i took a breezy trip through X’10 after work today. That’s the Microsoft holiday preview press event, where you get to put your sticky mitts on all the stuff you heard about at E3 a few months earlier. Here, for the joy of cooking, are my thoughts.
i’ve been going to these events for at least five years now, and with every passing year, i am reminded with more and more clarity that the big video game titles are not for me. i’m a father of two now, and i run my own bidness. i spend my evenings working on great stuff to entertain you nice people – and that’s after i play with my kids, eat dinner with the family, tuck the tiny little girls safely into bed, and sit vigil for a few hours perched on the roof of my condo scanning the streets of Toronto for evil-doers. i do not have time for your Fable Threes, your Calls of Duty, your Fallout 3 New Vegases, or your Halo Reaches.
(or whatever the Hell this is.)
Not only that, but i don’t like those games. i can’t get past the cut-scenes. i know many people skip those, but i really like to be told a good story by well-animated figures. After the bar set by Pixar and others for 3D animated movies, the emotionless mannequins mugging and mouthing through toneless, dry dialogue just don’t do it for me. One glance around the room, and all of these games are starting to look more and more the same.
i really like a game with a bold art direction. Give me Wind Waker over Twilight Princess any day. i enjoyed Crackdown, partly because they tried to do something unique and interesting with the style. When i saddled up to game after game at X’10, i couldn’t figure out what each game was by looking at it. Is that a knock against art directors? Identity and branding specialists? You’d think that games with these million dollar budgets would drop a few bones trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.
The one game on the mostly hardcore show floor that stood out for me was Shank. i’m not a fan of bloody, M-Rated games, but Shank has style. The new Mortal Kombat game also turned my head, because of a feature where you could pull off a special move and, in addition to the slow-mo shot of you hurting your opponent, you’d see an X-Ray view inside the opponents body depicting cracking ribs and rupturing organs. Definitely not my cup of meat, but at least it’s an interesting visual addition to a stylistically bland landscape.
Rock Band 3 FTFW
Because i have very little time to enjoy gOnames these days, Rock Band really turns my crank. i can get in and out in under 10 minutes, make a dent in the story mode, and enjoy myself. i got a chance to try out the RB3 keytar (which you should NEVER use as an actual keytar because it’s hella complicated). On Pro mode, you’re playing the piano line note-for-note. i thought i’d have a leg up because i’ve been playing piano most of my life, but the trickiest thing is that it’s very easy to lose where your hands are on the keys … and in order to fit the whole highway on the screen, the viewable area shifts around from left to right, making it even more difficult and confusing.
The keyboard note highway shifts between showing the left and right halves of the keyboard in mid-play.
But it’s still a must-buy. It has drop-in, drop-out – a sorely needed feature. i played Bohemian Rhapody (finally!) and The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News. Both were very fun. i fully expect Bat Out of Hell, with its crazy keyboard intro, to appear on the platform now that there’s a piano instrument.
Windows Phone 7? Tasty.
The Windows 7 mobile platform was very enticing. Seeing the excellent Xbox Live social features, including ‘Cheeves, appear on a mobile phone raised my lusty dev hackles. i want in.
Say what you will – those avatars are still ass-ugly.
Kinect Will Bomb.
i got a chance to try a few Kinect motion-sensing games. i say it’ll bomb. i’m not saying it won’t sell well – it actually might – but i think that, like the Wii before it, there will be this big media scramble and we’ll hear a lot about it, but the technology is doomed to collect dust in a corner.
Game on, tubby.
The first game i tried was Kinect Sports. My friend Emily and i limbered up for the track & field event, and when the starter pistol was fired, the demo jockey said “run!” So of course, we both started doing this weak little jog, pantomiming the act of running. Our characters weren’t really going anywhere. The demo jockey said “No – actually run. Get those knees up in the air.”
