Interviews: Rare Studios - Kinect Sports
Posted by Corbie Dillard
Kinect's flagship title gets the Q&A treatment
Kinect Sports is one of the leading lights in the sensor's launch line-up, which is no surprise considering it's developed by talented Twycross team Rare. We grabbed the studio's communications manager Nick Burton for an interview about the game, Kinect's technological challenges and what's next for Rare.
KINECTaku: How long did it take to develop Kinect Sports?
Nick Burton: We have been working on Kinect for over two years now and Sports came out of some of the early prototypes we tried around 18 months before launch, so I guess you could say it took 18 months. However as with all game development team sizes fluctuate greatly during this time frame from a small initial team up to a full production team and with this in mind real full on development of Sports was around 14 months.
KINECTaku: Were there any particular aspects of development that proved to be more challenging than others?
NB: When we first started with Kinect no one knew how players would interact with it, so something as simple as selecting from a menu was very challenging. We didn’t even know how you could throw a ball without a button to press to release it. Obviously now this sounds very silly as you just mime throwing the ball like you would in real life, and point to the option you want on a menu.
KINECTaku: How did you go about choosing which sports to include in the package?
NB: We did lots of prototypes, over 20 if my memory is correct, some of sports, some really crazy things. We paired up designers and programmers and said to them you go off and make something for Kinect in a week. What we found was that some of the pairs had done sports and a few of these prototypes had everyone wanting to play – the first one I remember was goal kicks, that was a fantastic moment. We realised then how compatible Kinect would be with a sports game and so we started prototyping again, specifically with sports in mind. A number of these second wave of prototypes were really successful in user research and around Rare and it’s those that you now see fully formed and polished in Kinect Sports.
KINECTaku: Were there any sports you wanted to include but didn't feel worked well within the framework of Kinect?
NB: There were some ideas that we would have liked to develop further had we more time, but it was more about figuring out what worked within each of our chosen sports. Football went through about 6 or 7 different interaction models before we got it right, whereas table tennis just worked right out of the gate on our first go.
KINECTaku: Obvious comparisons can be made with Nintendo's Wii Sports and Sony's Sports Champions; what makes Kinect Sports different to those titles?
NB: Full body tracking, obviously [smiles]. Joking aside, that’s the truth. There has never been a game before where you can kick a football, then save a goal kick with your hands before passing the shot up the field and taking a corner to head the ball into the back of the net. You can’t really cheat Kinect Sports with a flick of the wrist, you have to do something approaching the real world actions to get results. Want to put a good time in for 100 metres? Expend some calories!
KINECTaku: The biggest complaint of the game seems to revolve around the lack of 1:1 movements and the hesitation that plagues some movements. Is this more a case of hardware limitations or you guys still getting a feel for Kinect?
NB: I see people writing about lag and movement problems on the net but I question how much they have played Kinect or what their interpretation of these ‘issues’ are. Take hurdles for example: I’ve been asked why the jump lags behind the player, well it doesn’t. The jump initiates the moment the player jumps, but the Avatar is running down a virtual track and you are running in your home, on the spot. So you have a different biological delay to that of someone really running hurdles – I should know, I tried it for real. Because you have to plan your strides in the real event and think about jumping before you need to, gamers then interpret this is lag when it’s applied to the Avatar I think, when in reality it’s not. However, we do need to do a better job of working out how players perceive this kind of interaction so everything feels seamless, so I guess you can say we are still getting a feel for it. As time goes on, Kinect’s capabilities are going to continue to expand, so it’s a very exciting time to be a developer.
KINECTaku: Kinect Sports has one of the best musical scores we've ever heard in a video game, with tunes that suit the on-screen action perfectly. Was this an area you focused on especially?
NB: Absolutely. Music adds so much to any game that you have to get the right balance. With Kinect Sports we felt that people would want to hear familiar music that echoes and heightens how they are feeling at a particular moment. We then added to this with new music written specifically for Kinect Sports to further enhance the whole package and give it its own musical identity.
KINECTaku: Any chance we might see a sequel?
NB: Now that would be telling wouldn’t it?
KINECTaku: Do you guys have any other Kinect titles in the works? Is Kinect your prime focus moving forward now?
NB: All I will say is that you have not seen the last of Rare’s Kinect output as we love it so much and think it really is a game changing piece of hardware.
KINECTaku: Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers in closing?
NB: I’ll close by saying that the past two and a bit years have been a real rollercoaster ride of new technology and excitement and that I have personally enjoyed this project more than any other in my 12 years video game development career. Now I’m looking forward to the next couple of years and what we are going to do with Kinect next. Watch this space...
Thanks to Nick Burton for his time.