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As I’ve said many times before, I generally try to keep excessively “bloggy” posts off this site. However, with one of my own videos going viral, I figured I’d give a little background. The video in question?
The video you see is indeed not a hoax as you’ll notice the on-screen flashes and photos at the end match up. So what’s going on here?
Well obviously I own a Kinect and had one hooked up while chatting with some friends on XBox Live. Knowing full well that chatting through the Kinect microphone is a mess (as it picks up the TV audio) I figured I couldn’t do much with it. Then I remembered I downloaded the demo of Kinect Joy Ride and decided to pop it in as I could probably still play it despite having a wired headset attached.
But as I raced I really didn’t feel like I was in much control. It felt like it was trying to automatically guide me along a track. So, I ran an experiment and tried just sitting there holding the “wheel”. To my amusement, it worked! So yeah, the next day I hooked up a camera and got the madness on film.
I figured it would make an amusing thing to show people on YouTube, but I didn’t expect it to go viral like it did. I should have known better.
You see, many gamers see the Kinect as a threat. Though Kudo Tsunoda has made statements to the contrary, the Kinect is being advertised as “the future” with Microsoft acting as though controllers are a bad thing. Obviously, nothing could be more wrong. While motion controls definitely have a place in gaming, it’s a place alongside standard control schemes as each has their strengths and weaknesses. But unfortunately, that’s not how Microsoft is billing the Kinect and that’s the problem.
Now, with the Kinect’s possible success looming on the horizon, gamers are scared and with good reason. The Kinect is not a very good controller. It’s an incredible piece of technology, no doubt about that, but it lacks functionality as a gaming device. It’s too sluggish and inaccurate for any sort of serious gaming application! Yes it works great for dancing games but beyond that it’s not capable of much else.
As such, the only other games that really work for it are very loose. Games designed so accuracy and control aren’t all that necessary. What this ultimately means is that, in an odd twist, the Kinect is only capable of playing casual games.
That fact annoys me greatly. As anyone who has seen my videos knows, I hold no grudge against the “casuals”. A good game is a good game and a bad game is a bad game. Ultimately whether you’re “casual” or “hard core” doesn’t matter in the end…usually. However the Kinect exists to change that. Many of the games on it, outside of the dancing game genre, are indeed bad games. However the technical wizardry of the Kinect makes them look much better than they actually are and can fool “casuals” into thinking these bad games are amazing.
That said, I wouldn’t hold my breath for the Kinect “destroying” the industry. You can only put a game on auto-pilot so much before people start to catch on and your gimmicky control scheme goes by the wayside. The story here isn’t how many Kinects sell before Christmas, it’s how many get returned in the following months.
Don’t get me wrong though, if you consider the Kinect “like Rock Band for dancing” then you’ll love it. Dance Central and DanceMasters are both great dancing games and are the reason why I am not completely enraged by my Kinect purchase.
Also, don’t go off thinking all motion control is gimmicky. I hate to act like such a blatant Sony flag waver, especially as I personally dislike the company, but the Move is incredible. Again, it shouldn’t replace standard controllers, but it does open up some tantalizing new possibilities. It’s responsive, accurate, and most importantly it provides more control than a regular controller and that’s what really matters.
That said, I have rambled too much and there is another element to this story. After the video went viral, many people wondered how I could be playing if I was sitting down. According to many people, the Kinect “doesn’t work” when sitting. That part isn’t entirely true. If all it has to do is detect hand movement, the Kinect works while sitting so menu navigation is just fine. However it did prompt me to try Kinect Joy Ride standing up and the end result was…odd.
(WARNING: TURN DOWN YOUR SPEAKERS!)
So it automatically drives you when you sit down? Was this an intentional feature? This revelation raises a number of questions. Questions which can only be answered by the development team at this point. Regardless, you know my stance.
Let’s be honest, 3D Sonic games have not been good. Passable, perhaps, to serious fans willing to tolerate their flaws. However, there’s no denying that they do have numerous issues. It eventually got to the point where reviewers just stopped caring. Each new Sonic only received a few minutes of playtime before being awarded their inevitably low score. While the reviewers were seldom far off, titles like Sonic Riders did prove to be an exception and resulted in a “Mass Failure of Reviewing” as everyone in the industry failed to comprehend the core game mechanics (namely “do tricks to get fuel”).
