Xbox 360 Kinect Interview

So, what makes Kinect stand out against the other similar products out there now and was this developed in response to the move towards motion gaming?
Well the controller free gaming is only a part of what Kinect is. It’s not only the motion control but the voice recognition and voice technology as well which is totally different from anything else that you see out there. It’s not just voice recognition but actually being able to communicate with characters inside the game, so it’s not just what words you say but how you are saying them. I think that is totally different. Then you know our human recognition system which we originally built to allow people to stand in front of the sensor and it automatically signs you in to Xbox Live? We actually use that in the games in very cool kinds of ways.
Like in the game Kinectimals when you can actually adopt a little tiger cub or a lion cub and play with it, you are actually able to develop a relationship with the animals inside the game over time. So just like if you have a pet in your house, it’s like hey I’ve got my dog and I play with my dog a bunch and when I come home the dog has like one reaction to me coming through the door but if you came into my house, the animal would react totally differently with you than it would with me.
I think those things are all very different from what you see on the Wii or what you see on the Sony Move.
I don’t see this as a response to anything, as much as just a kind of unique innovation that we were able to develop at Microsoft, which really no other company could put together.
Its not just gaming applications either, but with everything on Xbox Live, the movies, the TV, the music: being able to control those things using your gestures and your voice, its all stuff that and is totally unique to Xbox and different not that you get on any other console. There is really no other medium in the world that you can have these different types of interactions so I don’t really see it as a response or reaction to anything as much as hey this is some pretty cool stuff that we have developed that provide people with a totally new way of interacting with all types of entertainment and I think that’s just something that really Microsoft as a company was uniquely positioned to be able to develop.
Do you think the developers found it tough creatinggames for a system that took so many inputs out of the equation?
I think that creative people really see the potential of Kinect and it gives them some more creative tools into their palette of things that they can make into development experiences. That more directly allows them to kind of get the vision of what’s in their head to be translated onto a console in a more direct manner.
I have worked in games for a long time right, and I used to work on a game called Fight Night, which is a boxing game. And in the boxing game we were trying to do just your basic controls through the control pad so like when you through a right hook you had to take the analogue stick out to the right and arc it forward just like you would with your fist and that’s like a very rudimentary way of trying to get a creative vision that you had in your head implemented on to the 360.
The reaction from people within the industry is has just been super positive on the potential of Kinect and the additional tools that people have to implement their vision and each of the experiences but I also think that one of the super exciting things has been that people from outside the industry are really interested now in developing things on the Xbox because of Kinect technology.
It’s not just the creative people within games but people from all different types of fields and professions that are very interested in working on Xbox with experiences that we can build on our console. After we announced Kinect at E3 like a year and a half ago, I remember I was sitting in my office and one day I got calls from people from the movie industry , people from medical fields that were interested in doing stuff with Kinect , a ballet troupe that actually wanted to use Kinect technology for some things and some military people who called up. It was such a range of different types that were inquiring about Kinect! I think that’s exciting, not just seeing what developers do but seeing what other areas Kinect technology has potential.
What are you looking to focus on post-launch?
Obviously a lot of what we are focused on talking about right now is the Kinect launch titles as we are gearing up for launch. We did highlight quite a few things around E3 this year; you probably saw the Star Wars game that’s under development and we announced a relationship with Disney so we’re building some games in partnership with them.
But you know like the stuff I am also super excited about? We are getting a lot more experiences now where your able to take something that you are learning in videogames and have you like actually teach you something that you can use in your real life as well.
I think that you see a little of it with Kinect sports, a little of it with Dance Central. For example I’m actually a crap dancer, I’m not a good dancer at all and. I got married a little more than a year ago and I tried to cancel dancing at my wedding altogether – I didn’t want to have to do the first dance where everyone is looking at you and I didn’t want to spend the whole night with everyone like why aren’t you on the dance floor, and what’s wrong and why arent you out dancing?
So I just played Dance Central not s to learn to dance but cause its super fun but now I actually have some dance moves and I can go out with my wife on the weekend and she is not totally embarrassed to be out dancing with me which is awesome. Usually you’re ‘just’ playing videogames which is great, but there will be a lot more stuff now where playing on Xbox is actually teaching you things that will help you with your regular life as well and I get super excited about seeing more of those kinds of things.
But what is there in your launch range that can’t be done elsewhere?
