BioWare: Kinect is "the future of interactive storytelling"

Mass Effect 3's voice features open "different mental pathways"

As we wrote last month, Mass Effect 3's Kinect functionality is a quantum leap for Kinect integration. BioWare has woven the peripheral's voice control tech into the game's fabric, letting you order mates around, change weapons and even get your thesp on with the Mass Effect 3 script.

The best part, however, isn't what you can do with Kinect in Mass Effect 3 but the fact that you can do without it, whenever and wherever it takes your fancy. There's no cumbersome swapping away from "Kinect mode" - if you haven't got to time to scream an order, just hit a button instead. The result is functionality that's always there yet only as intrusive as you want it to be.

Thankfully, there's no ME3 Kinect command for pointing and shooting.

"It happened almost by accident," executive producer Casey Hudson admitted to OXM a week before launch. "We didn't set out to make Mass Effect 3 a voice-controlled title. But a programmer was working in the studio, had the Kinect hardware, and was just experimenting with it.

"And he realised that with the software that comes with Kinect, it was very easy to connect something that you can do in the game with something you've said, almost as easy as that. No research required - it was all there, done for us.

"And we started thinking about what we could actually achieve with that. So many things came to mind - you could tell a squad member to attack your target, you could tell a squad member to switch weapons. While you're busy with the controller, you can tell him to do something that you're not physically able to do, because your thumbs aren't free."

Impressive stuff - but putting the dialogue system under voice control was the real breakthrough for Casey and chums. "It's very fortunate how it works with the existing system, which is that we have paraphrases. Speak those paraphrases, and they trigger that line.

"Once you start doing that, you realise you're using different mental pathways to interact with the game. You're not pressing buttons to talk, you're talking to talk. And it makes conversation totally different, especially because the Kinect can isolate room noise really well.

"You don't have to project out to your TV in any way," he continued. "You can speak quietly in a conversational tone. And it hears you, and then you're having this amazingly realistic conversation with a character.

"It feels like the future of interactive storytelling. You're just talking to a character, and you're going deeper into their conversation, asking them questions and telling them things and after it's over you pick up the controller, and it's a cold piece of plastic, and you think 'this is the old way, and what I was doing was the future'."

BioWare chose not to use Kinect's motion control features for Mass Effect 3, calling the tech a "barrier", but Casey sees potential here nonetheless. "Part of the thing that makes it work is that it just works. It's reliable and fast. As other technologies get to the point where they're not gimmicky, but reliable and fast, then we can start doing things with gesture."

How have you found Mass Effect 3's Kinect functionality? Come on, it makes a nice change from talking about the ending.