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Rare: We've only used 10% of Kinect's technical capabilities

Incubation software director explains inspiration behind BAFTA winner

Rare has only taken advantage of "10 to 15 per cent" of Kinect's technical potential so far - and the studio is going great guns to fully explore the "virtually limitless" possibilities afforded by the device.

That was the message from Rare incubation software director Nick Burton tonight at London's Institute for Contemporary Arts.

Still clearly beaming from the UK firm's BAFTA victory for Kinect Sports, Burton explained that Rare had long been interested in the possibilities of motion control - including experiments with the Xbox 360 Vision camera as far back as 2005.

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He said that Rare's modus operandi with Kinect was to "make it conform to the player's control, rather than the other way round".

Burton explained: "Kinect Sports was the first game I've made that my mum has played. She could watch me playing it and instinctively learn the controls just from what I was doing. For core gamers like me, the joypad has evolved, it's been honed. But to others it's intimidating."

He revealed that Rare had to overcome the problem of different players' natural movement, especially whilst sprinting - and avoid forcing its customers to move in pre-designated ways in order to win in-game. Some players crouched when running, he said, whilst others stood tall with a wider width between their legs.

In an engaging, enthused talk, Burton gave the audience of games design students and industry figures a "behind the curtain" view of Kinect Sports, showing off how it took advantage of the peripheral's depth sensor to nail players' movement.

Meanwhile, he showed how Kinect's ability to read 20 points on the body allowed for the game to "pick up on the subtleties, like twisting your wrist or the perfect release point during bowling", whilst still allowing those with a less studied understanding of gaming techniques to record pleasing performances.

Burton recollected that Kinect Sports' Football (soccer) mini-game was one of the hardest to get right for Rare. The studio didn't know how to represent running at first, and tried various approaches.

Discarded ideas included getting players to jog on the spot continually - which "left everyone in the studio knackered" - and to give avatars the natural state of sprinting, with the option to stop via a 'trapping' motion and pick a direction by turning. However, combined with shooting, passing and tackling, this was deemed to be "a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head".

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In the end, Rare gave some power back to the game's AI, with avatars running around the pitch as players picked out the best timed pass to move up the field.

However, it was the future of the device that really got Burton buzzing. He said that Kinect's "layers" of 3D infra-red depth reading, ability to track body points and voice recognition meant the possibilities for future software were "virtually limitless". Rare's next Kinect project would take advantage of more of the device's features, he suggested, including online connectivity.

Burton said Rare were avid fans of the so-called Kinect hacks doing the rounds, and had tested out many of the ideas seen on YouTube internally.

He was joined on stage by Microsoft-man-turned-Rare-studio-head Scott Henson, who echoed Burton's opinion - stating that Kinect was a "blank canvas" whose true possibilities were still unknown.

Picking ideas out of the air, Henson said he could see a day where Kinect's ability to read player's identity - and automatically sign them into Xbox Live - could revolutionise the living room with instant, bespoke entertainment.

"Now we've got 'Kinect, pause', which is great," he said - referring to the device's voice recognition during movie playback. "But imagine sitting in your living room and saying: 'Kinect, entertain me.' That's where we're going."

When asked by an audience member if he could see a core game like Halo working with Kinect, Burton queried whether Halo fans would want a traditional "run and gun" experience with motion control - but suggested that a Halo game created for the device itself could work.

On the subject of latency - and how restrictive it could be to Kinect's potential - Burton said that there was less lag between a player's movement and Kinect than there was from a button press on a traditional pad.

Rare took the wraps off the undeniably fun, polished Kinect Sports at E3 last summer. All eyes now turn to this year's event in June.

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