However, all that has changed with Sonic Colors. Here, at long last, was a Sonic game that was undeniably good! The graphics were the finest the Wii had ever seen, the stage design brilliantly challenging, and the flaws incredibly minute! Sonic Colors, at long last, nailed it and has received glowing reviews from almost every single member of the gaming press!
Note that I said almost as it appears old habits are hard to break for some reviewers. Such is the case with Jim Sterling’s inevitably infamous Sonic Colors review on Destructoid.
“It’s strange to think that in the same year Sega launched a traditional 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game that finally gave the fans what they wanted, it was the announcement of a Wii game that continued in the same vein as the undesirable “modern” titles that captured the excitement of the fans. “
You know, he does make a good point here. It is rather strange how Sonic Colors excited fans more than Sonic 4. That said, much of that is because it looked like a significant change from previous 3D Sonics, and not continuing in the “same undesirable vein”.
“Sonic Colors, despite its status as a “3D” Sonic, complete with a focus on narrative, gimmicks and brand new colorful friends, has somehow convinced everybody that this is the legendary “return to form” that Sonic fans have been waiting for.
All I have to ask is … how has Sonic Team managed to pull the wool over our eyes again?”
So just because it’s 3D means it focuses on narrative, gimmicks, and new characters? To be blunt, Sonic Colors has a very sparse narrative with about two cutscenes per world (before and after the boss), the new characters are just the Wisps (who will probably only appear in this game) and Cubot (Eggman’s second robot sidekick), and the “gimmick” is nothing more than power-ups.
What I really dislike is how much Jim tries to nail home the idea that it’s “the same old 3D Sonic” even though anyone with eyes can clearly tell it isn’t. This is a fact he continues to drive home throughout the review and I find it the most irritating thing about it. Anyone who played Sonic Unleashed knows what I’m talking about. Most people acted like Sonic Unleashed was “exactly the same” as all other 3D Sonics and just continued to whine even though the day stages were a radical change for the better.
“Then come the laggy controls … and broken homing attacks … and pitfall deaths … and 2D platforming sections so badly presented, you’d think they were patched together by chimpanzees. Then you realize that Sonic Colors is a case of the same old problems, in a brand new package. “
The problem here is one half not knowing what “the same old problems” are, and one half blatant lies. Broken homing attacks and laggy controls are indeed “the same old problems”, however Sonic Colors has no control issues and the lock-on icon that tells you what your homing attack is going to hit makes it no longer “broken”. “Badly presented” 2D platforming segments, however, are decidedly not the “same old problems”. Meanwhile pitfall deaths are just a Sonic staple since the old Genesis days since having rings prevents you from being killed by normal enemies (usually).
“The level layout is atrocious, putting the focus on cheap pitfall deaths instead of real challenge”
I love this line. I mean seriously, what is “real challenge” anyway? Any time a reviewer claims a game is cheap instead of providing “real challenge” you can basically read it as “This game is hard and I suck at it”. As I said, pitfall deaths are a Sonic staple and are really the only real way you’re gonna get killed in any Sonic game due to how rings work. For the record, there are less “cheap” pitfall deaths here than in Sonic Rush anyway.
“and various platforming sections that clash with the game’s very physics.”
Once again “physics” are being dragged out as a complaint.
“Sonic floats mystically in the air with every jump, making precision landing next to impossible. The jumps possess an otherworldly inertia that one never quite gets used to, making these segments feel laggy and uncomfortable.”
Sonic’s jumps have always been a little floaty. Emphasis on a little. For the most part Sonic just jumps really high. Not to mention I had absolutely no issues precision platforming in Sonic Colors, which is actually an improvement over the slippery Genesis originals. (Yes I just called the Genesis games “slippery”, they still worked despite that fact though.)
“For instance, you’ll need to make liberal use of the double jump, but if you double jump when there is a homing attack target nearby, you’ll whizz over to the target instead. Sometimes this can land you in trouble, especially during the sections where the camera zooms out to such a degree that all the graphics look like a muddy blur and you don’t even know where Sonic is, let alone how to get him across a network of moving platforms.”
