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The State of Motion Control

December 18, 2010

With Christmas coming and new releases slowing, I haven’t had too terribly much on my mind (aside from trying to get the next episode done) and as such haven’t had anything to post about. So let’s take a look at my favorite topic: Motion Control.

As you should be well aware, I am very fond of the concept of motion control. I did an episode on why it’s actually a good idea and gave a quick review of the three controllers currently available. So how are the controllers faring now? Let’s take a look.

For starters, while the Move is easily the best of them from a technical standpoint, it’s basically dead in the water thanks to Sony. Yes, it appears they’ve practically abandoned the controller right out the gate. Titles like Time Crisis: Raizing Storm and The Fight: Lights Out, games that could be moving units, are seeing no advertising and comically small shipments. My local store only got in two copies of Time Crisis and numerous people have reported that The Fight is sold out in their area.

Let’s think about that last statement for a minute. The Fight is a game that requires two Move controllers to play and yet it’s sold out. This means there is some clear and definite interest in the Move yet Sony is doing nothing about it. Worse yet, from the reports I’ve heard, this is because of small shipments just like Time Crisis. Make no mistake, there’s no way they can compete with the 500 million dollar marketing scheme of Microsoft, but that’s not a good reason to just abandon your controller mere months after release! Nor is it a reason to short shipments so heavily!

The only up side to this is that when the Move finishes flopping, it won’t hurt Sony financially the way the Kinect would hurt Microsoft if it flopped. However, it seems that most of why the Move is flopping is because Sony is putting zero effort towards supporting the device.

On the other end of the spectrum is Microsoft. Though the Kinect is a severely limited controller with a high pricetag, it has been selling insanely well.  Thanks to their massive ad campaign, they’ve given the illusion that the Kinect is the toy to have this Christmas. In a very smart move, Microsoft made enough units that a shortage is basically impossible. As such we have the “big holiday toy” phenomenon without the murderous mobs of parents. The end result is money in the bank for Microsoft. However, remember that we’re talking about a five hundred million dollar ad campaign. Not to mention they’ve given away numerous units. So the real question is if Microsoft has made back their money. Not that it matters, of course, as they have cash to spare. However, it is still a question that must be asked.

That said, the bigger question is: How many will be returned after Christmas?

Let’s not mince words here, the Kinect’s game library is horrible unless you love dancing games. Dance Central and Dance Masters are great and I have heard good things about Kinectimals, but beyond that it’s a crap shoot. Kinect Joy Ride is a joke, Kinect Adventures is the worst pack-in ever, and Kinect Sports is often less impressive than Wii Sports and carries that $50 pricetag. Let’s not even discuss titles like Deca Sports Freedom. Thus far the best I have been able to find is Sonic Free Riders, whose controls don’t even work 90% of the time. With few post-Christmas titles announced and an undeniably long wait before releases like Steel Battalion and Suda 51’s new game, there’s a very good chance that Kinect users will grow tired of their systems. I guess the question then is: Will it be returned, or will it collect dust until the second wave of games hits?

I guess this then brings us to the MotionPlus. It hasn’t seen much support, but Artoon’s Fling Smash is sold for $50 with the MotionPlus packed in. In fact, I’ve yet to find a non-MotionPlus packed copy of the game! This highlights it’s greatest strength: it can be packed in with games cheaply. So, when The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword comes out, that will be it’s time to shine.

So there you have it. The Move is a fantastic controller that is tanking hard, the Kinect is selling purely off of it’s massive ad campaign, and the MotionPlus is packed-in with games when it needs to be. How will this all pan out in the end? Only the future knows.

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Kinect GEL Ride: The Full Story?

November 22, 2010

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.

Kinect vs Move: Target Ad Showdown!

November 4, 2010

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.

Kinect’s Pre-Launch Success?

November 4, 2010

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.

Dis-Kinected: $50 for Kinect Sports?!

November 2, 2010

If one game defined motion control to the general public, it would have to be Wii Sports. As such, every motion control system has their own sports mini-game tech demo collection on it. Usually, this is a launch title but not for Kinect!