I think a lot of the stuff that you have seen, even in the current range of launch titles are things that you really couldn’t do anywhere else. If you take a look at the Kinectimals game for example, the way that you are interacting with the animal, getting and petting the animal, teaching him more tricks with your body, being able to communicate with the animals both through physical and gestures and your voice all those kinds of things like again that human recognition system I was talking about. That’s totally unique to anything that’s going on. Every single thing on Kinect using this technology can only be done with Kinect right now.
So are these games creating a new genre?
I think Kinect in itself is a totally new genre but I do think that the further development that you see within a game like Kinectimals is really unique, building a relationship up with the animal, sharing experiences, memories, how you react with one another…(I’m hoping that with Kinect in the) future that you really can develop relationships with characters inside the game that really you can only do with other living beings right now. I think that’s just something that’s wholly new within the videogames industry, its not anything that’s being done anywhere else, just something that is completely unique to Kinect.
How did you decide on the price point and does it worry you that it may exclude families who are finding times tough?
No. Obviously we do a lot of research into what consumers think of the experiences, what kind of price that people think that the experience is worth. I think the thing that’s really great with Kinect is that you just buy one centre and that’s all you need right? You can play multiplayer and you can do all the games with the centre and that’s it. With other systems if you want to play multiplayer you have to go out and buy a lot more controls for the platform, if you want to play certain games then you have to go and buy a peripheral for it. I think the really good thing about Kinect is you buy the one sensor and that’s all you need and if you really go and tally up how much it costs to enable things like multiplayer play or how much the additional peripherals are, then you’ll see that the sensors are really great value and are a lot cheaper than what you have to pay to enable those experiences on other products.
Another thing I think is great is that if you already have a 360 you don’t have to buy a new console, its just something that plugs into your existing 360, I think its really good value.
Just thinking about existing 360 owners, don’t you worry that they’ll think they’re not priority anymore?
It’s funny that we talk about core users. Everyone really defines core users in a different way. I think its weird that somehow now core gamers are defined as people that like shooting things; its all about shooters or its all about chopping people in half! I really believe that what gamers really like is a very skill-based gameplay or games that have a lot of depth to them, and I think that’s the great thing about Kinect.
Quite frankly I’m a core gamer, I’ve being worked in games for 15 years and I have played games my whole life. This skill and depth is the stuff we really focused on putting into the launch Kinect line up. I think that even as a core gamer when I get a new game I hate having to go through the one hour control tutorial just to find out how the frigging controls work. That’s not the fun part of gaming. The fun part of gaming is getting into the game, just having a good time, learning the rules and getting better at the game. I think that when we talk about Kinect being accessible it doesn’t mean shallow or lacking in depth or skill, it just means you don’t have to spend an hour learning the controls before you start having fun. 
So think on this – is the Sonic games franchise for core or casual gamers?
I think both
Yeah, exactly. It’s both because it’s easy to get into and play, you don’t have to learn a bunch of complicated controls but it has really good gameplay skill and gameplay depth. Sonic is obviously one of the launch games that we have with Kinect but I think all the launch games really focus on that kind of gameplay paradigm where its not complicated to start playing.
With Kinect launch games you really have to have good skill-based gameplay and you can get better at over time, and that’s what core gamers love.
What problems if any did you have to overcome during development? What took the most man hours to get right?
It’s all very sophisticated technology certainly and full body tracking is something that that nobody else besides Microsoft has been able to do yet. The microphone (was a tough area). It’s a very complicated problem listening to somebody talking from three metres away, then the noise cancellation part of the technology is hard because you have all the game noise that’s going on around and the house ambient environment noise. Its awesome that we’re can use a multi array microphone to listen to a very specific place for whose talking at a specific time and then cancel out all the noise around them.
Then there’s the human recognition system. We first called this facial recognition. We don’t do any more because there is full human recognition. We found that people change over time. For example I used to have a much longer beard and then I shaved my beard and then I looked totally different if you were just checking my face. So we abolished that and it looks at your whole body. It looks at your face, it listens to your voice and those are all things that get incorporated into how we identify people.
So all super hard technical challenges, I think that’s why you don’t see any of this stuff on any other platform media. Its just one of those fun things about being a creative person at Microsoft. We’ve got a Microsoft research department that is like 1000 scientists that are just awesome working on solving super hard technical problems and we are able to take a lot of the research and work and incorporate it into the development of Kinect. 

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