Kinect is dead

Microsoft puts an end to a device nobody wanted.

Looking back at Kinect, it really did become a sort of X32 of the seventh console generation. It was an add-on that was marketed like no other, came in with great hype, sold well at the launch, but then had no good software to make use of it and then whimpered away. That’s all there is to it. While Sega moved away from the Mega Drive for new pastures and managed to mishandle everything until the death of the Dreamcast, and even then we can debate a lot if they have stopped mishandling things, Microsoft tried their best to make it work.

The question whether or not Microsoft created Kinect to counter the Wii’s motion controls can always be on the table to be discussed, and if it was, they really failed at it. At a consumer electronics level, the sort of camera and motion detection games require is just tad beyond out there. Sometimes Kinect lost the sight of people due to their clothing or skin colour, it was a peculiar device in that way. Perhaps it would have been better to deliver some sort of extra attachments with Kinect that would make it clear which part of the body was a hand or a leg, but this sort of idea would’ve gone against Microsoft’s wishes to have the device ready from the box and your body was to be the controller. No bells and whistles attached.

Never mind Microsoft said that they would not sell any Xbox Ones without a Kinect few years back, because that was their normal bolstering. Claiming that the two were one system and nothing could separate them soon came to an end, when Microsoft updated the machine to function without Kinect connected about a year later or so. The PR campaign that both developers and consumers loved Kinect and that there was a demand was mostly just bunch of hot air based on pretty much nothing else but their own hype machine. Machine, which I doubt Microsoft really bought themselves either. They tried, but they failed.

The main point of failure Kinect has is not in the design of the device itself. I’ve seen some seriously impressive prototypes and tech demos in my friend’s tech lab he put up for tests and other purposes tech rats tend to do. Even when you may have capable technology in your hands, it may not be utilised well or is put into use in a wrong field. Gamers and consumers in general may have developed a good eye-hand coordination throughout the years, but eye-body coordination is a totally different thing. A Kinect game overall required very loose controls that people could use. Due to different body types and certain limitations they produce, you couldn’t exactly create a tight game that would require high accuracy body control that would work within the confines of the game. While flicking your wrist to a direction seems almost natural with a pointer, trying to move a giant tub of a boat in a river where you have zero feedback other than what you see is not exactly intuitive.

Even Forza Motorsport 4, which in all fairness looked like an awesome piece, managed to screw its controls in the end. It requires you to have your arms straight the whole time you play the game, and if you’ve ever happened to have a need to keep your arms extended forwards for an elongated period of time, they’ll go sore. This wasn’t the case with either Wiimote’s or Sony’s PlayStation Move, because both of them allowed more comfortable positions of play. Forza 4 almost looks like the only game that didn’t make itself an unchallenging piece in trade for the Kinect controls, but even this has been debated.

In short, none of the Kinect’s games were really worth your time, and consumers didn’t buy it. The only developers that sank more time and money to properly integrate Kinect to their games were those who had a closer relationship with Microsoft. The question just is, how many titles that support Kinect had to bolt it on due to legal agreements with Microsoft, had it thrown together as an afterthought or some sort of combination of both? Without a doubt numerous games were designed Kinect in mind with a passion, but all in all, it seems Just Dance ended up being the best sort of Kinect game out there.

Nintendo seems to be keen on continuing on the legacy Wiimote left them with, though whatever use HD Rumble will have in the end is a topic for another post, but Sony moved into the VR field faster than either of its two competitors. That said, even PS VR has some signs of going downhill with EVE: Valkyrie getting a patch that adds VR-free mode and gets a price drop. Much like full-body motion controls, VR and 3D are things that come and go periodically, and every time they get similar sort of software and support. After the initial burst of interest has gone by, it just lays low and dies down. I hope you didn’t invest into a 3D television.

