Another day, another Kinect hack. I must say, I'm glad that Microsoft didn't button down the security for their little device very tightly because the different mods and hacks that the gaming community, and even tech community at large, are able to come up with are occasionally fascinating and routinely entertaining. Every once in a while, though, there comes a hack that is tap water-tepid in its implementation and serves as more of an example of what not to do with the technology.
YouTube user Demize2010 has posted a trio of videos showing a successful hack of the Kinect that allows him to...play old games with motion controls. The three games that get Kinected are Doom the first, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Now, getting a piece of hardware designed to work with a console hooked up to a personal computer and then get it to interact with emulation software to run games up to and over 15 years old seems to me like trying to get people from four European countries together to carry on a conversation. Sure, there's gonna be some crossover in language skills but good luck with the overall discussion, so I would like to preface my take on his project by expressing my admiration and respect for his programming abilities. I can't code my way out of a paper bag and HTML is about the extent of my computer language education. Yes, yes, I know that HTML is a "language" in the same way pig latin is, so the comp-sci majors tell me. Well they can go code algorithms and I'll be happy with my blockquote tags, thank you very much.
It's just that his chosen way to implement his hack is not terribly original and results in some very awkward game play. My take on the three videos is through the jump.
First, we have Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and it is the strongest of the bunch.
He controls character movement with the Wii Remote which I think is a wise idea, but the concept of holding a controller AND moving around seems awkward. The Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo feels less so, but since the Kinect is for the 360 you'd be holding a standard Xbox controller. I'd also like to make an important note right here that I want every game developer and designer reading this site to memorize: JUMPING TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTER JUMP IS AN AWFUL, AWFUL IDEA. Much like duct taping a cat to a ceiling fan, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Jumping is an action that takes a large burst of energy on par with running an eight-minute mile pace and will tire a person out in no time flat. Then there's the whole situation of players living in apartments who have neighbors living on the floor below to consider. As someone who once pissed off his downstairs dorm dwellers with too much Dance Dance Revolution, I can assure you that this will be a problem. Aside from these gripes, however, the Modern Warfare hack is rather sensible if unnecessary. I'm afraid it goes downhill from here.
Next in the lineup is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past:
At first I was amused to see him "punching" through the dialog boxes on-screen much in the same way I remember mashing the A (or was it B?) button to speed through the text, but once Link hopped out of bed I saw a major flaw in the implemented control scheme: tilt to move. He was leaning his body in the direction he wanted Link to go. With a game as long as Zelda, there is no way this movement scheme is sustainable, particularly in later levels such as the ice palace where control is particularly finicky along the slippery floors and requires a great deal of precision. Additionally, the swing-your-arm/swing-your-sword is just as bad of an idea here as it was for the Wii version of Twilight Princess. Another note for developers and designers: if the character is going to make one repeated movement for a majority of his/her interactions with the game world, assign it to a button, especially if the player's pantomime of said movement could be called "waggle". I did like that the motion to bring up the item menu was reaching up to the top of the screen, though. Since the menu drops from the top, this choice made a whole lot of sense and felt very natural.
Lastly we come to Doom:
Whereas I could find small redeeming elements in the prior two games, there's nothing in the Doom hack that makes sense. In fact, when watching what motions were used to interact with the game, the first thing I thought was, "Sega Activator." It was just an unintuitive, unresponsive mess and not much more needs to be said.
Now that I've voiced all of my gripes, I would like to turn things around to a more positive perspective. Despite the poor results, I'm glad that Demize2010 embarked on this project. For starters, it highlights the need for motion-controlled games to be designed from the ground up with motion control in mind, not just slapped on to existing products. Motion control is a leap in input so far beyond extra buttons and analog sticks that designers and developers are going to have to start approaching their craft from a completely different angle if motion control is going to not just survive but actually flourish as a method of interaction.
And second, he did it for himself, so that means he was passionate and engaged in learning how to program for the Kinect. He is making himself familiar with the system, and after familiarity comes experimentation, and through experimentation comes creativity which is something that the video game industry will never suffer for having too much of. For future experimentations, though, I would recommend titles that played in non-standard ways, such as Rez or Gitaroo Man. The former could adapt easily to motion controls and the latter never quite worked with a PS2 controller in the first place.
One has to learn what does and does not work when designing games, and making missteps is part of the learning process, and even those missteps can still yield good ideas.