Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Kinect. Should you believe the hype?

When I first heard of Kinect I was definitely intrigued by it, instead of simply copying and pasting Nintendo's Wii success with Motion Controls they opted for some new technology that showed some good potential.

Yet post-release, after checking out several video's, reviews, write-ups, etc etc... It seems that at the moment the Minority Report controls are the only reason to own it...but that doesn't justify the cost for me.

This is coming from someone who is a very open-minded gamer too. I play a whole bunch of games from what's considered 'hardcore' to 'party games', and I'm not shy about it either. So please don't take me as one of those close minded "motion controls...f*** that" type of people. A game like "Kinect Adventures" I reckon I'd get a kick out of (providing it is more fun than frustration to play).

I came across THIS interview on Eurogamer the other day (that although quite long, is worth reading). After reading that it seems clear that Kinect is before it's time. The motion tracking camera itself has a weak resolution, and thus this is definitely going to limit it's ability to keep up with games that require precise inputs. More importantly, this means the precision Microsoft led us all to believe Kinect had...it doesn't have.

Some games have already acknowledged this issue.

For example...
"Joyride" basically has you on training wheels so you can't be THAT bad at the game.

Sonic Free Riders is an example of a game that gives you no assistance and leaves you too it, and [Click Here] if you're interested to see how that went :\

Kinect as it stands doesn't look like it will be able to give you the 1:1 control for a more serious game. Especially since they took out the extra processing power that was once in it during the development stage (to keep the cost down). Another issue with this is that Kinect is controller free. It was speculated pre-launch that there could be hands free FPS games with Kinect, but any that did it would have to be 'dumbed down' drastically.

With the Wii and now also Move...those FPS games are about replicating real life aiming and shooting, with perhaps a few gestures thrown in to simulate a re-load or grenade throw etc, you still do all the moving around in game with an analogue stick, as that method is still very much king when it comes to in-game character movement. I'm getting the impression anything on Kinect is going to have to put your character movement 'on-rails', and if a controller was to be used along with Kinect, then that will mean losing the freedom to do things with either 1 or both your hands, and having your hands free is integral to what Kinect uses to differentiate itself from Wii and Move.

Still, the limitations of Kinect aside, I will be picking up Kinect at some point as I like to be able to try new things like this out for myself, it's just a case of fingers crossed that game developers find ways of utilising the peripheral for fun, and keeping the product alive.

Kinect is still somewhat new to developers, and things may improve a bit once smaller developers are able to release some quick XBLA/ indie game type stuff that use it. It's my personal opinion that if and when you can download things via Xbox Live Arcade that use Kinect, you can then potentially get some quick fun games that use it without making you take the risk of spending £40 on a full fledged game, and generally the sort of games you'd enjoy playing using Kinect are shorter attention span type games (which Xbox Live Arcade embraces).

My Final thoughts:
  • Early Kinect adopters, it's a case of hoping the product you (and 2.5 million others) have backed will get the support and creativity it needs to go the distance.

  • Those on the fence, make that seat as comfy as possible, and give it a few more months to see what games get announced, and keep your eyes on the reviews the release games get.

  • Those whom hate motion controls, yet read this article. Try opening your mind, you might find yourself having some fun outside of the latest Fifa and Call of Duty >_>.

Getting Myself Kinected

So lucky little me, I went and got myself a Kinect (along with yet another 360, since they have a terrible tendency to blow themselves up). Microsoft say they've sold more than 2.5 million units of this bad boy since it was launched, and I can tell you that it's like magic. Actually, better than magic - it's like Minority Report.

Kind of.

Y'see, you have to get used to it. It does work straight away, but you have to tune it for the ideal experience. You have to teach it who you are, a tortuous process that involves assuming all manner of undignified positions. It's a bit like an invasive airport search, or being measured for trousers in a way that seems just a little too invasive. It's so Kinect can recognise you in different lighting positions and angles. So they SAY.

Navigation in the Kinect system (once it's rolling) is like a trip to Hogwarts. Just wave, or use voice commands "XBOX KINECT" - the thing responds immediately, dropping you into the Kinect Hub, the menu system for all the Kinect based McGubbins. Hold up your hand, and your position is tracked with a hand cursor and you just pause briefly over your selection to fire that selection up.