This is the closest the review comes to a legitimate complaint. Yes, there is a double jump and it is preformed the same as a homing attack. However, the double jump does not need to be used that much. On top of that, you can tell when it’s going to do a homing attack based on if the lock-on reticle appears on screen.
“There are also sections where Sonic must quickly zip from left to right while running along a path. These were among my favorite parts of Sonic Unleashed, mostly because Sonic’s movements used the left and right triggers, which felt rather satisfying. Not so with Colors, even on a Classic Controller. In Colors, you have to push the movement stick left and right, while still pushing forward to keep Sonic running. I’ll let you guess just how great that feels. “
This sounds bad at first until you try it. These segments in Unleashed snuck up on you and since you could do them with the regular controls you would often forget about the side-step button. Here though, you’re warned about them ahead of time and when the game goes into side-step mode you know quick dodging is going to be required. In a way it’s a blessing disguised as a curse and ultimately comes down to simplifying and streamlining the game.
“Of course, sometimes the speed at which the game moves makes missing Wisp opportunities far too easy, and it seems Sonic Team expects you to replay levels over and over again to learn where everything is. Unfortunately, the fun levels are so few that you’ll be angry you played most of the stages once, let alone multiple times. “
Wait, did you just complain about replay value? Yes, stages are designed to be played repeatedly to find new paths. This is a good thing.
“Sonic seems to have had a personality makeover, now becoming an affable idiot with a terrible sense of humor. His new voice actor, and this amusing personality shift, make for a much more enjoyable hedgehog than the “cool dude” we’ve seen in the past. The jokes don’t always work, but the writing is vastly improved over previous games.”
It’s really less a personality makeover and more the fact that the game plays out like an episode of The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
“It seems, however, that the further the game goes, the less the developers gave a crap, and every instance of inspiration soon gives way to the same sloppy, slapdash construction we’ve witnessed a dozen times before. Even when a stage starts brilliantly, the game invariably finds a way to muck it up with some sort of new environmental trap that wasn’t introduced properly, or a slice of transparent trial-and-error gameplay that has been designed purely to force a replay.”
So you’re complaining because the game throws a curveball every now and then? If you read between the lines you realize this is just what happens when a cocky older gamer plays a legitimately challenging game. They expect their innate gaming skills to carry them through, at which point they complain about the game being too easy. The moment a game is actually hard though, it becomes “cheap” and not a “real challenge”. The only exceptions to this rule are when games blatantly advertise themselves as being “challenging” for “hardcore gamers” like Ninja Gaiden or Demon’s Souls. At which point they are then declared “the greatest games ever” and reviewers complain about the lack of challenge in modern games. It’s a vicious cycle of stupidity. Ultimately, Sonic Colors is infinitely less “cheap” than either of those two titles, whether you define “cheap” as “having to memorize stage layouts” or “unexpected instant death”.
I think one thing Jim Sterling is caught up on here is the way the nature of the levels. Sonic Colors has two different kinds of levels: long, flashy, “real” levels and short “challenge” levels. The challenge levels are required in order to progress, but they are kept short to prevent hair pulling. It seems to me like Jim didn’t really recognize the split between the two. Admittedly there is no discernible in-game indication that a stage will be a “challenge level”, but it really should be obvious to a reviewer. “Wow, that stage was really hard and really short, it must exist to introduce me to a mechanic and test my skills with it”.
“The Wisp idea is pretty cute and remains fun throughout and there are a smattering of well crafted stages, but the rest of the game provides absolutely nothing you didn’t already play in Sonic Unleashed or any other 3D Sonic game released in the past ten years. The problems are exactly the same, and shoddy levels are just as bad as always, and death-by-pitfall is in as much abundance as ever.”
Once again the problem here is that Sonic Unleashed was radically different from previous Sonics so trying to lump Colors and Unleashed in with Adventure and Heroes just doesn’t work.
