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The Tepid Seat: Kinect Sports

For various reasons, some beyond our control and some within our control but involving dangerous wild animals, it’s been a long time coming back. But today, finally, it is upon us. You submitted the questions, we got Rare folks to sit down and answer them. Or, technically, answer them while running around emitting a high-pitched whine and trying to do two dozen other things at the same time.

In this edition: Kinect Sports team designers Travis Ryan and Paul Collins. Knowledge dropped!

Jump up, and down, this question’s passed, around.
     I’ve always wondered what the process was like for Kinect Sports when it came to implementing an idea into the game. Obviously there’s the set sports that come with the disc that have their own origins, but it’s the creative fodder added to the DLC packs that must be interesting to see the development pan out around the studio. Is one employee sitting at a table when he suddenly jumps up and starts impersonating Blazing Banana, or is it more of a team thing where the entire studio undergoes a stage of sports ideas before carrying it off to their own field of expertise?
     Flumpet Flavor of the month,
     Steve aka Lerako

TR: Herding new ideas is a tricky process, not dissimilar to herding kittens with wool. There are usually so many ideas pinging around the office that we have to wear protective gear. When developing full sports we home in on those with high popularity, fan requests and things that just sound plain fun to play! As we’re talking about Kinect, we then try to get a feel for it before a single finger taps the keyboard. You can get a feel for a sport pretty quickly and establish whether the core interaction is fun to perform, fun for others to watch and so on.
     When we get to the slightly sillier activities we always take the core elements of a sport and throw fun stuff at it until it sticks. See our Prize Driver golfing game show and Darts shenanigans fending off hungry zombies…

I have your game Kinect Sports, is still the best of all games I’ve played. But one thing bothers me. Why is Bowling for up to four players? Often I meet with friends more, and then we wonder who will play. You will not issue a patch that would extend the possibility of players? Thank you for your reply and sorry for my English.
     Peter Neveril

TR: Blimey, I bet you make the girls blush with such a generous portion of friends. Technically we limit it to four players for a number of reasons, mainly to keep the offline/online player synched up and in line with restrictions on the number of active profiles available on the box.
     How about a tiddlywinks league, pro rules, to determine the participating four?

PC: It’s great that you want to get more players involved – my advice would be to set up your own mini-tournament when you have a large group playing Kinect Sports Bowling. That way everyone can feel involved even when it isn’t their turn!

Bravo!
     The Kinect launch wouldn’t have been half as good if Kinect Sports wasn’t there to get people pumped for the new way to play. No, really! I’m shocked that I’d enjoy Soccer as much as I have, amazing job, Rare!
     A) Where’d Basketball go? Development limbo? It was a cool idea, but why exactly did B-Ball travel off the court and out of the series?
     B) Where was the obvious tie-in to the Banjo series through Mr. Fit? The health-conscious aardvark would’ve been a perfect fi– erm… match for Kinect Sports. I’m sure that even more people would buy the sequel if they knew a fat hose-nosed aardvark would bitch about how much better they are than he is as Darts and Football.
     C) Why can’t we pick team colors before we start a game? What if I want purple to represent team Zenek all of the time?
     Well, I’m ready for the new season. Just make sure to pack some extremely subtle Rare-themed Mascots into the game like “Overtime Twinklie” and “Grand-Slam Galdon.” Rock on,
     Zenek

TR: Why thank you, I shall pass on your cheerage to the teams. An honourable mention to your sneaky three-questions-disguised-as-one effort, well done sir!
     A) Who sent you? What do you know? Oh hold on, that’s how I should have answered back when these questions originally appeared in my inbox. But from here in the future I can answer as follows: Basketball Challenge Pack! Also available as part of the All Access Pass which contains all the DLC released for Season Two at a bargain price!
     B) We held a mascot slot open for him as long as we could, but he didn’t return our e-mails or voicemails, what can you do? Mr. Fit is now on ‘the list’.
     C) That’s a ruddy good question. I would love to offer up some splendid philosophical reasoning behind this, but it really comes down to the requirement that each team needs a contrasting colour in the match (for example, if everyone wanted to take to the court in pink it’d be hard to differentiate).

Early in development it was known as The Fast and the Furriest, it featured Rare’s mascots (Banjo and Conker), it also had the ability to take a photo of our ugly mugs. Why did you change the ability to place our mugs inside the heads of our favourite gaming characters and remove them completely?
     Also why did you guys choose to make a sports game for Kinect? Surely you guys can utilise Kinect way better than Ubisoft, you guys made it anyway.
     Also I’m a true Rare fan, I don’t whine and criticise anything you guys do, like the rest of the internet.
     James Moore of Dinkeytom

TR: Nice try, but I won’t be rising to your substandard-sport-developer-bashing-bait today! Oh, wait…
     So, Kinect. Whenever you consider a new piece of technology you need to think about wrapping it in a context that everyone can understand. Everyone understands sports – so a sports game becomes a clear way to demonstrate awesome new ways to play and interact with shiny new technology.
     The Fast and the Furriest, that brings back memories, in fact so far back that it was before my time here at Rare Towers. I’ll give Mr. Mayles a nudge and get his take on it… <nudge>… no answer, he’s deep in the design dungeon brewing up Awesome New Stuff (TM). But ultimately it’s just stronger to put your avatar in the spotlight. ‘Wearing’ your face looks ever so slightly creepy…

