Making the perfect Kinect game: Microsoft's tips and tricks

Kinect software boss shares the recipe for success

You might think that the process of creating a game for Kinect is a frantic wrestling match with the dark gods of technology - a thrilling struggle to clamp the hardware down with chains of noughts and ones. Actually, the doodles you do on your lunchbreaks and the pipedreams you toss around with co-workers on the train home may be just as, if not more important than the code you write at your desk.

With sales of the peripheral steaming past the 10 million mark worldwide despite a dearth of core-leaning releases, OXM spoke to European developer relations manager Ben Ward about Kinect games past, present and future.

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According to Ward, lay commentators and developers alike too readily identify mastery of the tech as the key to crafting killer Kinect software. "It's easy to think of Kinect as a technological platform, and it certainly is, but actually as we'll find out it's really much more of a way of thinking about making games than a piece of technology."

The critical trend is understandable, especially at this early stage in Kinect's life: input delays, fuddle-headed gesture recognition and so forth are quantifiable problems, easier to rate and slate than subtler, more subjective flaws like inadequately distinguished background layers or uneven tutorial pacing. But in Ward's view, the trend needs to perish nonetheless if tomorrow's Kinect games are to make substantial advances on those of today.

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The best thing about Ward's argument for the centrality of design is that it dovetails with and indeed builds on existing development priorities. "The best videogames if you get 80 per cent on a level you know what you should have done to get that last 20 per cent. This is doubly important with Kinect.

"Because getting that last 20 per cent is all about the feedback that you give to the player. If you're not clear with that feedback, they'll never know what they did wrong." Creating games for Kinect, then, represents no arcane new science so much as an amplification of what developers already know.

Simultaneously the peripheral's greatest strength and weakness is that there are few givens, few limits on what you can ask it to do. "A controller is a fixed piece of hardware with fixed buttons," Ward goes on. "There's no ambiguity in pressing a button. Once you've pressed a button everyone knows, you know it, the game knows it and that's fantastic, no ambiguity.

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"But if you have five things you want to do at once you need five buttons, and that's fine, that's why controllers have ended up being as sizable as they are, and it's great if you know how to use them, and that gives you an enormous amount of flexibility as a game designer.

Take away the buttons, and you strip both the floor and ceiling from that particular creative scenario. "Kinect is highly ambiguous - your controls are entirely virtual. The ambiguity and the flexibility that you have are something you're going to need to learn to deal with as a designer. You can do anything you want with the space in front of you TV.

"You have 20 joints that can be tracked in your body, you can move around basically as much as you like, and the game can recognise all those movements, you and somebody else, and you can interpret that however you want. That is hugely flexible.

"But if you ask someone to do a punch, my punch is very unlikely to be the same as your punch or anybody else's punch. So that ambiguity is something that's essential to your experience as a Kinect game designer."

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