Nintendo may not have put much emphasize on motion controls this time around, but they’re still there and used. The reason for their existence still is that unlike the Kinect you can add and integrate them into a game relatively easily without trying make them command the whole thing. As said, a flick of a wrist with a pointer in a comfortable position serves better on the long run. However, all these three, body, motion and VR controls, all will fail if they don’t get innovative ways to utilise them and put them into a good use. You can have whatever kind of technology at your hands, but that technology will never go anywhere if the software sucks to the point of consumers vehemently going against it. Kinect will be better used on technology research and development rather than in gaming.

Here’s to you Kinect, very few will mourn you, I won’t be one of them.

Game industry has a habit of dropping support, it seems

The video game industry is fond of pushing devices and addons to the customer that they don’t really want. There are numerous borderline cases, but overall when a device is pushed to the customer, it often fails. Overall, only a handful of addon devices have become highly popular and hit through the market barrier. Some even managed to become a sort of cultural icon. Nintendo Zapper, for example, is an example of an addon that was not only desired but also sought after outside the hardcore gamers. ROB was rather popular for first for novelty reasons, but Nintendo dropped the support for it. There are exactly two games ROB supports, and neither of them are good. However, it is a great thing Nintendo didn’t continue to push ROB further. This was the NES era after all, Nintendo had very little room to mess with the customers at this point.

Just by looking SEGA’s and Nintendo’s success with addons, to some extent with their consoles, we can see that even the most successful addons seem to die out either due to lack of software or lack of overall support. SEGA promoted Mega Drive’s CD and 32X addons quite a lot, and while 32X was the Kinect of its time, both addons failed. The games for either weren’t all too good and in too small amounts to warrant a purchase. Then you got the Saturn, a console that was put on sale too soon, leaving little software at launch and was dropped outright soon after in favour of the Dreamcast. Saturn in itself was rather badly designed console, having two separate CPUs which were hard to utilise. Games it had were not all too great either, even if there are numerous gems on the system. Then again, so does pretty much any other system.

It’s worth noting that SEGA continued the Master System support in form of the Power Base Converter, a move that a lot of Master System owners liked. That meant that adding the Power Base Converter you could free space from the living room. There were some issues, like a handful of games not working properly, but overall it was a good addon. It had a very specific customer group, but it also allowed people with the Converter to collect Master System games despite not owning the original system.

That is also exactly why all the current consoles, from Steam to PlayStation 4, have extremely interesting competition going on; they’re competing against games from the whole history of the industry. I would dread the idea of competing with giants like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania III.

Nintendo had less direct console addons like SEGA, a decision that many regard a good move. Whether or not the Super Nintendo CD addon would have become a success would have depended on the games the system. However, the Super Scope was all sort of awful, even if it was pushed as the successor to the Zapper. Nintendo dropped its support just like that, and only very few games supported it. Interestingly, I remember the Hunt for Red October having a special stage that supported it. Then you have games that could have supported it, like Wild Guns, but opted for a better control scheme because the Super Scope is a shit product. I have one, bought it from sale years back.

GameBoy saw few well remembered addons, but we all know that both GameBoy Camera and Printer were released, and then effectively dropped. In about a year, the GameBoy Camera saw huge price drops. If my American friend is correct, some places sold new units for five damn dollars.

Nintendo also seemed to love the idea of connectivity between their handheld and home console systems, but only few games ever supported this. The Nintendo 64 has two games that come to people’s mind, one being sum of the Pokémon games and Perfect Dark. It’s a nice idea and could work, but goddamn this thing saw no support. You also need to remember that often the connectivity kept accessing some of the content from either portable or home console game, and this then kept the developers from including any significant connectivity. Pokémon was the only one that truly benefitted of this, but that’s simply because Pokémon Stadium games were built for the connectivity from the ground up.

It’s a similar tale with the GameBoy Advance and GameCube. I’m sure some people enjoyed playing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles or Four Swords, but everybody I’ve known personally testify these games destroying friendships. Well, seriously speaking the connectivity with GBA and GC was plagued with the exact same causes the GB and N64 connectivity was, and ultimately Nintendo seems to have dropped pushing this with the Wii and WiiU, par Pokémon.

