Following Double Fine's recent announcement of the Kinect-exclusive Happy Action Theater, lead technical artist and upcoming GDC China speaker Drew Skillman discussed the studio's experience working with Microsoft's depth-sensing hardware, noting that it required the studio to re-think its approach to game design.
In particular, Skillman notes that it takes a lot of experimentation with Kinect to get things working as intended, and Double Fine had to take some unusual measures to reliably test its latest title.
At next month's GDC China, Skillman will delve further into the implications of working with Kinect in a session titled, "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," which will focus on the studio's process for creating its motion-controlled games.
In anticipation of the talk, Skillman discusses the challenges of working with the Kinect's depth-sensing technology, offering tips on how to best make use of the hardware's strengths, and to design games around its weaknesses.
Considering Double Fine's history of making games with traditional gamepad controls, what has it been like for the studio to work with the Kinect hardware? Are there any particular challenges you or the team have encountered?
The biggest challenge has been adapting to the different types of input you get from the Kinect. A gamepad controller is quite literally a handful of very precise inputs, but the Kinect is a continuous stream of video and depth data. Even after processing that data into player joints and segmentation IDs, you will still never be able to pinpoint the exact frame when a character is supposed to jump, for example.
That difference has informed our designs at the deepest levels. We want to leverage this new technology for the amazing new interactions it allows, and not just try and use it as a calorie burning substitute for a gamepad.
What tips would you offer developers looking to start working with Kinect or other motion control hardware?
One great way to start is to check out all the phenomenal Kinect hacks that are flooding the web right now. If you do a Google search for "Kinect Hack," you will see a massive number of inspirational and creative applications, many of which are already in game form, or translate to games naturally. One reason for this rampant experimentation is that programming languages like Processing and Open Frameworks make the hardware accessible to everyone with a computer. This open source approach gives it traction in disciplines like science, education, interactive design, student games, etc. Kinect is definitely a melting pot of ideas right now.
Also, consider investing in life size, cardboard cutouts of your favorite characters. A member of our team made a genius purchase early in the project, and as a result cardboard cutouts of Dumbledore, Darth Vader, and Elvis have been invaluable testers throughout development. The Kinect detects them as very patient players. Another late arrival to our "test team" was actually a Yoga ball, which the Kinect recognizes as well.