Uh … there i was in a light-coloured shirt, because i was out of black ones, and it showed off my natural curves a little more than i usually like them to be shown. i started running on the spot – hauling actual ass, trying to get my on-screen character to move. It was a lot of effort. And then came the hurdles. That’s right, friends – hurdles. i did a feeble little hop, and my character tripped over the hurdle, knocking it over. i ran on the spot some more, feeling like a kid at fat camp, and tried to jump the second hurdle. No good. This went on for more hurdles and more running and more grunting … and then, eventually, the sweat came. It came first in small rivulets trickling from my temples, and soon started gushing out of my armpits like the levee broke. My repressed memories of gym class came flooding back to me, and all i wanted to do was escape to the safety of my rec room and play some video games.
Oh, wait – i was playing a video game.
i figured i had just the right amount of back fat to try bowling.
In my youth, when i went to my friend’s house after his mom bought him the Nintendo dance pad because he was a fat f*cker, we learned how to game the system by sitting on the floor and slapping the dance pad sensors with our palms. It became an exercise in speed drumming. (And i’m sorry, but no human being is able to run as fast as Nintendo’s track & field game demanded.) There’s no obvious way for fat kids to cheat at Kinect, which i count as a victory for disapproving moms everywhere. Maybe wheel a paint shaker machine into the living room? i’m not sure.
NOW you’re letting it take up space at the back of the hall closet with POWER.
Ubi Soft has a fitness game that looks interesting. i never liked how the exercises in Wii Fit worked. It would tell you to do push-ups, but since the game could only sense when you were applying pressure to the balance board, you may as well have been enthusiastically humping the device. (At times, i know i was.) The Ubi game puts you alongside a yoga guru. The shape of your on-screen character is exactly what Kinect “sees” – a purply blob more or less shaped like you, down to details like the flared hems of your shorts. When you follow the guru’s motions, the game overlays a skeletal system that turns white when you’re doing it wrong, and green when you’re on the money. It looked interesting, because if one leg is out of place, you can nudge your knee into a better position to correct your posture.
i look somewhat more like Grimace when I play this game.
i asked the demo jockeys if the game was accessible to amputees (or freaks of nature). They didn’t know. i was surprised to learn that i was the first to ask the question.
i took a brief look at Kinectimals. A player was running as a lion cub through an obstacle course. Same story there – she was doing a gimpy sort of pretend jog-run, and the lion cub was stumbling around like it was drunk. i called out from the sidelines “you gotta haul ass!” She did, and the game went better for her.
Why am i sweating like a brother at a Klan meeting, and this lion cub is dry as bone?
Here are my main concerns with Kinect:
- You need a 10×10 square feet of floor space. The track & field game kept telling me to “move back” … i couldn’t help but think that if i was in my tiny condo right now, moving back would put me inside the concrete wall.
- Even if i did have the space, i’ve got two tiny little girls who litter our living room floor with jacks and Legos and other foot-demolishing traps and hazards that would land me in the hospital faster than the balls-out sprinting that the game required of me.
- Very tiny kids, like my murderous toy-strewing daughters, may not be able to play, because there’s a certain degree of calibration and patience required to start games. There are moments when you need to stop moving, or to move slowly and deliberately – two skills my 2- and 4-year olds are nowhere near mastering.
- A few times, while we were trying the bowling game in Kinect Sports, some wait staff crossed the room behind us, causing our characters to throw their bowling balls up in the air. Depending on your game room setup, you could be primed for some background interference douchebaggery from your so-called friends.
- The system allows me to run, jump, throw, box, dance, catch, and gesture wildly. When i finally do eke out some come-down time, my chosen activities more often encourage me to sit, scratch, space, munch, and snooze.
Much like the Wii, the technology is promising, but it’s not quite there. It’s juuust inaccurate enough to be unfun. Just as game critics have taken to using the word “waggle” to derisively describe interactions with the WiiMote, i predict that the new watchword for the Kinect era will be “flail”.