“Sonic 4 had its problems, but at least it was an improvement. Sonic Colors feels like a step right back into the same crap this series has drowned in for the past decade. If I had to pick a color for this game, it would be brown, for very obvious reasons.”
Sonic 4 also did absolutely nothing new and desperately tried to cater to unpleaseable fans (and failed). What this ultimately sounds like is a prejudice against 3D Sonic games regardless of their quality.
While certainly not the dumbest review ever, it does have issues. When carefully examined you realize the complaints are few and far between and ultimately come down to “this game was too hard for me”. To be blunt, there’s a reason why SEGA drew this lovely picture of Jim Sterling and attached it to Destructoid’s review copy of Sonic Colors on DS.
With Thursday’s release of the Kinect, all three companies have their motion control peripherals out. Now the “Motion Control Wars” can officially begin. While the controllers still need some more rigorous testing before any “final verdict” can be given, chances are gamers want their answers now. So here’s the early report on how all 3.5 controllers are stacking up.
Wii Remote (Wiimote)
Of course the first question anyone is going to ask is “what can these controllers do that the Wii can’t?”. Well the answer may as well be “everything”, but let’s take a look at the basic Wiimote. The controller has two forms of motion detection: a pointer and a tilt sensor. Due to the fact that the infra-red sensor is inside the controller rather than on top of the TV, it can’t really detect position at all and it can’t really detect orientation that well either. Basically the Wiimote is capable of pointing and tilting and that’s about it. Developers have found it difficult to make any use out of the tilt sensor beyond using the Wiimote as a makeshift steering wheel. However, the pointer has proven itself quite useful. It works great as a lightgun, is a solid replacement for a mouse, and when used right the Wiimote and Nunchuck is the best controller for first person shooters! Yes, even better than the beloved keyboard and mouse combination! Sadly, few developers have figured out how to make good use of the Wiimote as an FPS device. Anything beyond this or using it as a normal controller usually ends in failure. The Wiimote just isn’t built for it. Slight exceptions include Wii Sports Bowling and We Cheer. However, these are rare and require a lot of both technical wizardry and smoke & mirrors. The Wiimote is incredibly limited as a motion control device to the point where it barely even counts. It is, however, fantastic as a pointer.
The MotionPlus is a gyroscope, no more, no less. In essence the MotionPlus is a replacement tilt sensor for the Wiimote. Luckily it is indeed an impovement, providing shockingly accurate orientation detection. Unfortunately the Wiimote still lacks position sensing. As such, most MotionPlus games just take the orientation readings and “magnify” them depending on the motion you’re supposed to be doing. For example, it could take any horizontal rotation of the Wiimote and “magnify” that into full arm movement. The end result is a controller that provides what appears to be one to one motion sensing but still suffers from many limitations. Also, the MotionPlus needs to be frequently recalibrated as it’s add-on based nature makes it prone to disconnecting. Unfortunately some games have taken this fact to a downright psychotic level; constantly reclaibrating the controller as you play, via the pointer, and thus sometimes it gets dis-calibrated due to sunlight or lamps of the right frequency. On the plus side, there is absolutely no lag at all and that has to be worth something.
One could call this the “Wiimote done right” and they wouldn’t be far off. The Move uses a camera and brightly colored ball to detect position and a gyroscope to detect tilt. On top of all that it has things like magentometers to double-check it’s readings. The end result is a controller that is shockingly accurate. One look at Start The Party and you know this thing is working incredibly well as the game digitally replaces the controller with various rendered objects. In order for that to work it has to be very accurate. The Move detects the position of it’s controller in space and it’s movements with nearly pinpoint accuracy. There’s practically no lag (22 milliseconds according to the developers) and since it picks the ball color dependant on the room you’re in, background noise and lighting should be a non-issue. Of course you need to be within the camera’s view for this to really work well. Thankfully the Playstation Eye camera has a wide angle mode that will keep you in view most of the time. On the occasions where you do go off camera though, it uses the data from the remaining sensors to approximate the controller’s position until you return to view. This sometimes causes a hiccup as the controller snaps from the approximated position to the actual position but for the most part it works great. Of course it is only detecting the position of the controller, so arm positions could be inaccurate but ultimately inconsequential. A bigger issue is the somewhat unusual button layout on the core controller and the sheer number of secondary controllers that may be necessary for a full experience. Also, it’s pointer functionality is slightly worse than the Wiimote’s. As long as there is a cross-hair on screen, it’s fine. So first person shooters are still good to go. However, cursor-less lightgun games (like Ghost Squad) aren’t quite an option. Each game also has it’s own unique calibration screen dependant on the kind of actions the game wants. Some have blown this fact wildly out of proportion but it is generally a mild irritant at worst as even the most complex calibration takes seconds.
