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I didn't enjoy the Microsoft press conference this year. In fact I largely had a miserable time. A miserable and fairly embarrassed one. But it wasn't for the reasons you're probably thinking.
It wasn't because of the focus on motion control. After all, trying to grab a slice of Nintendo pie makes sound business sense, and MS doesn't seem to be doing it any worse than Ninty right now.
And it wasn't the totally disproportionate time Microsoft gave to certain announcements ('We've got an exclusive game coming from Crytek, but you don't want to hear about that. Here, listen to two men from ESPN honk like seals for 40 minutes'). It wasn't even the fact that after four years of watching the Wii completely fail to inspire, and with immensely better technology, MS hasn't offered any significant improvement in what motion control can offer. Read on, and I'll explain.
No, the problem was that Microsoft really seems to have lost its grip on reality. It doesn't even seem to know how real people in the real world work any more. In trying to come up with increasing justifications for a presumably very expensive and certainly completely untested approach to Xbox gaming, it's started talking crazy talk the like of which we haven't heard since Sony at E3 2006.
'So you don't want to pet a virtual tiger cub. Yeah, that's cool, we get that. You're not a nine-year-old girl. That kind of shit is why you sold your Wii and bought a 360 in the first place, that's cool. But Kinect has something for you too!'
Oh really, MS? What's this? Why, please do go on.
'You can use it to control your films and music with waves of your arms and utterances of your voice. It's just like Minority Report. It'll be so frickin' cool'
Wow, Microsoft, that really does sound rather special. Could you please demonstrate?
Above: When technology gets out of your way? Sorry Ron, but I could have watched a film in the time it took you to get to the main menu
And thus Microsoft does demonstrate. It demonstrates the media navigation and activation process that we all dreamed the future would bring when we were seven years old. But the problem is that when we were seven years old we were stupid, and didn't realise that buttons and menus have lasted this long for a reason. They're better, they're faster, and they work without any margin for error.
So you can wave, and the Xbox will recognise you and log you in. I can perform that same action in half the time with half the effort by pressing the A button. So you can navigate media menus by waving your hands and saying things. I can do that in about a quarter of the time and with less than a quarter of the effort by using one stick and the A button. And we're told that Kinect functionality will make our lives easier? Bullshit. All it will do is make our lives more pointlessly long-winded and likely to misunderstand what we want if we've got the flu.
And MS justifies this unneeded technological twattery by telling us that it means we can use now our Xboxes in just the same way that we interact with real life. I don't know about you guys, but I always did. I interact with real life by getting out there and directly interacting with it. I press a button to switch my lights on. I press a button to warm my oven up. I turn a handle to open my front door. I turn a key to start my car. And never once have I swooned back in the manner of a fainting 1920s damsel and procliamed "Woe! Oh woe! All of this physical interaction is surely not the way it should be! Why can I not live my life entirely through gestures and noises?' That's just the way things are. And they are this way because it works.
'But what about the games?', you may ask, because I know that the few of you who aren't nine-year old girls just loved the look of Dance Central. But here we run into the same problem from a different angle. To be fair, it's a problem I feel is inherent to all motion controlled games, but the full-body interaction of Kinect just excaserbates it. By performing actions in games just like you do in real life, all you're doing is performing actions you can do in real life.
'Hey, In Kinect Sports, you can simulate running, just by running!' That heavily paraphrased statement should be self explanatory, but in case it isn't, here's a more complex dissection of the situation. If I want to run I can do it by just going outside. For free.
If I want to do Yoga, I can take a course and do it with proper instruction. If I want to be a goalkeeper, I can just head down to the park with a few friends. And if I want to dance, I can do it in a club, with the added bonus of social interaction (no video chat required). I can do it while drunk without the risk of wrecking my living room. I can dance how I want, when I want, to what I want, without having to adhere to some prescribed, pre-choreographed moves and whatever choice of miserably poptastic DLC is available that week.
So really Microsoft, what is Kinect really offering me? Is it really enhancing my life? Or is it just providing me with poor man's simulations of things I already do, at an exponentially higher cost?
But what do you think? Is Microsoft's approach to motion control as skewed as I think it is? Was the conference the utter nightmare I thought it was? And what were your favourite and most cringe-worthy bits? Let me know in the comments, or through our stunningly vibrant community portals on Facebook and Twitter.
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