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E3 2010: Why Microsoft has literally lost its grip on reality

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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97 comments

  • zigs - June 26, 2010 3 p.m.

    Agree 100% with this. Totally fucking batshit insane.
  • Mr Meaty - June 21, 2010 2:15 p.m.

    Disagree...seems to me the whole point of Kinect is to get the non-gamer gaming. Like my wife and my kids. I can't even get my wife to figure out windows media center...kinect will help. and my kids LOVE the wii as they LOVED the kinectimals video. And yes...you can do all those things in real life, but now you can do them in the comfort of your home in the comfort of your boxer shorts. Try going out running whenever you want when it's 110 degrees outside. I do my exercises at home cause I don't have the time to get dressed and drive down to the gym every day. And what if you wanna dance at 3 in the afternoon? What clubs are open then? and I don't know any clubs that let YOU pick the music you are danceing to... Granted, this isn't for everyone and it isn't revolutionary (yet?) but it should bring a whole new crowd to using the xbox which is one step closer to playing the xbox.
  • GoodGuyWithACrappyJob - June 18, 2010 3:43 a.m.

    This is frightening. What keeps video games as successful, and their very appeal to the mass audience intact, is their separation from reality. You wouldn't go headlong into a field of armed men with a knife, nor would you parachute from a plane while nuking New York. And doing this with motion controls merely defeats the purpose. You can't live moments like that by flapping your arms and jogging in place; the division between the worlds, the mind's acceptance that it is not real is what allows us to enjoy video games so much. So either go all the way, holo-deck and all, or keep it simple. Otherwise it's just uncomfortable.
  • InFeRnOg - June 17, 2010 7:02 p.m.

    @shazzam32 Speaking of poorly thought through, I'm pretty sure you should use "drivel" instead of "dribble".
  • JerseyDevilDog - June 17, 2010 6:05 a.m.

    Great article. Great points. I agree with you completely.
  • SenatorPepper - June 16, 2010 11:54 p.m.

    If Microsoft can let me ride a real bicycle without having to peddle, I'm down. Oh. Segway. Not down.
  • shazzam32 - June 16, 2010 11:33 p.m.

    This is poorly thought through, emotional, and to put it in honest terms, dribble. I'm dismayed that this is apparently what the readership wants to hear.
  • ScruffMoney - June 16, 2010 10:47 p.m.

    They're bloody nuts! It's time to take the Microsoft exec's out back of the barn and give 'em two to the head.
  • wilmedearis - June 16, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    Best. Article. Ever. (about stupid motion capture video games, at least)
  • Harmonator - June 16, 2010 9:11 p.m.

    If I recall correctly, Ninty did the track running simulator 20+ years ago and failed. Why will this be different? That's what I think about Kinect. And thus, it's a waste of time.
  • Engage183 - June 16, 2010 8:55 p.m.

    i didn't get to watch Microsofts E3 press conference, but i read a blog and it sounds like the only thing i missed was Gears 3... Microsofts really gonna have to do something groundbreaking to peak my interest into the Kintect motion controls... Props to Nintendo for Owning this years E3 with authority
  • d0x - June 16, 2010 6:33 p.m.

    Microsofts conference was...odd but it wasnt really for most of us. They want to push Natal or kinect to the casual set. They want our girlfriends to play it and the show worked perfectly. I watched the whole thing and was excited by the 1st games they showed me and some of the Kinect stuff was cool when you consider future potential. After I was done I started the show right where Kinect started and gave the laptop to my girlfriend and she loved it. She has never had any real interest in gaming, not even the Wii yet she watched an hour of a gaming press conference and came away with a gaming wish list. So what we have been shown so far for Kinect isnt as cool as what Sony has shown for Move but thats not the angle they were going for, at least not today. Who knows what the future will hold? I know come launch day ill buy both of the peripherals so its all good.
  • sckisback14 - June 16, 2010 4:36 p.m.

    Very good points made here, i wouldn't buy it but knowing microsoft they're going to make everything need kinect.
  • InFeRnOg - June 16, 2010 1:57 p.m.

    So the argument for Kinect has now shifted to "well, my children can play it" or "my wife can't learn 10 buttons so she can talk to my Xbox". I have a suggestion: if your kids want to flail around and be active, try going outside and playing sports. If your wife can't learn 10 buttons, buy a helmet.
  • TheBoz - June 16, 2010 11:27 a.m.

    There is an article on SKY, the link is below, anyone want to comment on here and try and explain to a Wii fanboy why we will not accept Wii games on the 360 http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Technology/Microsoft-Xbox-360-New-System-Launched-That-Uses-Motion-Sensors-Instead-Of-Controllers/Article/201006315649404?lpos=Technology_First_Technology_Article_Teaser_Region__0&lid=ARTICLE_15649404_Microsoft_Xbox_360%3A_New_System_Launched_That_Uses_Motion_Sensors_Instead_Of_Controllers
  • philipshaw - June 16, 2010 11:15 a.m.

    I have to agree,that was the worst confernce I have watched at E3
  • kcypher2000 - June 16, 2010 7:46 a.m.

    On a side note i wonder how many of you people who hate it have kids? Personally I think it would be interesting for parties and as a lazy mans gimmick for when i just want to watch a dvd or net flix. But what really got me excited for Kinect was that I knew my kids would enjoy it and when i called them in to watch they went ecstatic. I don't know about others but I was more impressed with those kiddy games they have shown then 90% of the disney games I have seen over the past.... well ever. As long as MS brings Halo and still plays multiplatform games so well I won't hold it against them for sharing some of the love with what makes the kids happy. To me that is a system that does everything.
  • marbury83 - June 16, 2010 7:05 a.m.

    So controlling things with voice and the whole watch a movie with my friend online via voice chat was cool. However, i dont really watch videos on my xbox anymore since blu-ray took over. But ya im worried all the motion control stuff is going to get in the way of store shelves. I really hate looking at the wii section because 95% of it is shovelware.
  • jmcgrotty - June 16, 2010 6:48 a.m.

    "If you could turn on the lights by snapping your fingers, no one would use buttons, so your example is a bit off." You mean like the clapper? How many you have in your house? And people need to quit getting worked up over this product. It is already a failure. The sooner it is released, the sooner it will die. For a fun time, on November 5th, go to ebay and see how many are for sale. Having said that, technologically I am impressed with the product, but only as a concept. It is not a real consumer product. Oh, and I turn a knob to warm my oven, not press a button (though I have seen puch button ranges decades ago I guess)
  • Smeggs - June 16, 2010 5:47 a.m.

    The voice bit is cool, but I agree with the whole thing about the waving. Why wave my entire arm around when I could just move one finger and press 'A'? Maybe if the whole thing were voice operated (Ex: Xbox, Desktop. Xbox, Play disc. Xbox, shut off. Xbox, make me a SAMMICH) I would buy it. Meh, motion control for full-body is bullcrap, call me when it gets to the point where I can play some Call of Duty and actually make the physical movements to shank someone in the face with my combat knife, or playing Halo and make the steering movement to crash into a pile of forgotten fusion coils, then I will throw torrents of Ben Franklins at it.

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