Uninterested? Sceptical? Cynical? Outright angry? It's fair that Rare, the creator of Kinect launch game Kinect Sports, is yet to convince all core gamers, and indeed many old school Rare fans, to dump their Xbox 360 controllers in favour of... Well, themselves.
But perhaps it's just a big misunderstanding. Perhaps videos on the internet don't do Kinect justice. Perhaps marketing trailers packed with smiley happy families tell only half the story. Perhaps there's more to Kinect than we think. This is what Rare's Kinect development director Nick Burton is here at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival to argue.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Burton reveals the events that triggered Rare's development of Kinect Sports, explains why it's as competitive an experience as Halo, and urges the hardcore to give it a shot.
Eurogamer: How did Rare come to be making Kinect Sports?
Nick Burton: Two years ago in October was the first time we saw Kinect. I flew out with a few of the guys from Rare to Redmond to see this fabled thing that was going on at Microsoft. Everybody would whisper, 'Single sensor motion tracking.' But nobody actually knew what it was.
So we went to meet Alex Kipman, who was the incubator of the project. And even though we saw something very early, we were blown away by the possibilities of it. Blown away and scared at the same time.
I remember having a conversation on the flight back, talking to our creative director George [Andreas], and he was going, well, that's it, isn't it? We've set fire to the rulebook, thrown it out the window and run it over with a steamroller. And I'm going, yeah, but think of all the things you can do with it.
So, we really didn't know what we could do with it. Obviously the technology was early. But we had to start proving some things out, because making a game, you're going to need at least 12 to 18 months, especially when you're going for the launch and the technology is still developing. We already knew roughly when the launch was going to be.
All we could do, really, was start rapid-prototyping things. All manner of things. We were setting up a programmer-designer pair together and saying, 'Right, you've got no more than a week. That's it. And then we want to see something. It can be as rough as you like, but it's got to prove some sort of concept.'
Eurogamer: So you had the freedom to do whatever you wanted with Kinect?
Nick Burton: Yeah. We have a seagull simulator.
Eurogamer: How did that work?
Nick Burton: You flapped your arms together. It was kind of like Pilotwings. You could get really high, and then you could soar, get an air current. I've talked about this a few times because it was so cool. You were standing up and obviously going like this [stands up and flaps arms], and people were going, 'You look like an idiot.' You were going, 'Look, I can go between the skyscrapers.'
And then it started to get finessed a little bit more. The guy who was working on it, he went, 'Well, I want some aim to this.' So he put cars in the scene. If you crouched, it went 'Plop.'
Eurogamer: Working in Brighton I know all about that.
Nick Burton: Exactly. So it was a fully-featured seagull simulator. The only thing you couldn't do was steal people's lunch. God knows what would have happened...
There was everything from insane things like that to much more sensible things that actually grew legs, as we call it, with the design. Something like table tennis, for instance, which was one of the very early prototypes.
We had - I'm not joking here - 20 or 30 little games that were just proving out some sort of concept. The ones that always got a crowd were sports. Whatever that sport was, it was sports. I remember the goal kicks, one of the first prototypes we did that started to lead to soccer... Football.
Eurogamer: I can't believe you said that.
Nick Burton: I've spent so long on conference calls to the States.
We were just taking goal kicks, and it was a rough wireframe stick man with a ball. What we were trying to prove out was you could interact with a virtual object. So to put a virtual object in front of you and your skeleton could move around. You could visualise it was there.
We found you could put a virtual ball a metre in front of the stick-man in the game space, and the player in the real world would go and move around and address a ball a metre in front of them in the real world.
This is probably going back 18 months from now. It became quite clear, we didn't know why at the time, that sports was something everybody related to. We were putting these very early prototypes into user research as well, and they were always the things that came back as people just got [clicks fingers], like that.
We wouldn't tell them anything. You just put a stick-man on the screen with a wireframe table tennis table and then go, 'Here you go.' People worked these out much quicker. And it turned out in the end it was all about the relate-ability of sports, because everybody, even if they've never played the sports, knows of them, either through TV or friends that play it or school. You've got some good idea of how to play it. And also just by watching somebody play you can get what you're supposed to do, even if there's a lot of skill involved.
We look back now, it was a no-brainer. It's an obvious thing. If you do something that everybody's going to get and go, 'Oh, I can do that. I can watch you. You actually look like you're bowling, and I've been bowling. Therefore, get out of the way and give me a go.' No more training required. Lowering the barrier to entry.
That was pretty much it, even though we were going, "should we do a sports game?" We had all these other crazy ideas for things, and we've still got them - there's going to be some bonkers things with Kinect in the future. We're scratching the surface.
If you like we're doing the obvious gateway things. The things that lend themselves initially, the thing people are going to go [clicks fingers] I get that straight away. If you hit them with something really off the wall, it's like, 'Whoa, what does that even mean?'
Eurogamer: So the most important thing initially was to get people to wrap their heads around it, and a game like Kinect Sports will easily do that?
Nick Burton: Yeah. It's like the old Ronseal adverts, where you say, 'Okay, it does exactly what it says on the tin.' Doesn't mean that's not a challenge to make it do that and to get a really finessed deep experience.
The other thing I feel with Sports is a lot of people are labelling this as broad, easy access, kind of like casual games. But they're anything but casual once you get into them. They're incredibly competitive. We've got an internal leaderboard at Rare that we run with this, and literally the last time I was this competitive was playing Mario Kart.