Dearest Rare encouragers of physical exercise in a virtual space; ie. Kinect Sports Team,
     I can’t get enough of playing Volleyball with my family and friends, and spiking the ball down my kid brother’s throat is always a real treat, haha! Believe what you’d like about him only being only four feet tall and STILL kicking my butt in five unanswered matches, I won’t stand for it!
     1.) Does the Kinect Sports team have a favorite mascot that they prefer out of the lot? Casual favorite mascots of my parents include Rapid Robot (my dad), and Quick Carrot (my kid brother). A game that has Zombies has to be good in my opinion, so you know what answer I’ll pick, heh heh. But your artists and designers likely will pick their own creations, so this question might be a little biased.
     2.) Forgetting your original sports for a moment, are there any events or mini-games that didn’t quite make it, or was each event pretty much there since the beginning?
     3.) Your catalog of the Top 5 Kinect Sports that never were in the Rare Newsletters detailed a few canned events that soon became their own full-fledged mini-games in the Party Pack DLC. It’s filled with fantastic ideas like ‘Table Tennis Bingo’, but were other mentionables in this list seriously considered for another DLC? Abandoned games and events like Meteor Boxing and Attack-A-Snack for instance?
     You guys are so awesome for answering my questions, and thanks so much for Kinect Sports and I wish it the best in all its success!
     Andrew Fehn

TR: Ahhh, brotherly love, reminds me of a story involving my little brother, some balloons, some darts… a hospital…
     1) We love them all dearly. Okay, maybe not Sportastico (especially after that incident with the pint of Bovril). This is a lot like trying to pick your favourite child, but with fewer tears. Okay, Sporty Shark and Zippy Zombie are my personal faves and as I’m the only one here right now, they can be the team’s favourites too. If only we’d combined the two to create an uber-zombie-shark mascot…
     2) We’re always tinkering with variations on sports, brand new sports and a host of things that never make it to fruition. At the start of any project we prototype and make playable versions of heaps of events, and then make a selection based on which ones are the most fun and best fit the package. Some highlights over the years have included a Swimathlon (facing away from the camera during backstroke and lying on the floor for front crawl blew people’s minds), rock-’em-sock-’em Sumo Wrestling and Ice Hockey with bouts of fisticuffs.
     3) You’ve got a good memory! That feels like a long time ago. We’ve since brought a few more ideas out of the trove kicking and screaming into the real world. We’ve had bird-flapping off the ski jump and, as mentioned, dancing zombie Darts and ‘Generation Game Golf’ (one for the oldies there).

How you doing guys? Just got some questions about Kinect Sports.
     1. Will it ever contain any references to previous Rare titles? Maybe the ability to dress up your avatars in costumes that resemble Conker, Pimple and Joanna? The only thing better than that would be to have the characters themselves actually playable. Oh, that would be divine. You guys are long overdue for an all-star title, all the cool kids are doing it after all (Nintendo, Capcom, Konami, etc.) and in my opinion their characters just don’t have the same amount of personality that yours do.
     …Actually that’s the only question I have. Yup, that’s all. Have a nice day, and may ruination come swiftly to your enemies!
     Josh

TR: Oh it shall Josh, it shall! And may Jiggy Rain come to yours!
     Rare Sports All-Stars? We’ll add it to the list. Maybe. Who knows, but there have been Rare crossovers, like Banjo going for a trip across the publisher pond to appear in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. I’m allowed to pimp that, I helped make it…

Congrats for achieving three million copies sold and a BAFTA award for Best Family Game. Kinect Sports ended up being one of my favorite games of 2010, really enjoyed it.
     1. One of the things that I really liked about the first Kinect Sports was that it was incredibly approachable, yet possessed a lot of depth. I’ve played an awful lot of casual games where it really is ‘easy to learn, easy to master’, and I just didn’t find this to be the case with Kinect Sports. I want to know what challenges were involved into making this design choice a reality.
     2. What are you most proud of, as a team, in making Kinect Sports? What were some of the challenges and hoops that you had to overcome to make some of the different sports possible?
     3. I have a firm understanding that Rare is currently working on other projects and prototypes beyond Kinect Sports. I’m not asking about the details about what these projects are/what they are going to be, but rather I’m asking, how does the progress from working on the Kinect Sports games or other Kinect prototypes translate to functions and features in other projects?
     4. Based on job positions that I’ve seen pop up over the web for Kinect Sports, does Microsoft see Sports as a franchise they are going to continue for the next few years? Will there be more boxed Kinect Sports products or will existing titles continue to be updated via DLC, community programs?
     Keep up the good work, talk soon!
     Adam Seidel