The Kinect is an incredible piece of technology. A 3D camera capable of tracking your entire body without any markers and map the actions to an on-screen character. When it works it’s an amazing, almost magical, gimmick. Unfortunately the longer you use it, the more apparent the flaws become. You’ll find the slight lag gives a distinct disconnect between you and the character’s actions, making fast reactions and accurate movement very difficult. Glitches and hiccups in the movement detection happens occasionally as well. I also don’t think it can detect your hand’s orientation/tilt either, only it’s position. Also, voice chatting through it is very poor as it tends to pick up the sounds of the TV, resulting in an echo. The biggest problem, however, is the lack of buttons which is it’s very concept! Without buttons you don’t have any definate action confirmations. As such you’ll find menu navigation to be gimped so mis-read actions don’t ruin anything. Even the Kinect dashboard is limited to nothing except logging in, playing discs, and viewing ads so no one accidentally buys something they don’t want when scratching their balls. Worse yet is pausing, which requires you to hold a specific pose for a period of time. That means that pausing isn’t immidiate and could lead to unwanted actions. Other button related issues include moving. The game world is generally bigger than your living room and without buttons there’s no good means of navigating the world. Object manipulation, like firing a gun, is also an issue without buttons. The Kinect doesn’t appear to be able to detect your finger movements or hand tilt so no, finger guns do not appear to be an option. This severely limits the kinds of games that can work well with it. However, it does work great for dancing games as both Dance Central and DanceMasters are awesome. The voice recognition feature is also cool, but that’s more software based than anything. Last but not least, setup takes forever and while you only have to do it once (unless you move to another room) it is quite an ordeal. Gamers, expect your less tech savvy parents to call you over to hook up their Kinects.
The Current Verdict
If judged purely on their functionality, the Move wins hands down. The precise motion tracking (and buttons) allow it to be used for a wide variety of games. It’s capabilities work well to bridge the casual/hardcore gap. The precision allows for a greater degree of depth than any other control scheme can provide while simultaneously being intuitive enough for casuals to use. Unfortunately the lack of titles coming for it coupled with a lack of advertising and the fact that it’s on the PS3 practically doom it to failure. Expect to hear the Kinect to be declared the winner by many other sites though. Part of this is because it appears to appeal more to casuals (as long as you take out the incredibly irritating setup). Another part of this is because every review site that can be paid off, will be paid off as part of Microsoft’s $500 million ad campaign. To the Kinect’s credit, I am having fun with it and the few launch titles I’ve played are shockingly well-made. However, it also has the worst pack-in title ever. The Wiimote on it’s own barely even counts as a motion controller but it’s pointer functionality does occasionally add something to games and the Wii has a sizeable array of good non-motion controlled games. The MotionPlus, though it adds more functionality to the base Wiimote, barely sees any decent support. As of right now it basically has two good games on it, less than all of it’s competitors. It does, however, have a promising looking Zelda coming for it soon. I know some readers will complain profusely at my shortchanging of the Wii’s motion control here but the fact is that the Wiimote and Motion Plus just don’t add enough to the gaming experience. However, with it’s accurate and lagless nature, the Motion Plus may just edge out the Kinect in terms of functionality when I get to further testing.
But, as of right now, if you want to see motion control as something more than a gimmick, the Move is the only way to go. Complain all you want about it’s unusual design, to me the Move is the ideal motion controller. Darn shame there’s practically nothing for it!
