Gamescom 2011: Kinect Interview – Microsoft Talks Disneyland, Star Wars and Kinect Going Core
Written Wednesday, August 31, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Whether you like it or not, Microsoft's Kinect sensor is a phenomenon. Selling in excess of 10 million units, a good chunk of Xbox 360 owners now have a Kinect in their living room, and a portion of them enjoy the simple pleasures of casual games like Kinect Sports and stuff like (shudder) Zumba Fitness and its ilk.
So, as you'd expect, there's more casual fare on the way, such as Disneyland Adventures, Kinectimals Now With Bears and so on. During the course of our interview with Microsoft's Global Marketing Director Michael Johnson, we're shown Disneyland Adventures, Kinectimals Now With Bears and Kinect Star Wars, and take the opportunity to ask some questions about the games before asking about the future of Kinect itself.
With much of Xbox 360's core audience still largely unconvinced by Kinect, we found out what Microsoft plans to do to address this and we also got to know more about Kinect's future moving forward.
How does Lucasarts feel about the rampaging Rancor sections in Kinect Star Wars?
They love it! There's a huge number of people who love the Star Wars universe, have seen the films and love the films, so in relation to that big number, the number of those people who have played a Star Wars game is very small. Lucasarts love it because we're enabling everybody who love Star Wars to enjoy a physical experience, as well as enabling them another way to reach out to even more customers. Lucasarts are a really great partner to have on this game and they're really excited about it.
Is Kinect Star Wars a series of mini-games or is there a story connecting it all up?
Each one of the modes will have a whole story and a whole career, so when you go through Jedi mode, you'll have a whole story and you'll be advancing your skills as you progress. Then you have pod racing, where just like a racing game there'll be rounds of racing, you can upgrade your vehicle, and that's almost like a full game. With the Rancor monster it's a similar thing and we still have yet to announce. So, we're building a robust game here that has career advancement, as well as; if you want a quick play experience, you can do that. We know core gamers want to have career progression, whereas casual gamers just want to jump straight in and have fun for maybe 5-10 minutes at a time, so we're making experiences for both those audiences.
Does Disneyland Adventures have a completely faithful recreation of the actual Disneyland?
Absolutely, yes. Every inch of the park is exactly as the park is, and we built it after the Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Every inch is there and we've worked with the Imagineers to make sure every one of the details is right, right up to the churro stand, which is exactly where it would be in the real park. You can walk up to all of the rides, we have various shops where you can buy certain things and you can interact with all the characters, because that's what you do when you're at the park, you get their autographs. Actually the best-selling item of merchandise at Disneyland is the autograph book, so you can walk around getting autographs and we have all those interactions in the game so you can enjoy those things just like you would at the park.
So, it's kind of an advert for Disneyland then?
Exactly. We think it'll work both ways. People who love going to the park will love having this in their home, and we think people who have this will say, “hey, I really want to go to the park,” and Disney have been a really great partner in developing this game.
In Kinectimals Now With Bears, you have a scanning feature that utilises Windows Phone 7. Are you concerned that the target market for the game might no necessarily have access to a WP7 device?
Being first-party means not just going after the biggest business opportunity. If when we launched Kinect we said the biggest installed user base likes shooters, so lets just make shooters. That's not what we did, instead looking at the long-term and aiming for a broad audience, and we've demonstrated success with titles like Kinectimals and Kinect Sports. I mean, Kinect Sports has sold something like 4 million units, showing a range of third-party publishers that you can make a range of content. You can make a hardcore shooter or an RPG, or you can make a more casual party game, a family experience, and be successful on our platform. That's part of what first-part does, is demonstrate what sort of customers you can attract and how you can achieve success. So with the mobile platform, we just need to fuel the momentum and push that forward.
Are we getting to the point with Kinect now where we are going to start seeing the real core titles? Something more core than say Child of Eden?
We're not trying to fix something that's not broken. Core gamers really love controller-based experiences, which is fantastic and we're not trying to push that aside, so what we're trying to do with core games is find ways to make them even better with Kinect. So, for instance in Forza 4, there's head-tracking allowing you to lean and see what's coming on corners, or in Mass Effect 3 you can use your voice to make the gameplay more immersive, and we love that stuff. When it makes sense, we are going to add more core games that are exclusively for Kinect, and the best example of that right now is The Gunstringer. That's an example of a game that makes perfect intuitive sense and it's a core game that makes sense. We're not going to force anything or force core gamers to buy Kinect any more than we're going to force players who love Kinect to pick up a controller. We want to offer the full range of core and broad experiences that are both games and entertainment, the idea being to give customers a whole range of different reasons to embrace Xbox.
What is Microsoft doing to tackle the negative stigma that some core gamers have attached to Kinect?
We are trying to make sure that the core audience understand that we are going to complement the things that they already love [with Kinect]. There's already support for the entertainment that we offer like Bing Search, Netflix and Sky, so we want to continue to make use of Kinect for that too. But we don't want to force a core gamer to play Kinectimals if they don't want to.
We've seen improvements to the Kinect technology, especially in upcoming titles like Kinect Sports: Season 2, but can you push Kinect any further?
Well, we have a full 3D mapping of your skeleton and a reading of your voice. That is so open-ended, so any gesture you want to perform or anything you want to have said, it can be interpreted in a gameplay experience or an entertainment experience. We think there's he potential to keep on expanding, so part of what I showed with Kinect Air Band earlier showed you one of the new capabilities of Kinect, and we expect that kind of thing for many years to come. And there's been the enthusiast community that have done a really good job of showing us even more of the capabilities possible with Kinect.
Is pushing Kinect down more to the developers, or is it down to Microsoft to provide firmware updates for the device to expand its capabilities?
It's both. I think on the platform side, there'll continue to be more advancements just like we did with Xbox Live, which continues to offer more and more because we're able to keep giving you a richer experience. We have the same opportunity with Kinect, but the developers also have the tools and even with the existing tool set, we can continue to figure out new ways to use Kinect all the time.
When Steve Ballmer first showed Avatar Kinect, it had finger tracking and movements, which didn't make it into the existing version on Kinect Fun Labs. Is finger tracking something that we will eventually see?
We have finger tracking with Kinect Sparkler, which enables you to use your fingers to play it, so over time... Right now, we're optimising for a ten-foot experience in your living room where Kinect is set up. But as time moves forward we can imagine new experiences where Kinect is capable of something where you'll want to be close and have control over your fingers. For now though, we've taught customers that Kinect is a 6-10 foot experience, so we don't want to change things so much that the customer has to move too close or further away. With the gameplay model that we shown, we want to explore more and more things that Kinect is capable of. With Kinect Sparkler we've shown what we can do with finger tracking from that distance, and to really get the fidelity of finger tracking you'd have to be closer to the sensor and we don't want to force customers to do something they don't want to do.
What's Microsoft's opinion on the Nyko Zoom attachment that enables players to use Kinect with less space?
They're a different company and they have their own take on that opportunity. When we first launched Kinect, there were a lot of whispers about how big a play space you'd need, but what we've seen with how quickly we sold 10 million units, is that it's not as big an issue as people thought. What we really like is that people are given the flexibility to be able to customise where they place Kinect to make best use of their play space. For example, I'm freakishly tall, so I have my Kinect on top of my TV pointing down, because that's how it works best for my play space and my body. Placement of the sensor gives you more flexibility than Nyko can, but hey, we'll see how it sells.
Kinect Star Wars is out in 2012, Disneyland Adventures and Kinectimals Now With Bears are out later this year.