N64DD is another addon Nintendo just dropped. The 64DD effectively mirrored the fates of 32X and SEGA-CD, but Nintendo handled the games, the device, marketing and the whole deal so badly that pretty much all games that weren’t at the very end of the development cycle were dropped dead, or in Nintendo’s case, moved to the GameCube. The 64DD original games weren’t all too good, so perhaps it was for the best Nintendo not to push this ill fated addon.

There’s few special addons that can named, but they were doomed from the start because they simply had no other use outside one mechanic; the e-Reader for the GBA, the Kongas and Microphones for the GC.

With Wii Nintendo seemed to realize how to play the game again properly. Well, not exactly. Nintendo came with the Wii Speak, an addon that was support about three games; Animal Crossing City Folk, The Conduit and Monster Hunter Tri. There is one or two more games that had Wii Speak support, but it would be a total waste of time to even Google it up.

SONY has their own little addons, like the Move controller. Move was SONY’s way to counter the Wiimote, much like how Microsoft kept pushing the Kinect until as of late.

The reason why I am concentrating with Nintendo in this post, outside the fact they had the most addons and stinkers like Virtual Boy, is that the upcoming Super Smash Bros for a console won’t support the Circle Pad Pro, but will support the upcoming N3DS Flanders’ C-Nub. I would call this as cold business calculation if it wasn’t such a stupid move. Nintendo is dropping their support on an addon they’ve been trying to push to customers, even thou they’ve themselves or any of the devs have shown very little support for it. Now that they would be able to show some sense and add the support, they’d rather see the base 3DS and its addons dead. While on surface it makes sense to support the new device more, this isn’t the case. The Flanders is not a new device. Its status is comparable to Wii Mini or AV Famicom than to SNES or GameCube. While the Slide Pad Pro was done mainly for the Monster Hunter series, it had potential. However, much like all addons, that potential has been largely wasted. I feel bad for anyone who has the Slide Pad Pro and was expecting further amount of support.

The issue game industry doesn’t seem to realize that once you’ve released an addon you’re largely promoting, and then you essentially drop its support, the customer loses its trust. It’s no wonder there is a group of people refusing to purchase any of the 3DS iterations. At least not until the machines’ region lock is removed in a way or another.

It would great if the addons these companies keep making would be optional, but after production and release they would continue to see further support. It’s a waste of resources and time from both the companies’ and customers’ part. It appears that the companies only care for short term revenue rather than keeping up with longer plan that would also allow heightened profits.

Please keep Jay Raymond away from controller design

So, not outselling films isn’t mainstream enough to this person subbed Jay Raymond. That’s like saying you’re not selling enough fast food after you’ve bankrupted MacDonalds.Let’s see a quote that set me off, and why I’ve been really hesitant to talk about this piece of news;

“You have to master face buttons, triggers and they all do different things,” she went on. “So obviously we’re never going to get to that really mass-market place where we’re touching a really broad audience with our messages with controllers, so Kinect and other more natural ways to interact with games are incredibly important. I think we can go further.”

May I punch this person? What this person is saying [is] that traditional controls are far too complex for a newcomer. Jay calls herself a “hardcore gamer” and that was the final stroke.

Video games, especially console and arcade games, are meant to be easyget into and hard to master by their core nature. Just because your company designs a complex controller doesn’t mean that you should make complex use of it.

Let’s take a look at the controller family tree, which is missing the most basic arcade controller and the SpaceWar arcade cabinet. Here we see how the shape has changed throughout the years and evolved bit by bit both in size, shape and in number of buttons. I disagree that the Mr. Game&Watch evolved from an Atari joystick, as it’s a combination of many things, like the directional buttons on computer and arcade joystick rather than Atari stick.

At what point did we go over the threshold of being easy to get into? Does less buttons mean easier access? No, it does not. We never went over the threshold. If you check my Double Dragon review I went over how console controller centric the controls were.

It is the developer who decides how complex the controls are, not the controller.

