The future is controller free
Rare discusses working with Kinect.
In one of the more exciting sounding sessions at the Develop Conference in Brighton this year, Rare's George Andreas will be discussing growth of physical-based gaming.
In the session George will talk candidly about how Rare has created one of the premier launch titles for Kinect and the challenges faced regarding the new design philosophy at the studio.
Expect Neon's words to begin appearing in the space below from around 11am.
Right, we're back! In just a few moments we'll be hearing from Rare's George Andreas.
George is of course the creative director at Rare, and he's going to be talking to us about the future of controller-free gaming. That means lots of Kinect chatter, folks.
George isn't here! He's bailed! Instead we have Nick Burton, Rare's Kinect honcho.
It's the company's 25th anniversary as we know. The studio has shifted 100 million sales since then.
Pics of Slalom on the NES, juxtaposed with a pic from the firm's new Kinect Sports game. Ahhhh, see what they did there.
Rare want to get more people into playing games. Back when the NES came out, Chris and Tim Stamper really liked how accessible the console was. No need to install, very easy to use. You couldn't get dev kits at the time, so Tim reverse-engineered a consumer machine.
More challenges are being discussed. The challenge of making a game like Donkey Kong COuntry on the snes. The challenge in selling GoldenEye, a violent FPS, on a family friendly machine like the N64. Rare loves challenges and opportunities, says Nick.
"Kinect had our name all over it" says Nick. The firm always wants to challenge conventional thinking.
Rare have actually done physical games before. Super Glove Ball for the NES! Remember that? One of the few games for the NES Power Glove. I'm not sure this an entirely beneficial comparison to make if they're trying to "sell" us Kinect.
Rare also did a motion game for the GBA: Banjo Kazooie Pilot. And now we're watching a video of a PS Eye game the studio worked on in 2006 (not sure it was ever released).
Nick says that he loves joypads, but that they've raised the bar to entry. Everytime you try to pass a game on to a non-gamer, there's always the issue of what all the buttons do. Old-school joysticks were easy to understand - directional control plus one fire button. Modern pads, on the other hand, are scary. Design has been driven by the hardcore, says Nick, and Rare want to pull away from that.
Pure camera-based control didn't give Rare the fidelity they wanted (hence the reason we never saw that prototype game). The studio started thinking about wands, something simple with an LED that could be used fro tracking purposes in a camera. Not entirely clear what time period we're talking about here, but i'm guessing past four years.
Now wathcing an unreleased concept video for Soul Catcher - an on-rails shooter that used the Perfect Dark engine, with shooting done via a wand.
But in the end Rare decided to play around with other stuff, and never quite found the prototypes they were looking for. Then they started hearing rumours about what MS were doing, and they went to have a look. And THAT'S why Rare are so on board for Kinect.
The rules changed, said Nick. There wasn't much room in the Rare office, space was tight - and that wasn't ideal for Kinect development. They ended up knocking loads of walls down to create a big open environment. This helps create the needed space, but it also has the added bonus of allowing everyone to watch what's going on - and that's a vital part of the process.
With Kinect, you have to start from the ground up again, as the rules have changed. How do you even get menu screens to work, for a start? Hard with no buttons.
Why do a sports game? Because it's simple, and anyone can play. (Also, though he's not said this, because Nintendo did it first!)
A lot of the stuff that affects Kinect development isn't obvious. You have to watch how people play. Different people have different movement signiatures.
Three "volunteers" have been pulled up on stage. Nick tells them to run on the spot, and to jump when he prompts them. "Did anyone run exactly the same way?" asks Nick. No, they didn't. This is the kind of issue that deeply affects Kinect games.
A running game, for example, has to be able to read all these different movements (which are effectively different control setups, almost) and give each player a fair race.
We're going to look at a game in detail now: Football. Everyone has to be able to play this. George used to be a semi-pro footballer, so he knows what he's doing; Nick isn't nearly such a fan, but they both have to be able to play. "We knew we didn't want to make FIFA or Pro Evo". They're great, but they're far too heavy on game conventions.
Watching test footage of someone doing "keepy ups". One window shows a guy doing the movements; next to him a video with a wireframe dots doing keepy-ups with a digital ball. Tracking points appear to watch the moment of each limb.
Pitch navigation was a major consideration. Rare found about 12 ways to navigate within a 3d environment - a big discussion point of Kinect games.
One method is a bit FPS-like: look around to "aim" your movement, then run on the sport to move forward. The problem? It's knackering, esp. when you're plauying as everyone on the team. it's also very hard hard to keep track of your team-mates, strategy etc
Another system had the player ALWAYS moving forward, with controls for moving left or right, or stopping. Still not great. Another system allowed you to affect your speed by leaning forward, as you might while sprinting.
Rare finally worked it out: it was just too much to think about. In a real game of footie, you're fixated on the ball, and have awareness of the players around you. Videogames are more like a helicopter view, where you control everything. Too complex.
So, Rare took out the running. You now navagate by passing from player to player, as that's the core fun bit. (Hang on, i'm not convinced that they really solved the 'movement within a 3d environment' problem at all!)
It's about removing the complexity without dumbing down, says Nick. We'll see about that, I guess! They're going to show the final system in a minute. Apparently there's still lots of depth in terms of your options. Here comes the vid... the game will be playable at gamescom, btw
Well, it looks like it works as a game - i'm not convinced that it's football though. There's barely any player movement, and surely that's the cornerstone of what football is! You do have plenty of options with regards to your kicks - lobs, short passes etc. Probably no "through ball" though - because no-one can run to intercept! Very odd. Still, maybe it'll be fun to play. Maybe.
Where will this all end? asks Nick. When he and George first saw Natal in its infancy, they were struck by the all the inputs. Stuff that was very hard with a webcam is "trivial" with Kinect. It can sense the floor and build 3d recreations of rooms relatively easily. The potential is there for "augmented reality on steroids", says Nick.
The voice recognition stuff is still there, and the tech can sense the direction from which a sound comes. In other words, it can tell exactly who is talking. And unlike a webcam, getting this stuff to work merely requires about an afternoon's worth of code.
But Nick does admit that Kinect has been the biggest challenge that Rare has faced.
Nick himself is from a medical imagaging background, so he'd seen this kind of stuff before. But he's clearly a fan (well, he wouldn't be on stage if he wasn't). Reckons that the tech has removed a major barrier, and reiterates the philosphy that the human body is the controller (this is the mantra for Kinect, it would seem).
"i got into this business because i love games." New tech brings new opportunities, and Nick gets genuinely excited going into work because he never quite knows what they'll be doing. In short: yay for Kinect.
Time for a couple of questions: with regard to players, how do you cater to ego and skill?
(ie people who think they can throw, but who can't). Nick repeats the idea that you must watch your players, and what they do. Expected player skill level is also part of it.
Right, i've just asked him about making more hardcore games on Kinect.
Nick says that Rare start out by using the tech and seeing what they can do with it, adapting to it. I push him again and ask if we could ever see something like Goldeneeye on Kinect.
"There are so many possibilities for those kind of things but i'm not going to tell you what they are!" But yes, he reckons there are possibities for almost anything, says Nick.
And that's it for me. It's freezing in here thanks to the aircon, and i'm smuggling peanuts. What do you think of Nick's words on Kinect? Let us know!
Over and out...