While Microsoft’s Kinect accessory for the Xbox360 launched last year to reasonably high acclaim, the selection of games that properly took advantage of the unit’s capabilities had been lacking. After the announcements Microsoft has made this year at E3, that is no longer true. Welcome to the future of user interfaces.
Mass Effect 3, the final chapter in the gangbusters Space Action RPG game trilogy, was shown off at the gaming expo this morning at Microsoft’s E3 keynote speech. While gamers will appreciate a look at one of the most aniticipated games to launch in recent memory, it’s the changes that publisher EA has made to the series that are the most impressive. Mass Effect 3 will be one of the first mainstream, AAA titles to get exciting voice recognition support from the Kinect accessory.
The voice recognition in Kinect has mostly been shown off being used to play and pause movies and other video content on the console. That’s about to change. Remember all of those little voice trees that define your actions in Mass Effect 3? The ones that determine whether you play, to take a term from a different franchise, as a Jedi or Sith? You can just call those out, now. Is Shepard angry? Yell out the negative response. Is he relieved? Gently respond with an alternate answer. It adds a depth of immersion that is previously unrealized in even highly produced titles.
In addition to responding to dialogs, the new voice system lets gamers shout commands to their squad in the middle of the battle. You want your support team to stop defending, and move up to attack? Just yell out a command and watch them move.
While the presentation is obviouusly going to be scripted and prepared, the response seemed fluid and easy, and there was little if any pause before the system recognized the presenter’s commands. It’s unknown if the PC version of the title will support option Kinect input, but it would certainly be a feather in Microsoft’s cap if they got EA to include it.
Like with Mass Effect 3, the upcoming Tom Clancy Ghost Recon game is getting some incredible new capabilities thanks to the Kinect peripheral. Voice recognition is a part of that. When commands come up, gamers can respond with a quick shout to the Kinect mics. The Ghost Recon support goes past what Mass Effect 3 does, however, and includes impressive gesture controls.
In the demo shown off this morning, Microsoft and EA use the Kinect’s capable gesture support to blow apart a weapon and swap out discrete parts at will. Just spread your arms wide, and the rifle expands, showing every single component. Wave a hand and the part gets switched with an alternate member. It’s, frankly, an awesome thing to see.
But building guns isn’t the only thing that the Kinect’s gesture support can handle. Want to try out your new weapon and see how it performs? Just duck and weave, and you become the controller on a practice field, opening and closing a fist to fire shots. Ridiculous. If you don’t want to gesture and flap, the voice recognition can replace most of it.
Similarly, there’s no word as to whether the Windows versions of these games will support the same degree of optional Kinect functionality. It would be impressive if Microsoft convinced people to do it, as it would provide a true differentiator in the fight against Google and Apple.