Microsoft's decision not to have a gamescom press conference may have robbed us of the sight of Kudo Tsunoda doing stage demos by leaping around like a lunatic, but the mile-a-minute spokesperson for Xbox 360's new control system was still buzzing around the "Play Day" the platform holder organised on the edge of town - and still had a lot to say about Kinect ahead of its 10th November launch.
With the line-up more or less confirmed and the price set in stone (see our interview with Chris Lewis for MS' reaction to the reaction), we spoke to Tsunoda about the challenges of new technology, the second wave of games and how he expects Kinect to evolve through firmware updates in much the same way Xbox Live has done in recent years.
Eurogamer: What did you think of Peter Molyneux's comments recently that core gamers might get more out of the second wave of Kinect games than the first?
Kudo Tsunoda: It all depends what you mean by core gamers. None of the games that we have in the launch line-up involve shooting or violence or things like that, but I think what core gamers really like is skill-based gameplay and depth. I always feel frustrated because I'm a core gamer as well and when people say, "all they want is violent games," I don't think that's very true.
If you have good gameplay depth, and the more you play the better you are at the game, that's what makes games addictive for core gamers, and I think that's a lot of what we focused on in developing the Kinect launch line-up - making it accessible so you don't have to learn new controls every time you play a new game, but still providing all that gameplay depth and skill that core gamers love.
Eurogamer: What are examples of games in your line-up that have those skill-based elements that core gamers love?
Kudo Tsunoda: In Kinect Adventures they have the River Rush game, and there's hundreds of different ways you can go down each of those levels. It's a lot like a platformer game, which in general is a genre core gamers love. Kinect Sports also - obviously multiplayer is a big part of what core gamers appreciate, and that game's all based around really good multiplayer play. In Kinect Joy Ride, the whole way you can customise and upgrade your vehicle along the way...
Those are all your normal kind of gameplay mechanics that you see in a lot of core games. When we talk about Kinect we say things are accessible, but that doesn't mean the games are shallow. We just take away the hour or two you usually take having to learn the controls.
Eurogamer: The technology is finished now but presumably you plan to keep developing the software side of it. Do you expect Kinect's capabilities to evolve in future?
Kudo Tsunoda: Yeah. I think it's a lot like what Xbox has done with Xbox Live. It's much different today to when it first launched. It's like any ongoing development on Xbox where you're going to see new things and the technology evolve over time. I think you'll see the same thing with Kinect, especially as we learn new things that developers want to do with the technology - those will be features we want to add.
I think you're just going to see over time lots of new things done in games, but also lots of new things done as a platform.
Eurogamer: Are there any examples of things developers have suggested to you that you're going to go on and implement in future?
Kudo Tsunoda: Being able to digitise real-world objects and take them into the virtual world - we saw a little bit of that at E3 last year, but it's not stuff that we have in any of the launch games right now, and I think we're going to see a lot more games start using that as well as we go forward.
Some of the stuff I've been super interested in creatively is the stuff we have in Kinect right now, where you have not only the full-body technology but being able to understand the intonation of somebody's voice and how they're saying something. Also the human recognition stuff we've built where you can step in front of the sensor and get signed into Xbox Live right away.
Those are things we're going to be able to use to develop really meaningful interactions between people and computer-generated characters. We do a good job of that in Kinectimals with animals, but we'll be able to do that a lot more with human characters as well. In Kinectimals, if you adopt one of the animals and play with it for a while, it's going to react totally differently to me as it does to you, because it remembers me.
Eurogamer: What are the limitations that you're finding? Is it hard to do a game sitting down?
Kudo Tsunoda: I think it all depends on what you want to do with the experiences. On the Xbox Live side with the entertainment that's all kind of stuff that you're going to be able to do sitting down. And then some of the more sports games obviously you're not going to be running down the track sitting down, so that's stuff you want to do standing up.
I think with any new technology developers will get better at using it over time, but that's all stuff you can already do with the Kinect platform - whether it's standing up, sitting down or even lying down to play dead in Kinectimals.
Eurogamer: At E3 this year Nintendo made a big deal about "bridge games" - games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii where there's an element of motion control but it's a more traditional game. Do you see these games as having that bridge quality, and do you have other games in development that have that in mind?
