In a talk at GDC Europe, Rare's Kinect development director Nick Burton discussed his "Kinect Moment," when he fell in love with his company's hardware, and Blitz Games' Andrew Oliver talked about how much he enjoyed integrating Kinect tools into the middleware the company licenses out.
For Burton, his "Kinect Moment" happened when he was able to make a skeleton move in 3D in the early version of the tech, some 2 years ago. After that experience, "I went and sat in Kudo Tsunoda's office and refused to budge until I got two of those early kits," he reminisced.
With Rare as a first-party developer, "If you like, you are the alpha testers," he said. But how on earth do you make games for it? "What we did know was that it seemed like it was more than the sum of its parts," he added, so they locked themselves up in a room to play it for some time, and figure out what they could do.
"We are the testbed for any new technology," said Burton. "The tech was very early, but more importantly it was evolving. We've actually got to work out as a first party what we could really do with it."
As they prototyped, "the things that were floating to the surface that looked like they might make it we would send back to the product team," which means that "some of the things you see in the third party XDK was developed by Rare and some of the other early studios."
Rare did a lot of prototyping by pairing a programmer and designer together, and sending all these units out to make something new. "We did lots of things. We had a Seagull simulator. Flap your arms to fly, glide, and you could poop on things." There were targets to bomb, he revealed. But avian mischief aside, "the things that were drawing the crowds were the sporting ones." And this wound up becoming Kinect Sports
"We were putting prototypes into user research with almost no more than a week's work," said Burton. "What that told us was how relatable it was."
As an example of something the company changed in the XDK, "We found when we were thinking about a track and field event, we needed to be able to jump," he said. "And in order to do that you need to know where the floor is. It's also nice to know how high the camera is." So they had to prototype that and send it back to Microsoft.
Not everyone at Rare was so gung-ho initially. But now, naturally, they all are. "Some of our developers were a bit…well, it's not an FPS. It's not the next Perfect Dark
. Now, you can't get them off it."
Blitz's Andrew Oliver predicted something like Kinect when he first played with a depth-based single camera motion capture device. "People have experimented in motion capture in different ways," he recalled. "Recently I'd seen people start to play around with depth cameras. There's something magical when you have to act out these things."
After playing with one particular solution at E3 a few years back, he "wrote an email to the team called 'living room motion capture,' saying 'I think in the next few years this is somehow going to happen.'"
As for the problem of making something with this, "we've written quite a few games on the Wii," he said. "And people were saying then, 'how do you make a game with gestures?' And clearly they have done."
Blitz is making two Kinect launch titles, the film-based Yoostar
, and the exercise game The Biggest Loser
. Blitz and other third parties were the "beta testers," if you will. "We were finding bugs and cracks in the system, simply because we were making a different game to the team at Rare," he said. "We had to work out whether these were bugs," or things that the system simply wouldn't do. "It's only until you're actually there playing with it that you realize it's quite good fun, but you work within the limitations of it."
From the technological side, Oliver said it was quite fun to work with, and mentioned that, incidentally, the team has worked their solutions into their BlitzTech tools.
Kinect To The Future
Burton finished things off by discussing where the technology is, and where it's going. "Where we are right now is day one, if you like. This technology will continue to develop. Most of the secret sauce in Kinect is the software, it's not the hardware. The hardware is a means to an end."
People have asked 'well, why can't Kinect do X? "The challenge to you is go make it do that," Burton concluded. Send those solutions back to the platform side, and Microsoft will continue to evolve the technology.