So far, I've only had a chance to play Kinect Adventures, which is surprisingly a lot of fun - even for a crutch-bound fatty with little to no agility to speak of. In fact, I'd go as far as to say the Kinect may show potential as a rehabilitation tool - you don't get to omit the leg motions from the games on account of some weak excuse like "oh well I don't have any legs".* The games are simple and accessible, perfect casual gamer fodder.

It's easy to get carried away with the Kinect's mystical powers, and it is lovely to not have to put up with any irritating controller at all (especially one with a glowing ball on the top). There are some disappointments, though. First of all is the amount of space required. You need a LOT, and most regular folks don't have a lot of space. Second, and this really chaps my crack, is that the voice commands are not in play universally across the xbox platform. Apparently you can use voice to control videos that you play via Zune and Microsoft's downloads - but you can't use them to control videos you might be streaming over your network in your video library. You can't voice control DVD's either. I'm hoping that future dashboard updates will fix these glaring omissions.

Now what does the Kinect mean to the serious gamer? Right now, roughly two points shy of diddly-squat, if I'm any judge. It's too new, and developers haven't had the time to find ways to really put it to use. I imagine the motion detection will remain firmly entrenched in the world of casual and family games - although it does seem very precise, I can't see it being precise enough to use in an FPS - though I suspect that it would be fun to shoot folks with your fingers. However, the voice recognition could prove very useful, in games like Rainbow Six being able to give your squad voice commands instead of pressing stupid button combinations would clearly lead to more fluid and immersive gameplay.

Really, we'll have to wait and see what the world's game developers come up with to make use of this astonishing bit of technology. It's cool, it's friendly, but will it become an essential? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I'll wait for my copy of Dance Central to arrive and see how easy it is with a cripply leg. It says something for the Kinect that it makes me WANT to try to dance to hits of Lady Gaga with a broken ankle.

* Now I'm curious to find out how the thing responds to amputees. If there are any Gainboy readers out there with less than the regular complement of limbs, do feel free to get in touch. Or if you have more than the regular complement of limbs, come to think of it. Usual address, of course.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Retro Monday: Psycho (Film)

It's been a while since I've written anything about film, but I feel there's no better excuse than with what is, in my opinion, the finest horror film ever. I studied Alfred's Hitchcock's masterpiece at high school, so my insight to the film is juvenile at best, but I still aim to stumble along, and try and make some sense out of it.

I think the best way to understand Psycho, however, is to study it. The first time I saw it was in A-Level Film Studies, and my love affair began. The film is so clever in it's approach that it deserves looking at properly, and deserves a bit of hype behind it. My babbling over the next few paragraphs is simply a few pointers of everything I love about this film. I could, and indeed have, write essays about it, but it's boring to read, and certainly not as much fun as looking into it yourself. If you've ever considered yourself a fan of Horror, then it makes for an incredible Sunday afternoon, trawling through Wiki archives, and reading about this masterpiece.

Everyone knows Psycho, whether you actually know it or not. I personally guarantee that everyone one amongst us has done the 'shower' sound effects and stabbing motion, and everyone has heard of the Bates Motel, even if they don't know where from. I think it's a testament to the impact it's had on popular culture, and how much it's affected the world at the time. In a cinema landscape where it was all about aliens from the future, or giant lizards from the past, here's a film which was a dark and brooding film, filled with tension and genuine horror.

It's when you look into the plot of Psycho really shines. Down to the combination of the original novel by Robert Bloch and Hitchcock's brilliant storytelling, this film contains within the best twist I've ever witnessed. A film that was billed as a thriller, and spends almost an hour of it's playtime as a thriller, then shifts straight into what we now know as the 'slasher' genre. It's how it should be. It still gets me now, but I can't imagine what it would of been like 50 years ago. Imagine going to a cinema to watch some sort of Denzel-esque thriller. It's all getting a bit much for Denzel who's acting his heart out. It's getting a bit psychological and tense, then from nowhere Denzel dies, and it turns into a horror film. It's so unique, and so unsettling, it's what's given the film a lasting appeal, and is the reason the film is a cut above most horror films.

EVERYTHING about this film is completely ground-breaking. From the strings-only score, to Perkins' flawless performance, Every single part of Psycho is astounding. If you haven't seen it yet, then I honestly have no idea why. You should rectify it as soon as possible, and watch one of cinema's finest moments.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Gainboy Gets Art- 3

It's been a while, but we're back! Gainboy gets ART. We've teamed up with our good friend and ferocious graphic designer Heartbox, to bring you some delightful computer games-based art. We've done enough talking anyway, hope you enjoy it. We'll the fourth one next week, and if you click the link below, it'll get bigger.