In a desperate attempt to buck the trend, Microsoft has packaged the Kinect with Kinect Adventures rather than Kinect Sports. If you want the Rare Ware produced sports collection, you’re going to have to buy it separately for $50!

That’s a bold statement, but I get the logic behind it. Wii Sports is the most successful game on Wii with many Wii users owning nothing but Wii Sports! So selling your sports mini-game collection separately could increase sales and the alternative pack-in makes you look slightly less like a Wii knock-off!

However, there’s no denying that $50 is an absolutely absurd price point! When Nintendo sold Wii Sports separately in Japan, it was packed with a Wiimote just like Wii Play. As such, the game itself was technically $10. It’s successor, Wii Sports Resort, was packed with a MotionPlus and thus it was technically $30.

If you look at Sony’s Sports Champions you will find a higher price point at $40. However, Sports Champions is actually worth it. Each of it’s sports are not mini-games but actual full fledged games in their own right! The table tennis, disc golf, and bocce are the best simulations of their respective sports. You litterally cannot find a deeper and more technical table tennis game on any system than the one included in Sports Champions. Meanwhile archery provides a fun and unorthodox shooting gallery challenge and gladiator duel is practically a full fledged fighter! Even the collection’s weak point, beach volleyball, is still impressive.

While I have not yet played Kinect Sports, it has a tough act to follow when compared to the cheaper Sports Champions. On the plus side, however, this may have been a large part of why so many developers jumped on the Kinect bandwagon. With 3 or 4 sports mini-game collections (depending on if you count  Game Party: In Motion) being released in the launch window, there’s quite a few developers wanting to grab the coveted “one sports mini-game collection everyone has” title.

However, this also shows another thing about the Kinect: the average price point of the games. With the Move, Sony aimed to get most games at a lower $40 price point to attract the budget minded Wii crowd. Unfortunately, many of the games felt more like they should have been $20 or possibly PSN downloads. With the Kinect, Microsoft seems to be doing the same thing with a $50 price point. This is sad on two levels: the first being that only a few years ago, $50 was the average price of games and now it’s considered a “value”. The other is that many of the Kinect games look even worse than what we see on Move. This may be judging a book by it’s cover, but it is absolutely depressing to see.

That’s before getting into how “me too” many of these launch titles are. Not a single one is actually unique. We have two dancing games, two mascot boarding games, four fitness games, three or four sports mini-game collections, a generic kart racer that was supposed to be a free download, a desperate (and by all accounts poorly made) clone of The Fight, and an attempt at copying Nintendogs except with baby tigers named Skittles. At least the Move tried even if it’s launch line-up was lackluster.

Luckily (or unfortunately) for me, I happen to be a fan of dancing games and the original Sonic Rider so there is some stuff for me out there. Fingers crossed one of them is decent. Personally, my money is on Konami’s DanceMasters.

No, I don’t have much faith in the Kinect.

Kinect unfortunately(?) has a chance

October 27, 2010

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here, but I personally consider myself a sort of motion control aficionado and as such have been gearing up to tackle the big comparison of the three controllers.

Thus far the Wiimote was the biggest disappointment of my life and could barely even be considered a motion controller. The MotionPlus was rudimentary but a massive improvement over the standard Wiimote.  The Move, however, was a dream come true with pinpoint accuracy that adds amazing depth to games.

The Kinect, however, is once I’ve been on the fence about. While the concept looks impressive, trying to swing a sword without holding something in your hand feels odd. Not to mention buttons are more important than you realize, even in motion control (as Sony has so handily pointed out). Then there’s the whole question of how well it works as the Kinect isn’t too far removed from an EyeToy. With every report on it claiming it to be laggy and inaccurate, the Kinect was definitely looking to be the biggest waste of money in gaming history.

However, a video from the Home Shopping Network has gotten me thinking. I know it’s painful to watch, but just watch a couple minutes and you’ll see what I mean:

There’s some pretty impressive things going on here at first glance. Notice how the system tracks the mother and daughter clasping their hands together or how  people can jump into and out of the raft? That’s pretty neat.