Kudo Tsunoda: I think that's the really good thing we try to do with Xbox as a platform. With Kinect it's all controller-free, but it's not like we're trying to take controllers out of the equation. You saw the great controller games we're showing today like Halo and Fable. I think games that involve both controllers and Kinect as well are totally possible. Those are all things you're going to see going forward as a platform.
That's one of the unique things about the Xbox platform: we can do controllers; we can do controllers with Kinect, which is more than just motion control, it has voice and human recognition as well; and then you can do totally controller-free. Both for consumers and developers, you only have those tools to play with on Xbox.
Eurogamer: Do you expect to see direct hardware competition to Kinect from third parties?
Kudo Tsunoda: I think what we've done with the software is something that's really hard to pull off. We have a good advantage at Microsoft because we have groups like our Microsoft Research department that not a lot of other companies have, and we're able to solve some super-complicated technical problems in a short period of time. They were actually working on something like this before we even started it on Xbox. I think it's going to be super-challenging for anybody else to solve those problems.
People have been trying for a long time and we're the first company that's been able to deliver this. If people are able to figure it out like you're saying, by the time they've figured it out we're going to be off into adding more new things to the platform. But I just think that's such a hard technology challenge that it will be hard for anyone to deliver on what Kinect is.
Eurogamer: Some would say there are still issues with the technology - for example, quite a lot of time elapses between your instinct to make an action and its occurring on a screen. Is that just a case of developers finding the right rhythm with the hardware and not just trying to put the same experiences on it again?
Kudo Tsunoda: If you play the games out there today, they've all got what you're talking about, but the games react really well. In Joy Ride the steering is super-precise and exact. All the moves you're doing in Kinect Sports or Kinect Adventures are all things that work really well. As games get closer to launch, the optimisation stage is the last thing that you go through, whether it's a Kinect game or a controller game, and so you can see as we get closer to launch all the games are getting really fast and responsive.
Eurogamer: Do you expect Kinect to get better at reading hand motions and small hands?
Kudo Tsunoda: Yes. As the technology evolves over time you're going to get more granular on what we can do. The closer you get to the sensor, you can actually get a pretty good reading on a hand motion. Even with my hands you can get a good read far away.
Out of all the features out of Kinect, the best feature is that it just works, right? So things like little kids hands - we try to make sure all our experiences work for everybody in all cases. But I think over time you'll see not just from a technology perspective but even from how we design for things, we'll get things like hand articulation more involved.
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Eurogamer: You showed a Star Wars Kinect demo at E3. Does that actually exist or was it just a bit of CG you guys kicked up?
Kudo Tsunoda: No, that's a game that is under development for sure. We're focused on the Kinect launch titles for now, but it's stuff that you'll see more news about as we go more into next year.
Eurogamer: When do you expect we will see Kinect involved in one of Microsoft's pillar franchises like a Halo or a Fable or a Gears of War?
Kudo Tsunoda: I think people can really see the creative potential of Kinect, and I think it's about getting franchises like that not just to take Kinect and cram it into their game in a certain way, but to build something from the ground up for it.
I think just like when you first saw people were trying to port PC shooters to console and didn't do a good job of it, then Halo came along and did an amazing job from the ground up specifically for a console - I think that's all the kind of stuff you're going to see going on with Kinect in the future as well.
Eurogamer: Recently we've seen EA buy Playfish, Disney by Playdom, Zynga make more money than World of Warcraft. Given the extraordinary volumes of money being made in social games, and the fact that broader audience is already engaged there, that perhaps you guys have backed the wrong horse with Kinect?
Kudo Tsunoda: The things that I always find interesting in those games is that there's always a super-viral nature to them. They do a really good job of showing off other titles - one game within another title - and that's what gets everyone in and playing those.
It's interesting that as you look at what we're doing with the Kinect stuff, where there's the show-off-and-share system in Kinect where there's the picture and videos that are getting captured, and the kind of living statues that you can animate with your body and record with your voice, those are all things that just like more social media games where you can take those things. You can post them online, you can put them on Facebook, you can email them to people, and there's a real viral nature to the things we're doing with Kinect games.
I don't look at it so much as, "here's a threat to console gaming," I just think that it's really interesting, the viral nature of those games, and seeing what we can do to incorporate those kinds of things into our console games.
Kudo Tsunoda is creative director on Kinect for Xbox 360.