Editorial: How A Dancing C-3PO Represents Everything Wrong With Kinect Development

It happened when the Nintendo Wii was first announced, and then again when Microsoft unveiled the Kinect upon the world: gamers across our universe were filled with anticipation; imagining how motion control would finally bridge the gap between dream and reality, how simple gestures aimed at our TV screens would bring us one step closer to truly feeling like a Jedi. The force is strong in Kinect, after all.

The reality has so far not bore fruit. Despite the efforts of both LucasArts and several game developers (and not to mention the scope of the fan-base which could mean untold riches for its maker), we’ve still yet to see a decent motion-controlled game based within the Star Wars universe. But that might be all set to change, or is it?

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Star Wars Kinect will rear its motion-tracked head this April (the 3rd) and takes place during the prequel trilogy (that is The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith for those of you less clued-in on your Star Wars). Beginning ‘shortly before’ Phantom, concluding during trilogy-closer Revenge of the Sith and drawing heavily from ‘iconic moments’ from the films, we’ll soon all have the chance to wield light sabers; fling droids at our will with a swing of the arm and a generous helping of the ‘force’; duel some of the series’ most recognisable and fearsome foes (Darth Vader anyone?); use body movement to pilot X-wings, speeder bikes, podracers; and train to become the ultimate Jedi master. Why then does its development fill us with so much trepidation, bemusement and, critically, infuriation?

Because Star Wars Kinect seems to be plagued with the same hackneyed, forced motion-control functionality that we thought might have been left by the wayside some time ago; right after the manufactured scares of Rise of Nightmares, the atrocious action of Blackwater and nearly every-other fitness game known to man. But no, one of the biggest Kinect releases of the year –- and no doubt injected with a budget in the tens of millions –- is so devoid of fresh ideas and interesting uses of gesture-based gaming that LucasArts and Terminal Reality have resorted to including ‘Galactic Dance Off’ sections - so much for their promise that the title is ‘True to the Star Wars you know and love’! Oh, you know; that part in Return of the Jedi where a dancing C-3PO battles Luke Skywalker...

And you call yourself a Star Wars fan?

According to Microsoft, the 'Galactic Dance Off' mode is “loaded with Star Wars-themed pop tunes” and will allow “those still honing their Jedi skills [to] take a break to battle Darth Vader on the dance floor or bust a move ‘Solo style’”, Dance Central style.

Have we really made it to that point already in the development of Kinect-favoured third-party games that developers would sooner slap a dance section on something than come up with new and interesting ways to interact with the game? Where’s the ingenuity, the innovation and the unparalleled ‘immersion’ that we were promised? Remember this...?

We'd hardly call a 'Galactic Dance Off' immersive within the context of inter-galactic peace treaties, insipid discussion of the taxation of trade routes and the beginning of the rise of the Galactic Empire. A Star Wars game, whether a Kinect title or not, should trudge the depths of the Star Wars mythology and mine the richness of Lucas's universe for all its worth. Mind you, that would mean no dance sections - you can't have it both ways.

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But then, perhaps the faults lie not in the hands of Kinect game developers but rather under the shell of the device itself. Currently limited to sending just 15-16Mb of data a second to the Xbox 360 (something down to the 360's outdated USB controller interface), the resolution of the image received by the main console is a, frankly atrocious, 320 x 240 while the frame-rate is capped to 30fps. When we reported on rumours circulating regarding the successor to Kinect back in November, we highlighted how the added processing grunt of the Xbox 720 will likely mean a faster connection and bigger data threshold between Xbox and Kinect, resulting in a much superior resolution and a bumped up frame-rate to 60fps. Such factors, speculation suggested, would give Kinect 2 the ability to interpret facial emotions and lip-read.

Whether the tireless tirade of tiring and mediocre Kinect games comes down to unoriginality on behalf of developers, the unwillingness for publishers to try and break new ground, the device's own limitations, or indeed the possibility that a more discerning, core audience just isn't there for the hands-free controller, serious questions need to be asked if Kinect isn't resigned to the butt of every single gaming joke around from here on out. 'Hey did you hear the one about the dancing robot...'