Of course if you pay attention you’ll notice significant amounts of lag, brief moments where on-screen characters glitch out, and general inaccuracies. In short it confirms everything we’ve already heard: The Kinect is laggy and inaccurate.

But that doesn’t make the stuff mentioned before any less impressive! Basically what I’m saying is that the Kinect is looking to be the ultimate gimmicky gadget. For those first 15 minutes it’s the most amazing thing, like stepping into the future. After those 15 minutes you realize it can’t really do much else though and is limited to basic mini-games, but by that point it no longer matters, Microsoft has your money.

Which brings us to the clincher: the 4 gig bundle. Normally the $150 price of the Kinect is way too high (though Rock Band 3 with a Keyboard was $130). However, Microsoft is selling a bundle of a 4gig slim 360 and Kinect together for $300 (Home Shopping Network was overpricing it). That’s right in the sweet spot! Yeah it costs more than a Wii, but it’s also more impressive and that extra $100 seems justified! What’s more, it seems impressive enough that existing Wii owners may want one.

Mind you this is a 4 gig slim we’re talking about. The slims have built-in harddrives that cannot be replaced or upgraded and 4 gigs is way too little space for a 360. In essence it’s a useless 360. However, that ultimately doesn’t matter because the customer will be sick of it after 15 minutes anyway and 4 gigs is just enough for 15 minutes!

As such the Kinect may, unfortunately, have a chance. However, I did just realize a snag: Microsoft generally loses money on every 360 made due to selling them for less, right? Are they making any money off these Kinect bundles? Because if not, if these bundles are still costing them money, then this could be an even bigger bungle! As I just said, I don’t see people staying interested in the Kinect after 15 minutes and as such they probably won’t buy any games for it. As such, if Microsoft isn’t actually making money off the bundle sales, this could end up costing them even more!

Well it’s only a week away so time will tell.

Sonic Fan Remix: The Epic Cock Block

October 24, 2010

No sooner had I finished my write-up of how I felt about Sonic 4 than I discovered that the demo of Sonic Fan Remix had gone live. A remake of Sonic 2 made by two guys.

At first glance it appears to utterly demolish SEGA’s own efforts with it’s more accurate portrayal of Sonic’s physics and jawdropping 2.5D graphics packed with numerous amazing visual effects! Sonic 4 looks positively amateurish by comparison! What timing too, coming out so shortly after Sonic 4.

But it’s easy to point out how much these two outclassed SEGA, but let’s look at everyone else! This game absolutely blows away New Super Mario Bros. Wii too! Same with Megaman 9. Okay that one might not be fair since it’s meant to be 8-bit, but what about Megaman Universe? Looks a lot better than that! Gee, looks like these two just embarrassed the entire industry!

So, with that in mind, let’s take a closer look. First of all, the game is running on an incredible pre-made engine: The Unity Engine. This alone helps them out a lot. On top of that, Sonic Fan Remix is a remake of Sonic 2 rather than a new game. As such the basic stage and game design is already done for them, they just needed to recreate it.

And let’s be honest here, had SEGA made this it would have been picked apart for minor things just like Sonic 4. “The visuals are too lush!”, “the graphics are too dark!”, “that tree shouldn’t be on fire!”. The music past stage 1 is crummy, there are occasional framerate hiccups, and considering I managed to fall through the world once I’m sure people could find just as many goofy glitches in this game as there are in Sonic 4. Yes it’s a work-in-progress but the point still stands.

This doesn’t make the project any less impressive though. The fact that two random guys were able to put together such an amazing game, even if it is just a demo right now, is indeed incredible. They deserve to be commended for their efforts and SEGA should probably look into hiring them and possibly making Sonic 2 HD an official release. The Unity engine does run on basically all platforms after all. However, don’t go off thinking that SEGA should be ashamed by this. Because if they should be embarrassed by this, Nintendo should be even more embarrassed.