned can be done on any other platform. Like Kinect Sports, they've got advanced football, so why are we not seeing football in any other kind of motion sports game? It's because they're not using full body motion, so you can't really make this kind of football game without being able to move your feet.
Kinect is the only kind of technology that allows that full body tracking and that's a totally different experience, and the same can be said in sports track and field. You're doing running, you know? And running requires your legs, and there's really not any other kind of game out there that can do that stuff. It's like saying here's one shooter, so all the shooters are the same, because they all involve shooting. That's obviously not the way those games are at all. I mean, Halo is very different to Gears of War, which is very different to Call of Duty. They're all action games that involve shooting, but they're all very different.
I think what the Kinect launch line-up does really well, is highlight the unique experiences that Kinect can do. I mean it's a lot different, being able to get into Kinectimals and sit there petting your pet tiger, being able to use, not only voice recognition, but having the animal respond to the tone of your voice and the way that you're communicating, then being able to do a lot of the full body tricks with your animal, like laying down on the ground and having your tiger play dead. That stuff can't be done at all in something like Nintendogs.
They're totally different experiences that we have in the Kinect line-up, really using the unique features of Kinect like full body tracking and the human recognition system we've developed – being able to stand in front of the system and get automatically signed in to Xbox Live. We can use that a lot in the games as well, like in Kinectimals, if I play 'adopt a tiger' and play with my tiger, you build a relationship over time with that animal. So, just like a dog in your own house, if I come home, the animal's going to react totally differently to me than it would if you come into my house. It's not like poking a dog with a stylus and it's just reacting to that, versus the animal actually reacting to you. You're just not able to build the kind of emotional relationship with the animal like you can in Kinectimals.
I think people who haven't played the experiences before would think that somehow they're similar, but it's really the unique stuff about Kinect that makes them very different.
Do you think it's a mistake launching Kinect without a proper core title though? I know you're going to say Sonic Free Riders is a core game, but I'm talking about something that will appeal to the current established user base like the RPG fans, the shooter fans?
I think it's interesting, because when you say core gamers, there isn't really an official definition of what 'core gamer' means, right? So, core gamers must be people who perhaps like to kill things – I'm gonna shoot something or saw it in half - and that's what makes a core gamer. I've been playing games since I was a little kid and so if I was to classify me, I'd be a core gamer. I think to me what a core gamers like is experiences that have very skill-based gameplay or games with a lot of depth, so the more they play the game, the better they become at it over time.
I think what core gamers hate is when they've been playing a game for two months and then someone comes in who's never played the game before and is able to beat them at the game – that's wrong, that's bad, because then obviously the game doesn't involve any skill. Even if you had a shooter where you played for three months and you and I went into an online match, and I could just beat you the first time I played; core gamers would hate that as well. And I don't think it's about the shooting or chopping people in half, it's about having the skill-based gameplay so you get better at the game over time. That's the kind of thing we've really focused on for the Kinect launch line-up – providing games where the longer you play, the better you get at it, there's always something new to learn and there are a variety of ways you can play.
I've been working with Kinect for a long time, so I've played the games for a while, and if you fired up any of the Kinect launch games and you just get in and beat me at the game, then okay, I'd agree with you and say that this isn't anything core gamers will like. If someone can come in and just start frantically flailing about and they start beating me even though I've been playing the game for a long time, well, that's just not how the experiences are. The longer you play, the better you get at them, and I think that's the kind of mechanic that gamers like.
Everyone talks about dividing players into core gamers and casual gamers, or whatever term you want to use, but it's funny that in my family, not a lot of them play video games, but they'll play cards or Boggle and that kind of thing. Now those kinds of games are very skill-based things too and the longer you play them, the better you get. That's a common thread that exists between all people, we all want to feel like the more you put in, the more you're progressing and the more you get out of it.
Years ago I'd have said they're core, but these days they're more casual, more family-orientated.
But even the old-school Sonic games, you'd consider those to be core games, right? Even if we were delivering an experience with Kinect where you'd never heard of Sonic before and we told you about this game that's a little blue hedgehog running around collecting gold rings, then you'd say where are the core games? Well that totally was a core game, and I think that because the interface is so simple and you don't have a lot of complicated controls to learn, it does provide a deep gameplay experience that requires skill.
For me, the thing I don't like about the current set of core games and the way they've evolved, is that sometimes you'll have to play a one hour tutorial just to learn what the controls are. To me, the fun of playing games is not mastering the controller, it's getting into the skill-based gameplay and all that depth.
