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The Trouble With Kinect Voice Commands
I’m a huge Skyrim fan.
I’ve logged multiple hours of my life into that game, traveling the many snowy peaks and carrying out quests for citizens in need as I fought dragons and learned what it means to be Dragonborn.
And when it was announced that Bethesda’s giant RPG would be getting an update in the form of Kinect voice command integration, two things happened to me:
First, I groaned. Then, positivity trickled in, and I thought, “Maybe…just maybe…”
So, I downloaded it, spent a few hours shouting at the little black bar resting in front of my television, and reached my conclusion:
My initial reaction was right.
Motion gaming is one of the oddest conundrums of this current generation of consoles. It appeals to a very niche group of gamers, often alienating the more “hardcore” market as it tries to appeal to a wider audience.
The unfortunate truth is that motion-control enabled games tend to be a very hit-or-miss market, with some being fantastic and others being downright awful. The result? They’re almost more novelty than they are actual lasting facets of gaming.
So, where does voice command fit in here, then?
Kinect hardware is expensive. Many people jumped all over it when it first appeared with promises of “you are the controller”. What we imagined Kinect to be versus what it actually became, however, turned out to be two radically different things. And, while there are a decent amount of good games for the Kinect, they are no match for the appeal of their controller-based counterparts.
Therefore, Kinect voice command integration seems like an attempt to see where Microsoft can make the hardware so many bought “fit in” with more games. That way, people can enjoy the motion controller in myriad ways (and it doesn’t hurt that the potential of selling more hardware might come along with that as well).
The problem? It feels a bit like a square peg in a round hole; it simply doesn’t fit. My time with Skyrim’s voice commands was mildly interesting, I’ll admit, but after a while, I found myself asking why I needed to speak it when I can just instantly make it happen with the press of a button. Other than the quicksave feature, which allows me to avoid breaking from the game to pull up a save screen, I saw little in the way of usefulness for it. Sure, yelling in a fantasy language at my television was an embarrassing sort of fun, but the delay in response was not worth it, especially when I was in tight situations. I had to hold down the right bumper to enable dragon shout mode, say the shout to the Kinect, hope it heard me right and used the right one, then wait for my in-game character to say it. All of this could have been done instantly with the press of a button, and the two-second delay between my command and the execution of it could spell disaster when I need the attack immediately and I’m instead barbecued by a dragon in front of Whiterun.
Skyrim is not the first game to see this form of Kinect integration, however. The recent release Mass Effect 3 had a similar feature to command squad members in combat, and even the release of Halo Anniversary saw the use of Microsoft’s motion control technology.
Ultimately, I feel like motion controls are still kind of the awkward kid in high school who goes through “phases”…they’re still trying to find their place and figure out where they belong amongst titles in the industry. As technology improves and we start to really unlock their potential, I imagine their appeal will grow and the quality of games behind them will increase as well.
In the mean time…just let me use my controller.