Controllers, as they are, should be as unobtrusive as possible in design. Every button should be within reach and accessible. Both D-Pad and sticks should be responsive and in a place where one can lay their thumb easily on them. Xbox’s controller is horrible mess in this regard with its Black and White buttons. Microsoft managed to improve their design in the 360 by taking everything that worked in the Dreamcast controller and the rest from other controllers. The NES had just two buttons and you could do aninsane amount of stuff with just those two buttons. Anyone who has played Turtles III can tell that those two buttons were more than enough. Mega Drive has three buttons, and those buttons saw a lot of use. Later it had six, but even then not all games used those because they did not need them.

Jay thinks that modern controllers are complex because they are made complex on purpose. Why? Because developers try to port more and more computer controls to consoles and vice versa. It’s insanely stupid. Dual Stick controls are the worst design choice one can make for a console game. If possible, let me use a keyboard and a mouse for those games. Console controllers are not for that, same just like you are not meant to play Doom with a damn arcade stick.

However, do try playing Ys games with an arcade controller. It works surprisingly well because it has roots in console gaming despite being on a computer.

So no, Jay. You’re wrong in this case.From a design standpoint a lot of controllers are nigh perfect in design. SNES has one of the most revered design overall, and pretty much everybody agrees that if you need to use a pad for fighting games you go  for a Sega Saturn pad. You do not need to use all buttons on the controller to make good controls. On the contrary, if you manage to make aconsole game that uses as fewbuttons as possible you have far more coherent and tight controls. That’s a good thing, unlike what developers seem to think.

If you want complex controls that need to use large amount of buttons, then go for computer games. You have a keyboardful of buttons to use in your game. Controllers themselves are not complex, and if they are then something is seriously wrong.

Like with Kinect. Kinect is a perfect example of controller that on paper seems simple and straightforward, but how it works now is more complex than any controller. Console controllers by their nature are accurate. Kinect isn’t. Mouse is accurate as well, but that’s a completely different control method than a D-Pad or a stick. If a controller isn’t accurate from the get go, the only way to make it work is to work around it. Kinect games do not even try, and honestly the technology, while impressive, isn’t up there yet to be used with console games.

Putting more emphasize on controller free games would be a mistake. Kinect never really sold well, as most of them were sold with the new 360 packs. Nobody bought them separate, and people who did bought them mostly to use them in their tech projects. Then we also have the question why the hell would Jay want to push Kinect if she herself doesn’t play the games it offers.

Throughout the article it comes clear that she’s a computer gamer and has very little grasp on what does work with consoles and what doesnot. If controllers are far too complex and if they scare away the customers, then make ityour job to simplify the controls. Take away the triggers, lessen the amount of buttons, or make completely unique controllers for different games. NES was an awesome console because it allowed the user to play with whatever controller he wanted. The amount of NES controllers is large and filled with awesome controllers like the NES Advantage and the NES MAX. Wii followed the same line of thinking, but never really took it far enough.

Video games in general, especially arcade games, are about skill and execution. Saying that they’re too complex for people to get into is not having enough faith inyour customers; you’re underestimating your customers. There is an image of complex games, and that’s just an image. Reality can be anything else from game to game. Double Dragon NEON has far too many buttons in use for its own good for sure, but then we have games like Deathsmiles that work completely well with two or three buttons. And yes, I’ve seen shooting games that use six buttons for some God forsaken reason. R-Type needed exactly two and that was enough.

What I’d like you, my dear reader, to do is to think up a game with the most convoluted controls you’ve had displeasure to play, and then simplify them.

Sometimes the game developers should develop a game from ground up with its own controller. Physical creation is important as well, and with the loss of arcade we’ve lost physical craftsmanship almost altogether. Making the physical instrument a part of how the game works, be it a traditional game or electronic, is a gateway to understand the game itself better. Developing a game for a ready controller and not understanding how controls actually work only yields loose, inaccurate and bad controls no matter what controller is in question.