When we talk about Kinect being accessible, it's not about making it casual so that a six-year old kid can get into it and beat me at any of the Kinect games. It's about making it so that anyone can play without having to learn any controls and get that skill-based gameplay that I think everybody enjoys.
Kinect has a very carefully tailored launch line-up, but one thing we haven't seen yet, is third-parties or indeed Microsoft incorporating Kinect functionality into their existing franchises. Looking at PlayStation Move support: EA is adding it to Tiger Woods, Ubisoft is adding it to RUSE, it'll be in Killzone, SOCOM – all big franchises. Yet Halo: Reach and Fable III are shipping without Kinect support. Is that because it's difficult to implement Kinect into those games or is there a reluctance to add Kinect to those games?
Have you seen any prototypes for first-person shooters on Kinect? Is there anything you've seen that might take that genre, for instance, and advance it?
Is Kinect accurate and sophisticated enough for that kind of play? We believe that it once had twice as many tracking points, and patents suggest that it was once able to read sign language and so on. What concessions have you had to push down the price point and turn several thousand pounds worth of motion-camera tech into a more affordable Microsoft product?
It's not that the technology can't track as many points or that it has anything to do with cost, it's just that any of the experiences right now, you can just get in and anything you move with your body, it instantly does on-screen. So, there's nothing in any of the experiences that we've compromised because of the number of points and it certainly has nothing to do with cost. If you don't need to track so many points and you have the same fidelity of response in the human motion and translating that into the game, there's no reason to carry all the extra points and be processing them, so instead you can devote that to getting all of the other things that you want to do with the games.
I think that's just normal game development and with any game, you want to use the processing power as efficiently as possible, so you use the exact amount you need to get the kind of fidelity and experience that you want.
Kinect had its own processor at one time. Surely dropping that was a cost decision?
And so we showed one of the best games from Microsoft that's really known for awesome graphics and running at 60 frames-per-second, and that's Forza, right? Forza is an amazing graphical show-piece that shows the importance of the responsiveness and running at a high frame rate. So we had Forza with Kinect running at E3, and the graphical fidelity was actually improved in some areas; it's still running at 60 frames-per-second and so there's just no need to have that extra stuff.
It's never a question of compromising and having a worse experience, because we're trying to remove processing from the sensor, it's just when you start out, you don't really understand how much processing Kinect is going to take or the optimisation you're going to get out. We're always erring on the side of providing the best experience for the user and as we get the stuff implemented, all of a sudden we have something like Forza running at the awesome level of graphical quality that you want, running at 60 frames-per-second using Kinect, you just don't need that stuff.
There's a lot of confusion about how many active players can Kinect track. How many players can it actually track?
The distance issue is still an area of confusion too. Some are saying it's about 2 metres, whereas the guidelines say 1.7-3 metres.
One of the biggest core games to be shown for Kinect at E3 was Ubisoft's Child of Eden, which seemed to be right for the audience, so it had a big response. Do you think it was a mistake for Microsoft not to focus on that kind of core game at E3 and what do you think it'll take to win those kind of gamers at E3 over to your side?
Those are the things I feel very good about when it comes to Kinect, is getting people in and playing the games, and the reactions are always great. Whether it's at Gamescom and the trade shows, whether it's at E3 in the booths, people who play games or don't play games, once they get in and try the stuff, they have a really awesome experience. The same goes for any game, whether it's Kinect or controller-based, when people play, that's what gets them excited.
Some of the biggest reactions to Kinect have been from games that are immediately recognisable to gamers, like Forza for instance, which has since become a big talking point. Everyone expects Dance Central will be huge. When are we going to see more of these sort of recognisable games that will appeal more to existing Xbox gamers?
But again, I would just say to anybody, we announced a Star Wars game at E3, so certainly that one is coming and you saw Forza and Dance Central, like you said and these are all things that give us a good mix of content. There really are a number of enjoyable experiences for different kinds of people and with all the games that are in the Kinect line-up, there's a good mix. Some are from existing genres, some are new types of experiences and it's easy if you haven't played before to see something that you know already, and extrapolate in your mind what it'll be, as you've already had experience with that. But it all comes back to, if you can go in and play – and if you watch people playing at the pods, they're having a super-fun time – and that's what motivates and convinces people that it's a good experience.
The response time seems like it could still be an issue. Is true 1:1 tracking actually possible with Kinect?
Kinect is scheduled for a November 4th release in North America. Everywhere else will have to wait for a release date.