Hey, remember that guy who whined about the Move looking like a sex-toy? Well he’s posted his opinion on the Kinect:
There’s no real morbidly idiotic lines this time. The article merely shows yet another part of the problem with motion controls, one that has been bugging the crap out of me. See, no one looks at motion control from a gaming or functionality perspective. It’s always anecdote caked yammering about how they fare with casuals and their potential sales. To most gamers, motion control means nothing to them and that’s terrible.
What he says is mostly true though: The Kinect has plenty of issues but it won’t matter because of the marketing campaign and it’s general coolness factor. The Kinect is a really neat piece of hardware, it’s just not very functional.
While I hate to put too many “bloggy” posts here, I just remembered something that happened today that really caught my attention.
I was at Target earlier today and while I was in the electronics department, I saw their entire ad loop quite a few times and it had ads for both the Kinect and the Move.
The Move ad:
The Kinect ad:
In one ad we have Sony’s fictional VP of everything, Kevin Butler, telling you straight to your face that this belief that Motion Control is a stupid gimmick is wrong as it shows clips of heated (and often ridiculous) competition between players as epic music plays. While the clips of Singstar in there don’t exactly help his case, this ad really tries to convey how the Move isn’t just for casuals and how it can change gaming for the better. While it doesn’t succeed entirely, it does try.
In the other ad, we have random people flailing around and running in place badly while a calm voice tells you “it isn’t about winning or losing”. Literally the polar opposite of Sony’s ad. I don’t think anything could ever exemplify the differences between these two controllers and their philosophies more perfectly.
That’s not to say the Kinect won’t be impressive. I am, in fact, quite excited about picking mine up tonight. However I will admit to being a bit biased towards the Move despite past animosity towards Sony. If you ever wondered why that is, these ads explain it perfectly.
The other day a friend of mine linked me to an article from Kotaku claiming that people were already lining up for the Kinect. My immediate response? Microsoft had to have paid these people off.
Amusingly enough, I was right. They’re lining up because they get 2 free games and a year of XBox live, “a $150 value absolutely FREE!” as they say in the infomercials. Of course the game in question are Kinect Sports (which should have been a pack-in), Joy Ride (which was supposed to be free before the Kinect came along), and the cost of a year of XBox Live just went up. But arguing over how scammy this “$150 value” is is beside the point. The point is that Microsoft’s overpriced ad campaign is insane. It appears they’re trying to present the Kinect as something that is already popular and destined to sell out, the successor to the Wii if you will, and thus whipping people into a “buy it now” frenzy before release. “People are already lining up for the Kinect?! Wow this is gonna be big! I better get one too or I’m going to want one later and won’t be able to find one!”
The thing is, it’s working. Today I swung by my local GameStop to grab a copy of Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage before the whole midnight nonsense started. Much to my surprise there was a family there, who had already paid off their Kinect in full, asking if they’d be giving away tickets for the Kinect launch. The employee said “No that shouldn’t be a problem, we don’t have more than 50 preorders”. Overhearing this I asked how many preorders they had. Their answer? About 40.
My local GameStop has approximately 40 preorders on the Kinect.
Thankfully Microsoft isn’t run by complete morons. Judging by that conversation, my GameStop has 50 Kinects which is enough to handle preorders and a couple walk-ins so arbitrary shortages are not part of Microsoft’s $500 million marketing strategy.
Still, this is a far cry from the eight we had for the Move.
There’s still time for everything to fall apart. Rumors are persisting that Microsoft is banning news sites from posting their Kinect reviews until post-launch. On one hand this could be taken as a bad sign. On the other hand, most of these reviewers are whiney, cynical, and don’t “get it” so a fair review is basically out of the question (this is half the reason why I’m getting a Kinect: to give it a fair review!). I think a little of column A, a little of column B is about right. The early reports I have heard claim the Kinect works but doesn’t work well and I could easily see it being really fun and the ultimate casual controller, but utterly worthless to the “hardcore” crowd and thus would receive poor reviews from journalists.
Getting back to what I was saying though, if the Kinect doesn’t work well enough then it could still become the biggest bomb in gaming history as thousands of Kinects are returned the day after Christmas. But that’s a big “IF”. Otherwise it could be the success Microsoft wants it to be.
I’ll be there though so stay tuned for my report.