“You know what would be really funny?”, we said the other day. “If we counted the number of times the word ‘Kinect’ was uttered during last year’s abhorrently motion-control-fixated Microsoft press conference, and then compared it to the number of times it’s said this year”. Our thinking was simple. An increase would be cynically amusing, A decrease might show a conscious about-face after last year’s dismal, much-maligned show.
Our findings? A vast drop-off in occurrences of the dread word. But much to our surprise, it didn’t make us happy. It actually made us really sad. Because what we didn’t expect was just how the context of our results could make things much, much worse.
Above: We are legion
I’m not just on a downer because of the physical process of counting the Kinects. That task fell to me, admittedly, and it was pretty painful on a psychological level. It was bad enough having to relive the whole hour-and-a-half of that vapidly casual-baiting crap, but the second I remembered that the fistbumping Disney kids were coming up? The longest and most agonising second of my life.
But no, that wasn't the problem. There was something much worse in store for me tonight, and in a disgusting twist of the old fate-fork, it turned out to spring from my greatest hope.
Last year, the word “Kinect” was spoken out loud 81 times during Microsoft’s E3 press conference (or ‘Project: Please Love This Irrelevant Device, Core-Gamers. We’ll Do Anything!’, as I like to call it). Given that said conference ran for around 90 minutes, that’s roughly one “Kinect” per minute. This year though? Just 22 Kinects. Almost a 75% drop-off. I should have been overjoyed that Kinect is being given less prevalence, but the fact is that this year’s drop in direct mentions actually shows that the device now dominates the 360 more than ever before. Because you see, the reason that Kinect was not as frequently directly addressed was a rather sad one. Because it seems that Microsoft’s assumption is now that Kinect is the Xbox 360.
Above: It turns out that this seething horror was just the start
It was Microsoft’s omnipresent matter-of-factness regarding our presumed use of Kinect that bothered me most through this year's press conference. Remember how E3 2011 was all about trotting out innocent third-party core games that had had Kinect functionality unceremoniously stapled onto them in a flailing attempt to make the device relevant to the core gamer? Remember how big a deal was made out of that? Remember how MS virtually pointed a large comedy finger on a stick at BioWare’s Ray Muzyka, while virtually doing a special little Kinect dance (being careful not to show the bottoms of their shoes, obviously) and virtually bellowing “OMIGOD! LOOK! KINECT IS IN MASS EFFECT 3 AND DOESN’T THAT JUST MAKE KINECT AWESOME!?”
None of that this year. Oh yeah, we got Kinect integration demoed in proper core games, but the tone this year was just “…and of course Kinect does this…”. As if all core games have Kinect functionality. Splinter Cell? No big reveal of Kinect integration, just a simple “…and because Sam is the head of 4th Echelon, now you can issue voice commands with Kinect”. The reveal of Wreckateer, that shameless 3D Angry Birds knock-off that MS has coming this summer? It wasn’t revealed as “a new Kinect game”. There was no talk of magic or innovative, fun, motion-controlled technology. In fact almost surreally, there was no mention of Kinect whatsoever. Just a woman talking us through her on-stage arm-waving as if waving one’s arms is just how video games have always been controlled.
Above: THIS IS NOT UNUSUAL BEHAVIOUR
Even when discussing the 360’s various new dashboard-related features – previously the bastion of all things magical, and of course, only possible with the power of repeated shouting and awkward spasms – barely any reference was ever made out of the need to own a Kinect in order to take part in what was clearly Kinect-only interaction. And frankly, that was almost flat-out sinister.
So I can now search for entertainment genres by simply barking “Edwardian Donkey Husbandry Epic” or “Sci-Fi Cockney Cheese Horror” at Bing now, can I?. You know, I bet if I go home and try that tonight whenever I eventually get out of this office, precisely bugger all will happen. And precisely bugger all will happen because I don’t own MS's migical magical motion-control camera. But to MS, that didn't seem worth bringing up, in this or any other of the many situations it referenced seemingly default Kinect functionality tonight. Because it now seems that to Microsoft, you just have Kinect. You just do. If you own an Xbox 360, Kinect is plugged into it, and Kinect is primarily how you control it. Because, after all, why wouldn’t it be?
And I don’t like that. I don’t like what it seems to say about what MS seems to assume about me, and I don’t like what it seems to say about the way MS sees the Xbox 360 (and no doubt its eventual successor) going. Not one little bit.
In fact I reckon the way that Kinect wasn't mentioned this year was a bigger harbinger of doom for the Xbox-owning core gamer than anything that happened at E3 2011. How about you?