TR: I think we’re a bit past 3m now aren’t we? With two BAFTAs, but who’s counting… :P
     1) The interesting thing about making things so simple is how difficult it is to achieve! Honestly, it all boils down to allowing players to play the game how they expect. For Sports we stood by the mantra of ‘simple input for the broadest interpretation’ – it should just work, right? There’s incredible variety in how we all think and interact with things, and even the simple action of throwing a ball can be translated an endless number of ways. So primarily it’s a case of distilling an action down to its simplest form and removing all abstraction. Then it’s a long process of trial and error. We constantly play, we get the studio to play, we get people outside the studio to play. Often we record their actions too. Then we take all that data and observation, collate feedback and work out which areas need adjustment. And we do this over and over again and keep going until we get it to sing!
     2) We made a game that plants big smiles on lots of people’s faces, new and old, and lets everyone get up and have fun playing as a group. We’ve seen it time and time again, and we’re so used to the interaction that we sometimes forget what Kinect feels like to a new user – that magic of throwing an imaginary ball into the screen and seeing it become real.
     3) I mentioned in a previous answer that sport is a brilliant vehicle for introducing brand new technology and interaction to players in a way that they can easily understand and engage with. We’ve obviously learned a lot, made up plenty of rules and broken others, and we’ve seen great potential in this form of interaction. Not just in motion but in things like voice, recognition and how they can be applied to entirely different experiences. There are so many avenues to explore, not just with Kinect but with play in general. Watch this space!
     4) Kinect Sports is a big brand for us with a lot of support, and if fans want more content then of course we’ll try to keep them happy. But at the same time we have a responsibility to push what this tech can do and the types of experience it can offer, which is very much a focus for us looking forward. Again, watch this space!

Hi, I don’t yet have Kinect Sports but noticed a sequel was out.
     My question is does it have all the content from the first game, or will I have to get that as well to play those activities?
     Regards,
     Hyncharas

TR: Hopefully you should have picked this up by now! Both Kinect Sports and Kinect Sports: Season Two are standalone titles, each with their own games and activities – we broke the 50+ mark on those with the Basketball Activity Pack. If you want the full Kinect Sports experience, you gotta catch ‘em all! (The Ultimate Collection released this year with both games in one box should hopefully make that a bit easier.)

In Kinect Sports, in the Bowling mini-games, the Pinvaders game seems to me to work less well than the other Bowling games with regard to the Kinect sensor picking up and interpreting motion such as picking a ball and throwing the ball. Is this a recognized problem?
     Thanks,
     David Farrar

TR: This is certainly one of the more frantic activities and Kinect can experience niggles when trying to track really fast motions (that’s why we tend to keep the interactions simple, and the pacing steady… most of the time). For Pinvaders, also remember that there is a delay between new balls appearing, so you have to make each shot count (if you’re trying to quickly pick up, throw, pick up, throw, you might not have any balls loaded for release).

PC: Hey David, sorry to hear you’re having trouble. We base the activities around the mechanics created in the main game, so it’s a little hard to pinpoint why you might be having issues. Pinvaders is a much faster take on the game of Bowling, and so requires you to be quick on your feet while still making the gestures required for picking up a ball and throwing it. My advice would be to find your own rhythm that helps you take out those dastardly pins. I always like to wait until I see a large group of them on the lane, giving me a little more time to think before I throw and better execute my technique. Happy pin smashing!

Hello,
     First let me preface my question by saying that I am a wheelchair-bound 41-year-old video gamer, and I found Kinect Sports to be fantastic (thank you for Bowling!). I didn’t think I would be able to use Kinect when I got it for my children, and while I am unable to run, I can play Bowling, Table Tennis, and some one-armed Boxing. The only problem I had is in the menu navigation.
     My question is: Do you ever have wheelchair-bound people assist in the development of your Kinect games, and if not, why? Also, the avatars are great, but couldn’t you guys make some rocket-propelled wheelchairs that allowed me to float, or a Professor X-style chair, or anything of that ilk?
     I think you guys are great, I was not a console gamer until 2007 so I have no old memories of Rare’s past accomplishments, but love what I have experienced from your company.
     Again, thanks for Kinect Bowling, it makes me feel like I am back at the alley before I became chair-bound. My sons and I have had, and still have, a blast, and that is a priceless commodity to me.
     Shayne Carter

PC: It’s wonderful to hear that you’re enjoying Kinect Sports Bowling and the other sports in the package. I’m sure there are a few in Season Two that you’ll have a lot of fun playing as well!

TR: That really is awesome! The team will be chuffed with that! Obviously some sports are more suited to seated play than others, give Darts and Skiing a whirl and let me know what you think!
     Kinect navigation continues to improve. Actually, as I’m writing this from The Future (six months after I should have replied to these questions) I can confirm that the Xbox 360 was updated with new improved Kinect navigation and full voice control across the whole dash. Season Two also includes full voice interaction for speedy navigation! This year’s Fable: The Journey from our fellow UK studio Lionhead also offers some great seated play.
     Rocket wheelchairs, good suggestion! We could even add springs to perform jumping spikes in Volleyball. I can hear our PMs groaning at the thought of all that extra work now…

19
Dec
2012