That's what she said.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Retro Monday: Blackpool Retro Games Expo (EVERYTHING!)

I've been a bit quiet recently. Mainly because of the new release schedule. I've been so buried in games upon games, I've found it hard to do little else. I've had COD-itis since it dropped, racking up some silly statistics on multiplayer and enjoying the single-player campaign. Transformers is on it's way, I've got Undead Nightmare and New Vegas waiting in the wings, and this is all before the new Assassin's Creed drops this week. But in amongst it all, I broke free.

One bleary Sunday, 3 very hungover Gainboy writers made a trip to Blackpool, to the Retro Games Expo.

I had the brilliant/stupid idea of filming it on my phone, and these are some of the best bits. Hope you enjoy it:

Youtube loves cutting off bits of our video, so to see the full version, go HERE.

Thanks for watching!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

A Morale (Cheat) Code

Before I start, understand this. I'm going to talk about Fable 3, and Fallout: New Vegas. I have completed Fable, and I'm a considerable way into Fallout. But I'm not going to indulge in any spoilers, don't worry. The things I'm going to discuss are pretty clear from about 10 minutes into both games, and other things I discuss are pretty obvious if you haven't been living under a rock. I don't want to talk about combat, about quests or even about graphics or loot.

I want to talk about morality, and how Fallout manages it magnificently, and Fable crashes and burns. Horribly.

It seems that this season, the trend in computer games is morality, and all the subtly grey shades that this can bring. The previous incarnations of these games, Fallout 3 and Fable 2, both dealt with morality and it's implications, but with kid gloves, and in a very simple way. The sequels have made a very strong move towards taking it further, but one manages it much better. I think I'll talk about Fallout first.

New Vegas, to a large extent, knows exactly what it's doing. There is SO much choice, all with consequence, and all with repercussions that will properly affect you in-game. The choices aren't obvious, either. Often I've found myself in real dilemmas, having to choose the lesser of two evils, but real evils. Truly grey in it's moral compass, Fallout exhibits how it should be done. You feel like you're making decisions, and that some are shitty, but are necessary. Indeed, in a post-apocalyptic nuclear world, I can't really imagine there's much opportunity for making decisions that are best for everyone, all the time.

Fable tries this approach, and fails miserably.

I loved Fable 2. It was charming, funny, quirky and generally great. The morality in the game was a quirky gimmick, a different line in voiceover at the end, and the ability to get horns or a a halo. It was a little feature that never mattered, never detracted from the game, or never carried any real weight.

But the new one is clumsy incarnate. It's no secret that Peter Molyneux's grand design for the game was to split it in two, but it also seems he did this with the budget also. The first half of the game is exciting and fun, fast-paced and generally engaging. It's when you take over the kingdom that the games falls absolutely flat, it's second act being more like a tragic comedy. Again, I'm not trying to spoil anything here, so I won't talk about details, but it is very, very poorly executed.

You're faced with decisions. But these decisions are seemingly obvious. If you can't tell whether you want to build an orphanage or a brothel, the flames around one choice and the angelic aura around another put it in crystal clear perspective what path you're choosing. This isn't the problem though. I can dig this, and don't mind it at all. If it carried on in the Fable 2 ilk, I would of been happy, and indeed pleased. But it didn't.

It half-arses being morally grey. It wants that slice of the complex, grown-up pie, but it isn't quite prepared to pay the price for it. It tries to make you think about the choices you make, but the choices are so obvious, it's incredibly hard to ever make an un-biased decision. The pay-off, however, is fully ready to make you pay for your choices. With very little physical repercussion, but every piece of narrative designed to make you feel uncomfortable, the promises you make earlier in the game counting for nothing.

Fable is a game truly half-finished. An intriguing and exciting idea, falling prey to the 'Molyneux Effect'. Often known for his over-hyped self-promotion and ambitious boasts, this time he's actually built them into the game, rather than simply talking about it. He's built a game that promises so much. Not only does it fail to deliver, it also detracts from the other parts of the game. Such a shame, as it's such an easily avoidable mistake.

Morality is just like hair. If you're Mr Fantastic, a bit of grey in there is fantastic. You've just got be delicate how you handle it, or it could end up like Noel Edmonds.