Wednesday, June 8, 2011

E3 2011 or: Why I Hate The Kinect Now

I'm going to reference Mitch Hedberg on this one: Watching E3 conferences is like eating pancakes. All exciting at first, but by the end you're F#@$%& sick of 'em.

That's the way I felt when I started watching Microsoft's Presser, the first of three that I would ultimately view. What follows are my impressions---


I officially hate the Kinect. When it was first revealed two E3's ago, I was skeptical but optimistic. It was a strange and exciting new technology, but one I worried would result mostly in gimmicky experiences. The tech demos they displayed were very much "concept" videos, and I took them as such. But it looked really fun anyway, if this stuff was actually possible. The live demonstrations obviously real, because they were loaded with technical glitches.

If we leap ahead one year to E3 2010, the demos were oddly perfect. So they were most likely all staged. I can forgive that, though, for the sake of presentation, assuming that is all stuff the Kinect can actually do. But it doesn't speak much to the confidence of its performance. At any rate, it had been a year since the Kinect was revealed, so developers had at least a year to play with the new technology. The demos were, in my mind, awful. They were nothing but gimmicky new ways of controlling the same old games. The games themselves were all incredibly limited, on-rails experiences. I felt sad this was all they had to show.

Let's leap ahead an additional year to E3 2011. Surely after at least 2 years with the Kinect, we were to be bombarded with fascinating demonstrations and new games using the Kinect in ways we never anticipated...right?


It was the exact same bullshit we saw last year! I felt sad. Then I felt angry. Then I felt sad again. Then SUPER ANGRY! Then I completely gave up on trying to like the Kinect. If nothing interesting has happened after 2 years, what will?

Then Microsoft revealed Kinect Fun Labs! Oh my! An app store dedicated to small, experimental Kinect experiences? This sounds promising! It kind of is, if you bought a $150 camera just to screw around with little meaningless apps. It was almost like Microsoft was admitting this was about it. No meaningful experiences here. Just some insubstantial little tech demos, kind of like their E3 pressers.

For shame. But I will remain optimistic. Maybe Fun Labs will provide inspiration for some really cool experiences in games. Maybe.


This year's E3 was a lot like last year's in that Microsoft's event made me angry, while Sony's just kind of underwhelmed me.

They didn't focus too heavily on the PlayStation Move, which was nice of them. They did go into more detail about their Next Generation Portable, now known as the PlayStation Vita.

What I like about the Vita is that it's an all-purpose mobile gaming device. It has pretty much everything a current generation smartphone has (tilt-controls, multi-touch screen, etc) in addition to real physical controls, which is something that keeps smartphones from being able to easily play games like Megaman. In that regard, it's pretty cool. I can play pretty much any type of mobile game on this thing.

What I don't like about it has to do with its entire approach. They keep hammering home the point that this thing can play near-PS3 quality games on the go. I don't want that! Granted, the visuals on this thing are impressive, but I don't want to play Uncharted on a dinky screen. If I'm going to be playing a game as stunning and immersive as that, I want to be doing it at home, on my nice TV, nice sound system, and from the comfort of my recliner.

Now, there's nothing that says the Vita HAS to do that, but it's something Sony keeps talking about ad nauseum. I am glad, however, it has a bungle of mobile tech to make for other types of experiences. It could be a good device to play iPhone-style, quick mobile games. But then the issue becomes whether or not I want to carry around a completely separate device for that.

The Vita is a promising hardware platform, but like the PSP, it remains to be seen of the software will support that promise.


Where to even begin? This was kind of a crazy one. That controller is bonkers! Wii U? I guess we'll eventually also get over the silly name like we did with the Wii.

Nintendo was really channeling the first reveal of the Wii with this press conference. The difference is that the Wii's use case was a lot clearer than the Wii U. They showed the Wii U controller doing some wild stuff, but all of it was still kind of fuzzy.

So it's a controller with a screen, and the screen can be a extension of the TV, or replace the TV? It has motion controls? How does a screen utilize motion controls? This all seems kind of cool, but only vaguely cool.

It was immediately obvious what the original Wii was going to do, even as misleading as the first concept videos actually were. The Wii U? Not so much. I'm still kind of excited, though. It's all up to developers.

Wait a minute... the developers didn't really do much interesting stuff with the Wii's motion controls, or even Wii Motion Plus. Most of the best, recent Wii games haven't really been using motion controls.



  1. Tim Carmody has done some interesting writing on how the Kinect is a tool with a great deal of potential, but maybe more for unexpected, broader, non-gaming applications rather than as a gaming input device. (See, for example, )

    I tend to agree with you in that motion control has been an incredible sales tool--even though Wii sales are plummeting, it's still far and away the winner of this console generation--but it really looks like it's going to be a novelty rather than a game-changer in terms of long-term game design. I think there's two big reasons for this.

    1. A wide-open input device actually requires "more" structure within a game in order to make sense of the inputs. Thus the "on-rails" tendency you observe in a lot of motion control games. When you wave a wand horizontally, are you trying to swing a sword, wave your character's arm, or look around? Games have to be designed so that it know exactly what it's asking you to do.

    2. The standard controller is actually a far more versatile and variable input device than we tend to give it credit for. It can be off-putting to a novice (I've been there), but it can be as simple or as complex as it wants to be. I like to think there's a reason why even some of Nintendo's first-party games *cough-Kirby-cough* have moved away from moving a wand around and back to a d-pad and a couple of buttons.

  2. I'm starting to think that something like the Kinect might be better suited to a more nuanced approach with current games. Maybe rather than becoming the primary control scheme, it's more of a supplemental thing. Like more along the lines of additional feedback from the players to make the overall experience more immersive. I don't know. I'm looking for something more meaningful than just "say a thing you want, and the game might listen to you".

  3. By the way, sorry about all the typos and overabundance of commas. I think I fixed most of it.