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Rare discusses new challenges of Kinect development

Kyle Orland

Twenty-five years ago, Rare founders Chris and Tim Stamper had to reverse engineer a Japanese Famicom development kit in order to make the early NES game Slalom. Today, at the Develop Conference in Brighton, Rare Talent Director Nick Burton outlined some of the very different challenges the company has run into in the developing of Kinect Sports for Microsoft.

"Kinect was a no-brainer as far as we were concerned," Burton said. "Just the opportunities it brought ... because it removes one layer between you and the computer." Burton said that Rare has always been interested in technology and game design that "is trying to remove that barrier to entry, trying to get that fun experience the entire family could have, but also getting the fidelity gamers could love."

The problem with older motion control solutions Rare has worked with -- like accelerometers and even the Power Glove -- was that the fidelity wasn't there, Burton said. Rare tried to fix this for years by augmenting the original Xbox Live Vision Camera with a PlayStation-Move-style light-up handheld wand made out of a supermarket vitamin tin (pictured above). The first-person spell-casting game they made for the wand, Soulcatcher, never got out of the prototype stage, but it did go a long way to "prove you could have that kind of hardcore depth of experience with this kind of control scheme," Burton said.

Gallery: Kinect Sports | 18 Photos

Including that depth, while still having a game that literally anybody can jump in and play, was paramount to Rare in designing games for Kinect, Burton said. "We want a deep experience for those into games, but also want it simple enough that I can play with family on Christmas day." These seemingly divergent goals are made even harder to achieve, Burton said, because different people move in very different ways -- a running hurdle-jumper might have tight, controlled motions or large, exaggerated movements. Rare had to make sure the Kinect can "interpret all those moves and still have a fair race," Burton said.

"We want a deep experience for those into games, but also want it simple enough that I can play with family on Christmas day."- Rare's Nick Burton

Other problems came in developing Kinect Sports' soccer section, which worked fine for mini-games like keepy-ups, corner kick headers and penalty kicks, but got a bit unwieldy when they tried to expand it to a full, proper game of soccer. The developers found that asking players to actively run around a field while also managing and tracking the movement of their teammates and opponents quickly became to unwieldy, no matter how they tweaked the controls.

The solution came in simplifying things yet again, letting the computer AI control movement while letting the player focus on the fun part -- kicking the ball to pass and shoot. This allowed players to quickly grasp the basics of the game while still allowing expert players to pull off some tricky kicks down the field or over other players's heads, for instance

While Burton said sports conversions seem a no-brainer for future Kinect ports in the short-term, he seemed much more excited by the potential for what he termed "augmented reality on steroids." Burton said things like player tracking, environmental modeling of a real world living room and directional voice detection were incredibly difficult with old technology but become "trivial" with Kinect. "The kind of augmented reality things you've seen are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Kinect is concerned," he said.

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