Kinecting with Rare

Rare offer a unique insight into working with Microsoft’s cutting-edge technology, as well as a look at this inspiring developer’s creative process. Rare Studio’s Executive Producer of Technology and Communications, Nick Burton, will guide fans through working with the hands free, motion controller, from the early stages of development to final product, Kinect Sports, which fans will be able to exclusively demo before it’s November release.

Nick Burton (Rare).

My Thoughts

The talk itself was fun, light hearted (especially since I saw someone go up and try it I knew), and actually was less “this is magic and wonderful” as it was “this was damn hard to get right and have fun with” which is refreshing.

However Kinect looks…exhausting. Evidently it is a hard sell for those who already own a Wii but the presentation was interesting enough, and the recognition of movements, if delayed, still is pretty okay. The problem perhaps is I’ve still not played it; I’m surprised it wasn’t at all demoed at GameCity, it seems like the perfect kind of thing for the lounge!


“Kinecting with Rare” ho ho!

From Slalom to Kinect Sports. Making games for a long time, 25th anniversary. Not really renowned for sport games. The internet thinks we’re known for goggly eyes and bears with a speech impediment. However have made a lot of games, a fairly ecliptic mix – launch titles and firsts.

2 years ago, project Natal as it was known there, was approached when it was a kind of Heath Robinson type thing. It looked like a horrible black box at the time with lots of cables out of it. Went out there skeptical, never going to work detecting your bones. First of all it actually does work – tried breaking it of course going on the floor but today it’s a bit more fault tolerant. Thought about it on the plane home with the dev kits from Kuda, it hit me as we have a virtual presence in the 3D world. The marketing says “You are the controller” and it sounds like marketing rubbish but it is actually true.

First of all the rules changed – the workspaces were too small to test, so came in and knocked some walls down to work. Lots of questions like how to work menus, tired a hand pad, but was clunky. Instead the a-ha obvious moment was pointing, where the selection is made with just holding your hand to the option.

We settled on sports after lots of prototypes, Seagull simulator for instance where you flapped wings and flew and dived, and bombed cars with the correct sound effect. Everyone crowded around the sports games. Watershed moment for us was a goalkick simulator. Avatar moved around the ball which moved the same as the human, so everyone knew how to kick the ball to certain sides of the goal by physically moving around to that side.

George the creative director came up with the line “…has to be so simple anyone can play – anyone”. Want my 6 year old girl to play the sports and see all of it. But I’m a hardcore gamer achievement whore. I should still have a challenge, and have something in there for me; a game, while to her it’s more of a play thing.

The actual device makes a 20 point skeleton from a set of 48 recorded points on the body. Need to get everyone’s different body movements, for instance when running. Need to throw a javelin, do a long jump, and have skilled people actually score higher, but everyone still able to play.

So Football then; need a superhuman pro footballer experience, but with your own style. For instance with keepy uppies – having two balls available, where the appearance is like the real thing but is easier. Don’t want just this though, just minigames, want to have a full game in somewhere.

Original prototype – being every single player is incredibly tiring when you jog on the spot! Need the essence of football, what is going through your mind when you’re on the pitch. It is choosing the tactics – who to pass to and where to go. It’s like trying to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. After trying goal kicks, computers controlling the player with swerving – which was confusing – it came down to having the AI control the players as in Pro Evo or Fifa and then you simply choose who to pass to.

Can distil it down to how and where you kick the ball. Now to demo things…

Bowling is able to do some spins, angles and so forth. Shown the exit gesture too – enforced in every Kinect game.

Going into football, it is noted the camera cannot detect certain things like turning your hand round when it is facing the camera – as you might do to do spin in bowling. This is worked around a bit with the angle of shoulders and other things that are tells to these actions taking place.

In the football game, there is arrows for where the ball will be going to block and to pass it to players. On easy it is slow, on pro it is very fast tackling and passing. It also records the footage using the camera to see in the end where it puts them to music.


Audience: Sports is an obvious start but what do you make next?

Nick: You can reconstruct the room you’re in in 3D in real time, could drop the floor out and replace it with lava so jump on your sofa, which it knows is there. Dance Central as well, fun game. I like rhythm and music games – argumented reality game, with certain poses relighting or changing the room – like a certain pose doing disco squares. One problem is people saying “It’s just like another camera/webcam game”. Got a massive stack of crazy ideas though. One of the things most excited about is Kinect augmented games. Perhaps for FPS games looking around obstacles when moving your head – in addition to using a normal controller. Can start to add things to existing games, but doing it immediately will bring about the above comments.

Audience: Did you get a resolution drop in the camera?

Nick: You do get changes to hardware. The resolution has changed, and it was always changing up and down. It is higher then it was when it originally started, but lower then it was at one point. A big survey was done to see what was appropriate.

Audience: What about higher graphical titles?

Nick: Go look at Dance Central. There is more shaders in Kinect Sports then Banjo Kazooie for instance too, but they are used in different places.

Audience: Do you think the potential is there for games to be deeper then the gimmicky suggestions?

Nick: There is a deep involving game in the Sports title, but it doesn’t show its colours to start with. There are designs flying around which I can’t talk about which have more hardcore gamer like component.

Audience: Any Kinect injuries?

Nick: There was a low ceiling at work; where I burnt my knuckles on doing a beach volley ball test. Tend to just to do it once. Kinect could detect things so games “say you can’t play”. Offices are not the best place to test!

Audience: Would you say that the Kinect Sports team is fitter then when they started?

Nick: Was concerned about it with the testers; need warmup and cooldown period with breaks. I’m certainly a lot fitter, especially with the PR machine and not eating well!

Audience: What about doing a 180 turn back to your keeper in the sports?

Nick: There is like mouse look, “Kinect Look” – turning your body is noticeable, if still looking at the screen. Had some prototypes where there is intent rather then fully doing an action. You can’t take Kinect too far logically – like going behind a sofa and throwing grenades over the top! You don’t really want to play Call of Duty by constantly jogging and going prone and shuffling and so forth – if you like that go do paintball. Not saying people won’t do it though.

Audience: Any facial tracking, like the game noticing you are laughing?

Nick: Short answer is yes it can. I’ve got a background in medical imaging and computer imaging is full of hard problems. Got a 3d depth feed and skeletal tracking. So can do much easier RGB feed processing. It does have some facial recognition if not face recognition. It’s also got an idea where your voice is coming from; so can check who is talking by looking at face pixels near where the mouth should be.

Audience: What about props? Picking up things and using them?

Nick: Yes, you could pick up a ping pong bat and use it. It’s not something we’ve wanted to actively peruse because we want the player to be the controller. When seeing people playing ping pong though even if people pick up things they drop them since it is easier to move so a bigger advantage if not holding anything. You also seem to feel the virtual object when sounds are used such as throwing a javelin or discus, even though the system doesn’t track that. Technically it is possible though.

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