What do you do if you're an RPGamer reporter and go to a con, only to find that none of the game companies have brought any RPGs? Well, first you pout a bit, then you improvise. It appears all the RPG companies were too busy preparing for PAX to bring their games to the Toronto FanExpo, so our intrepid Toronto-based RPGamer team instead took the opportunity to try out the Sony Move and Microsoft Kinect.
Sony's Move was available with a demo of Aragorn's Quest by WB Games. From the demo, the game appeared to be a typical action adventure, with a heavy emphasis on fighting and of course the requisite collectables. We were given the Move controllers, which were, well, quite a bit like a Wii remote and nunchuck combination without the adjoining wire. Basically, the left-hand "nunchuck" control was used for movement and for a blocking button, and the right hand remote-with-a-ball-on-the-end controller was used for sword slashes and various button presses.
Here's some footage of Scott (Fowl Sorcerous) sword fighting against some orcs during a siege:
Scott got the farthest in the demo without dying, knocking down some siege ladders and then receiving a quest to save Gimli from an attack. He responded with, "I have to escort the dwarf? Clearly, this game is back-assward," just before being skewered by a giant brute of an orc. Apparently Gimli was just going to have to take care of himself. Sam (Nyx) played next, venturing off the besieged wall and getting lost in a camp empty of interesting NPCs or adversaries, but containing a collectable that presented her with a bit of lore. Learning from her mistake, I stayed on the wall during my turn, but my trademark "blocking is for sissies" fighting style was less than effective, and I died while muttering about the lack of a diagonal slash.
And that, in the end, was the main problem. The motion controls in Aragorn's Quest were hardly different from those found in Twilight Princess back in 2006, although I appreciated that blocking was bound to a button instead of to an awkward forward thrust of the nunchuck. The game only appeared to support horizontal and vertical sword swipes, and there didn't seem to be a way to accurately target specific body parts on the foe, or to parry attacks with sword motion alone. Basically, the game was using motion as a replacement for button presses rather than exploiting the full potential of motion control, which is offered by modern devices such as the Move or a Wiimote with the Motion Plus addon.
Having sampled the Sony Move, albeit without having a chance to really see what it can do, we figured that we should give some time to the Microsoft Kinect as well. Anybody who has seen any Microsoft marketing lately knows that the Kinect is a controller-free motion control system, which uses a camera to sense body movements. Microsoft had Kinect Adventures on its demo stations, so Sam and I stood in line to sample one of the Adventures mini-games.
The rafting game popped up when it was our turn, which is what we'd been hoping for. Unlike many of the other games in which the players are competing with each other, the rafting game requires two players to co-ordinate their movements in order to move a raft down a river course. This can be as challenging as it sounds, and I forsee many a living room fight over who is in charge of yelling out steering commands.
We found the Kinect rafting game to be surprisingly fun. In the demo setting with a white background, it was very responsive to our movements. The rafting course had a lot of alternate paths and challenges such as moving gates, giving it good replayability value for players who want to rack up the best score they can. It, and the other Kinect Adventures games we saw people play, seemed fairly beefy and less tech-demoesque than the average Wii Sports game.
After our demo, I asked the Microsoft demonstrators if they could tell me about any games that would be of greater interest to hardcore or role-playing gamers. They thought for a moment, said "maybe that Star Wars game?", then apologised and said they weren't really "in the loop." I know that Kinect support was originally intended for Fable III, but has been scrapped, as Lionhead decided that they weren't yet able to integrate motion controls as well as they would like. That leaves us with very little to go on in terms of Kinect for the non-party game market.
"That Star Wars game," courtesy of Machinima.
This leads me to my most pertinent question on this new generation of motion controls: how will they affect the world of RPGs? Thus far, very few RPGs have taken advantage of the Wii's motion control system, and those like Dragon Quest: Swords that have done so have had mixed reviews at best. Still, who doesn't dream of feeling like a real warrior, swinging a sword valiantly to defeat your foes in a real, beefy RPG?
The Move, just like the Wii Motion Plus, carries some promise of that kind of game. With the ability to detect the remote's location as well as movement direction, both motion control devices bring players closer to 1:1 motion control. In fact, the sword fighting minigame in Wii Sports Resort demonstrates what might be done in a full-length game, and despite the snafus during Nintendo's E3 presentation, reports from people who have tried the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's motion controls are generally positive.
By unshackling players from a controller, Kinect shackles them in a new way: there is no easy or obvious way to walk around in a game with the Kinect, and movement has been completely on-rails in every Kinect game I've yet seen (see the Star Wars game above.) There's a possibility that voice controls could be used, to some extent ("Go south!" "Go south!" "Nooo, I got eaten by a grue AGAIN?"), but overall, finding a good way to allow players to control their movement will be a huge impediment towards truly immersive controllerless action adventures and RPGs.
Opinions on the Move and Kinect are mixed among the gaming community, with many wondering whether Sony and Microsoft are abandoning their core audience in search of a piece of Nintendo's pie. Others say that we'll need to wait. Perhaps motion controls on non-Nintendo consoles will be no more than a passing fad, or perhaps developers will wise up to the technology and give us some great motion-controlled RPGs to enjoy. Either way, it's a brave new world of game development, and I look forward to flailing my way through it.