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Why the Kinect Is A Bit Like Harry Potter, But Without The Glasses

Kinect Harry PotterDo you remember the first time your heard about Harry Potter? Even if you’re not a fan, you probably quite quickly realised that the pesky bespectacled wizard would be worming his way into your life and you needed to know something about Mr Potter (if only to be sure you wanted nothing to do with him!).

You might not think it now, but I promise you that the Kinect is another one of these situations. You might not be a gamer, you might feel that online shooters are for teenagers or you might just not see what the Kinect has to do with you. And you know what? If I’m being totally honest, up until Gamescom this year I also thought the Kinect would only appeal to families who were into ‘gaming’ –  but, I was SO very wrong!

And, I didn’t realise I was wrong until I was lucky enough to interview the rather lovely, and unfeasibly cool, games developer Shannon Loftis. She showed me the light (Gawd, I hate being wrong).

Why The Kinect Is Here To Stay

It all starts with a very simple idea: What happens if you have a piece of technology that will not become outdated?

This is what Xbox have set out to do with the Kinect. The Kinect hardware is great. It uses special magic to follow you body, allowing you (as they say) ‘to become the controller’. However, the power lies not in the hardware but the magic software that makes it all work. The genius is that, since most Xboxes are connected to the Internet, Xbox can remotely update the software in your Kinect. This makes it better, more sensitive and can even add new features over time.

The result is that developers are not restricted by the hardware and instead have an unlimited opportunity to develop games. As developers have new ideas and think up new games, they write the software and BOOM the Kinect is updated and you can play the next generation of game without buying new hardware.

You Are A Gamer, Even If You Are Not

This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with you?

One important aspect of Xbox’s thinking, which Shannon Loftis was keen to help me to understand, was that we are all gamers already. It’s just a matter of mindset. If you have ever played a game on your phone, or enjoyed a family game of scrabble or even drawn hangman on a scrap of paper, then you are already gamer.

The problem has been that electronic gaming has traditionally appealed to certain type of person – Xbox intend to change this.

They are using the Kinect as the basis for a new generation of gaming. They are actively developing games that will appeal to ALL types of people. But most importantly, they are developing games that will appeal to families.

It is no accident that Xbox have asked families from all over the world to get involved with the Kinect. You see, Xbox see the Kinect not as a gaming device but as something that will bring families together. As the developer of Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster told me, “This game is designed to encourage parents to just jump in and start playing. If I can get one dad playing, enjoying and connecting with his children then this game has been worthwhile”.

Gaming on the Kinect is not about entertainment it is about lifestyle, it is about experience.

Why Star Wars Is The Perfect Game

Having been involved with all things Kinect since its launch  last year, the game that has created the most excitement and anticipation is Kinect Star Wars. Developer Shannon Loftis explained that Star Wars was the, “Most important game ever developed for the Kinect”. The reason is simple. Star Wars ticks all the boxes. When you except that everyone is a gamer, the natural progression is to look for game that will appeal to everyone – and that’s where Star Wars comes in.

You will be hard pushed to find someone who is not aware of the Star Wars universe. However, this brings with it its own problem. Shannon was painfully aware that every person comes to the new Star Wars game with, “Huge expectations and perceptions”. Shannon sees her role as a developer to make sure that Star Wars doesn’t disappoint. She wanted it to be much more than, “Waving a lightsaber”.  She wanted it to be an “experience”.

Xbox are taking the development of this game very seriously indeed. They already have more that 600 people working on the game and have been thinking hard about what people will want to see.

The development began with the idea of the “feeling” of what it would be like to be a Jedi. Shannon explained that the first thing the team did was develop the lightsaber action. However, it turned out that this was the easy part, it was the Force that was tough. This is where the technology came into its own as the developers re-wrote the software to allow users to “push away” enemies and interact with the Star Wars world.

This Is Just The Start

Star Wars is just one example of what the Kinect can do. I am sure that families from all over the globe will be battling evil together when it is launched, but we can already see the vision for Kinect in action. In the last year I have rode the rapids with Littlest (Kinect Adventures!), played football with the Middlest (Kinect Sports) and even had a dance off with Eldest (Dance Central).

The power of the Kinect is not in its technology alone. The ability to use your body and voice to control a game is cool, but it’s just part of the story. The true power lies in the thinking at Xbox. I have now met numerous developers and they are all excited about the Kinect and what it can do. They are also all saying the same thing – the Kinect will change the way families interact.

Xbox are truly trying to change the way you spend time with your family. They see the Kinect as something more than a gaming device. They see the Kinect as a way of bringing families together in a safe environment, a way to build bonds whilst improving a family’s lifestyle.

Noble goals indeed, and you know what? I think they might just pull it off.

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One Comment

  • Posted August 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I had an interesting conversation with Shannon in the hotel lift, she’s a very cool woman.

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