Eurogamer: You must keep an eye on forums, and you must have predicted the reaction from core gamers to what you're doing. It must have come as no surprise to you.
Nick Burton: None at all. But the thing is, until people play Kinect, and they play it for more than a couple of seconds, which is unfortunately practically what you get in the trade shows... But you know hardly anybody's getting a chance to play it.
It's one of those things you've got to have what I call your Kinect moment, when you realise... And we see this, we saw it at gamescom and E3, people go, 'Oh, it's way better than I expected. It's way more high fidelity than I expected.'
But when you're looking at a video on the internet and you're reading the write-ups, it's very difficult to get, well I think it's probably impossible to get that feeling.
Eurogamer: Some gamers look at the promotional videos Microsoft is putting out for Kinect Sports and they say, that doesn't relate to me.
Nick Burton: That's very true. But, how else would you actually market that? That's the right way to market it to everybody. All I can say to the core is go and have a go. It doesn't even have to be necessarily Kinect Sports. Go and have a go on Kinect, period.
Try out all the games. The interesting thing for us as developers is, if you take something like bowling for instance, it's easier on you. I can get my little six-year-old girl playing it with me. But I've got good enough, and I can still get better, that I am almost a world-class bowler in bowling.
You can do trick shots. You can run the ball down the rail and screw it off to the side and pick different pins off. There's a real depth to the gameplay. There's discoverability for people who really get games and play games.
That sounds probably mad to you, but when you run 100 metres, now I'm not saying you've got to be as fit as Usain Bolt, because that would be a bit crazy, but when you first run it you're going to get a time of nine-and-a-half seconds. Then as you get better, my best time is about seven-and-a-half seconds.
One of the guys on Sports, doing no more exertion than me, can get 6.9 seconds because he's worked out all of the little wrinkles in the gesture-recognition system to absolutely rinse - probably not as much out as you can, there are probably still a couple of fractions of a second more.
You think, well yeah, but that's just 100 metres. All right, you put online leaderboards on there, get your mates round after the pub, you're all one-upping each other. How is that still not that similar kind of hardcore experience to saying, 'Well actually, I know the best spawn point in a Halo map?'
That's something really simple. Then you take something like football, which is a much more complex game, then it's going to get very - well it does, I speak from experience - get very, very competitive.
I've got a hardcore head on one side and a family man head on the other side. I'll play Lips but I love Halo and Crackdown. But, I can play something like this with the guys in the office and be ultra competitive and I can still play with my daughter. I have to go easy on her because she's only six.
Eurogamer: Peter Molyneux's said the cool Kinect stuff will come later, stuff that will twig with core gamers more than the current launch line-up. Will core gamers more immediately get that stuff? Will it be more familiar?
Nick Burton: Yes. Well of course that's what we're going to do. If you were going to launch Kinect, which is truly about getting more people playing because it's about removing controller barriers - I'm not taking the PR line with that. That's something I really believe because we saw this early on. But you're going to launch with those kind of products. But it doesn't stop you, and game developers going, 'Hang on a minute.'
Take bowling for instance. First-person view. We've got head-tracking in there. As soon as you pick the bowling ball up you go into your Avatar's head, if you like. And you're moving around, the camera's tracking what your head's doing. Imagine what kind of games you could do with that that aren't necessarily bowling?
Camera control without having to consciously control it? At the moment when you play Halo you have to control the camera with a thumb stick. What if you didn't? What if you're shouting grenade? You're not going to find the grenade button. The grenade button's still there, but...
And that's just off the top of my head. That's one thing we were talking about just a few weeks ago. We were going, 'Oh it would be so cool to augment first-person shooters with this kind of thing.'
But then there's this big stack of other mental ideas that are out there that everything from the very small children all the way up to hardest of hardcore. It's just because they're not the kind of things there, they're not the classic first-person shooter, hardcore racing game, on launch day, then I think people are saying, 'Oh, it's not for us.'
But go and try it and try it in your own home.
Eurogamer: But gamers will say, 'If I say grenade, how quickly will a grenade come out? If I move my head, how quickly does the camera turn? Will it be as quick as using the controller? Am I going to be as competitive as I would be if I'm using a controller?'
Nick Burton: That depends entirely on the developer and what they would do with that and that particular kind of game. And also when you're playing online or playing together and you're matchmaking those games.
If you were doing, say, the grenade versus a button grenade, well you'd probably matchmake people who were using voice together and people who were using buttons together. You'd give them the option.
As far as the head-tracking's concerned, that's just as fast, if not faster, than doing it with the joystick, because you've not got to subconsciously think about moving your thumb. We've evolved over millions of years to automatically look at something.
You sit there on the sofa, you're into it and you're playing a game, [jerks head to the side] you do those kind of things. What if that had a real reaction and that's actually your subconscious movement? The potential is to be quicker.
Eurogamer: Is it simply the case that it will take people time to wrap their heads around Kinect?
Nick Burton: The way to think about it, I think, for the discoverability, you're playing the kind of games you play as a hardcore gamer where you're discovering something because it's hidden somewhere or you unlock a new story arc or whatever. With this you're discovering something because you realise you can run a different way or hold your body in a different way, or you can do that funny pose, or, oh, if I tweak my elbow in as I'm bowling I get a better spin. It's that kind of discover-ability.
Now, your gran is not going to find that. You watch the Live leaderboards when these things come out. There will be people... We'll be there going, 'How the hell have they gone that fast?' or 'How have they got that big score?' That will be the hardcore doing that.
Kinect Sports will be released along with Kinect on 10th November.