Interview: Peter Molyneux
With Milo And Kate absent from Kinect’s showing at Microsoft’s E3 press briefing and a relatively conservative selection of games presented instead, audiences were left wondering where the revolution was. Where is the "stuff that science fiction writers haven’t even dreamt of yet" to which Peter Molyneux, creative director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe, has previously alluded? It might take some time, but it’s coming, he tells us; don’t be too quick to judge.
You’ve said in the past that Kinect wasn’t simply going to add new ways of doing existing things – like throwing a grenade with a gesture – it was going to demand new functions and inspire things that haven’t been thought of in games yet.
That’s the thing about it. When you sit down with it there are some very clear things you want to do with it straight away – throwing, jumping and dancing – all that stuff. Absolutely. Your brain just fires off and you write that long list. Then later, you realise that, hang on a minute, this thing can see the player. That makes a big difference to me as a designer. When we first, as an industry, started designing games for mice, it was fairly crude stuff that we were making. It was only after a while that we decided that firstperson shooters were at home with them. So the controller took years to craft.
It’s the same time with Kinect – it’s going to take some time to craft those really unique experiences. I get tied up in knots when I say to myself, well, how am I going to do player navigation? How am I going to get somebody to move around? I’m not going to have someone jogging on the spot for twenty hours. And that’s when you’re trying to take functionality which was designed for a thumbstick and apply it to something different. So I think it is going to mean that completely different genres are going to come out [for Kinect].
Is it difficult for gamers and developers to think outside the existing controls that they have?
It’s very difficult and, to be honest with you, expensive. Because what it means is experimentation and prototyping. And there are a lot of blind alleys you go down. There’s a whole rule book that needs to be written – which is exciting. What Kinect does for me: it’s not the resolution of the hand moving, it’s not about the voice being recognised, it’s not about those mechanical issues, it’s about the ability for us to craft a way of engaging people that is just impossible with controllers and mice and in cinema and books and radio and music. That’s a very big bold claim, and the reason, very simply, is because every one of those mediums I’ve just mentioned – especially cinema – really is just you being passive and unnoticed. What Kinect does is look at you and pay attention to you and that’s a very different emotional experience.
Milo And Kate as seen at its first outing during E3 2009
Milo excepted, the Kinect games showing so far have been incremental changes upon the existing motion control paradigm.
Yes – as I said at the start. Especially when you’ve got so little time between the idea of Kinect coming out and the release date, the most sensible and best thing to do is to do the most obvious thing first. It’s only after you let things bake that you find the true pots of gold. And that’s why I think the first things you see are ball bouncing stuff and painting stuff. The important thing for me is to make them polished and balanced and smooth, so people can really feel like it works.
It’s got to be hard to bring the rest of the development community along with you: presumably there are concerns about cross-platform support and gamepad support – even Fable III has to be purely operable on gamepad.
Yeah, you’re right. Are developers known for their positive outgoing attitude and their acceptance of everything new? Or will they see the slightly darker side of everything? I think whenever you present something new to anybody, and this is in history we’re talking about, the first reaction is to get excited about it and the very second reaction is to find all the flaws with it.
And we’ve just got over the excited phase for Kinect?
Exactly – and I think, more than anything else, Kinect needs people to play it. It needs to be released and enjoyed and have consumers having a really good time with it. I’ve got this analogy: I think of Kinect a bit like a bicycle. Imagine I’d invented a bicycle and you’d never seen a bicycle before. I said to you, I’ve got this great new mode of transport – I believe it’s going to be the greatest mode of transport in the world – which bicycles are. You balance on two wheels – each of which is only half an inch across, and you pedal your legs really fast and you go up to 40 miles an hour. No protection at all – you don’t need it. You would say, that just sounds insane, you’re going to die. It’s only when you get on the bike, you’d realise that what I was talking about was right. And that’s the thing with Kinect: people need to feel the rightness of it.