With Kinect Sports Rivals, Rare has had an opportunity to work with Xbox One's Kinect 2.0 as it was developed. But is it really the new hardware devs have been waiting for?

A sporting chance: Rare on Kinect’s new opportunity for developers

Rare has been developing an Xbox One Kinect game as the new hardware has itself been developed. As a Microsoft studio, how involved has Rare been with the development of the tech?
Kinect Sports Rivals executive producer Danny Isaac: The team in Redmond had a very clear idea of what the hardware would be, and obviously they were working on the foundation of the experience of the previous Kinect.

Things like the 1080p fidelity, which means Kinect has around ten times the fidelity we had previously, was their decision. Microsoft Redmond knew what they were doing there, and we weren’t going to tell them to change things like that.

But very early on, about two years ago now, we went over to their campus and had a big team meeting with all the people involved in user interfaces at Microsoft. Back then we outlined each of the Kinect Sports Rivals sports we wanted to do, and the features we hoped Kinect for Xbox One could help us achieve; things like the detail of the voice activation and the fidelity to recognise open and closed hands for a wake racing game.

The guys on that team at Redmond were highly experienced hardware and software guys, but they weren’t game developers, so while teams like ours could take what they were creating as a foundation, we were lucky enough to be able to help them with delivering what developers would want from the new Kinect, from a user experience perspective. We could help by giving them targets to aim at.

And what about the impact on Rare’s plans for the game in terms of having this new fidelity available to you?
I think at Rare we had some unfinished business with Kinect, and I think that it’s fair to say that when the previous Kinect came out – while it was a magical experience and made peoples’ faces light up – it really didn’t give us that nuance and fidelity that we needed to realise some of the ideas we’ve managed to do with Kinect Sports Rivals.

The whole design mantra around Kinect Sports Rivals was around ‘making competition meaningful’, and it’s got to be down to the individual players whether one wins or loses. I think that with some of the earlier natural interface devices that wasn’t always the case. So we were very excited to see the fidelity of the new Kinect.

I think that for-both Sony and ourselves, this will be the last generation where we do it quite like this. I think that the console is going to evolve a lot of those eight-to-ten years.

But in being new technology, embracing a new platform and peripheral simultaneously must have been tough?
I think if you ask any developer they will tell you one of the hardest things to do it is to work on a launch platform, because they are being built as you build your game. It’s tough. One day everything is working, and then they do an update, and the next day things don’t quite work. That can certainly slow you down.

But that said, it’s an enormous privilege, and a real learning process. It gives you a head start.

It is interesting to think what in eight-to ten years from now a launch platform might actually look like. I think that for-both Sony and ourselves, this will be the last generation where we do it quite like this. I think that the console is going to evolve a lot of those eight-to-ten years. I feel very lucky to have done an Xbox 360 and Xbox One launch game, but it has always been very difficult.

Kinect Sports Rivals is being pitched as a ‘game as a service’, and initially just the wake racing game is being released, with a character creation portal. You’re also planning not just to add more games at Rival’s own launch, but to keep refreshing the content. Why that approach?
The world has moved on from fire and forget games, where a studio would release the game, get the reviews in and move on. And mobile platforms have changed consumer expectations. Games need to grow and change over time.

But with the new Kinect and Kinect Sports Rivals, we see it as a way to engage with the consumers and gather telemetry and data to improve their experience through tailoured content based on that.

Ultimately, we want it to be an evergreen title. From the look to the game to the new content, we want it to stand the test of time, and operating something like a service allows us to do that.

So while you’ve not gone the free-to-play route, you are looking at the likes of mobile gaming models for inspiration?
Yes. And I think for any title you should look at all the business models available. The consumer has a large voice now, and they consume in so many different ways these days. Developers should look everywhere, even to the way people are changing the way they consume television, now, with things like Netflix and other on-demand services. Mobile has made consumers expect games for free too. There’s lots going on and it’s changing out there, so developers need to be open to changing with it.

Fundamentally, Kinect Sports Rivals is a disk-based product, but we’re always open to looking at how we can add extra value to it.

The world has moved on from fire and forget games, where a studio would release the game, get the reviews in and move on. And mobile platforms have changed consumer expectations. Games need to grow and change over time.

And, of course, the Xbox One’s front end and the way it looks to deliver games compliments titles structured like yours.
It really does, and people are more open to downloading content these days. There’s a challenge in countries and areas that don’t have the fastest connections, but in general, it is the way people access games today.

What about maintaining a creative and staff focus when a console team is effectively developing new content for one title indefinitely? The traditional model did allow teams to consider new projects more readily, and arguably innovate more often.
It’s about what you said; balance. You can do both. We keep an eye on where opportunities are, and watch the consumer and the business. Putting out continuous content that isn’t popular would be pointless.

What’s exciting for us is the idea that we can watch what the consumer is doing and in turn move content to what it is they want it to be. The great thing about this approach is that we can make a judgement call every few months, and look at the direction we’re going and how long we want to do it for. We can be flexible, so maybe we could look at doing something else, or moving our team around. It’s an opportunity to move your studio forward in a different way, and the flexibility is brilliant for any studio.

What about your technical achievements with the game? What are you most proud of?
It would be the Champion Scanning, I think. We can, using the new Kinect, scan the player and put them in the game as an athletic caricature, almost, of the way they look. It’s a Rare-developed technology, which we gave the working title Awesome You.

We worked with a highly specialised Microsoft research team at Redmond that helped us work with the facial capture, while we worked on the rest.

We’re pretty pleased with the look of the world too, and the metagame – the character levelling-up and so on – we also feel very excited about getting into the hands of players.

Do you think many other developers will go for Kinect support? Is it really that attractive?
I think it will let developers do a lot of what they’ve always wanted to do. And the fact that Microsoft decided to put one in every box makes it a lot more appealing. This is the natural interaction user interface that should see things get a little less gimmicky, because it’s got that fidelity. You’re starting to see that already with the first titles. It’s a technology that will go from strength to strength.

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