"Please Reconnect Controller" - Microsoft's Presentation at E3 2011
From the very beginning, Microsoft's annual E3 presentation today focused on the games, but mostly on how Kinect would integrate with those games. The presentation began with an intense demo of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and within moments of launching, there was a brief glitch as the demo machine popped up the message "Please Reconnect Controller." That's how I feel. Let's reconnect the controller if we can't come up with inspired ways to use the motion and voice controls.
Many of the Kinect gimmicks looked cool (such as the way Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier would let players manipulate and construct a firearm), but still looked more cumbersome than just using a conventional controller. Microsoft needs to focus on new experiences that leverage the Kinect, rather than forcing Kinect controls into established franchises.
My biggest disappointment was that most of the Kinect focus was on using voice controls. For example, Mass Effect 3 will let players speak lines from the conversation wheel instead of selecting them with the analog stick or order companions around in combat. In 2012, Madden NFL games will allow players to call audibles. Kinect Sports: Season Two will let you change clubs with a voice command. I'll be able to issue verbal commands to the animals in The Sims 3: Pets. The dashboard will even become easier to control using voice commands. So if the main advances are with voice controls, why do we need a Kinect? Other than the fact that Microsoft wants everyone to pay for the peripheral, why not just use the headsets or microphones that so many players already own?
Microsoft did announce that it plans to dramatically increase the content available on Xbox Live. It's easy to get excited about the addition of live television to Xbox Live, but hard to get worked up about the announced integration of YouTube and Bing search. With PCs and smartphones, the Xbox 360 isn't the first place I'm going to watch YouTube content.
Some of the big titles did look exciting, but I can only hope that I'll be able to enjoy a conventional controller interface rather than having to mess with the Kinect controls. I was excited to see that the opening video for Fable: The Journey wasn't tied together by a chicken, and the game looks entertaining, but the man demoing the game with Kinect looked like he had to work out daily to cast magic spells, and god forbid anyone walked in on me using the Kinect controls to guide a horse in Fable: The Journey. Dance Central 2 will probably be fun (because everyone needs voice control in a dancing game) thanks to simultaneous, two-player dancing. A remastered Halo: Combat Evolved might be entertaining and the upcoming Tomb Raider looks good. I'm even excited that Minecraft is coming to the Xbox 360, but don't care that it's going to support Kinect. Microsoft even teased Halo 4.
Kinect Disneyland Adventures looks like a far less entertaining (if slightly less crowded) way to visit the park than actually going there. I can only hope the Kinect-enabled minigames will rely on play rather than branding, but I'm not optimistic. Kinect Star Wars looked as cute as it did last year, and is another great brand, but still looks like an on-rails experience. Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster looks a lot more inspired than other Kinect-focused titles, but may not be of much interest to those out of grade school.
The one exciting announcement concerning the Kinect was "Kinect Fun Labs," a new area on the dashboard that will be available to everyone on Xbox Live that lets Xbox 360 Kinect owners tinker with all the cool applications created by folks all over the web. Some of the applications demonstrated included making an avatar by simply standing in front of the Kinect sensor or drawing in three dimensions by moving one's finger through the air. Kinect Fun Labs seemed like a promising Petri dish for the development of fun activities. Let's press forward with those activities, rather than jamming Kinect into every available title where it doesn't improve the experience. Kinect Fun Labs went live today, so play away!