Microsoft has created and plans to release a video game interface that is as far beyond mutants as they are beyond mankind. Microsoft Natal is a tool that allows real time motion capture of the users entire body. It can also work with multiple users and it has a set of microphones that are supposed to be able to identify the voice of people separately by location.
This doesn’t need a special type of room, a motion capture suit or a green-screen to work and while I could explain how it works in detail I don’t expect that many people to be interested so instead I’ll tell you what I see as the coolest game to make with it.
When I see this setup my first instinct is fighting game. Ever since Sega wet our appetite with the Activator Ring I’ve dreamt of a game that let me fight with the movements of my body directly. Wii boxing sounded like the right kind of interface until I played it and found wiggling the controllers next to each other worked better than throwing real punches. (Actually having some boxing training the Wii couldn’t even detect punches I threw at full speed.) I don’t have any illusions that the natal will react much faster but it has the opportunity to make natural movements meaningful.
What is the idea already?!?!
Its nothing but a brawler. You are in a room with a lot of enemies and you beat them down. There should be no limitations on what movements work for you and any body part can be used to hit. Blocking can be done with your arms and legs but some attacks are too strong to block. You should be able to dodge any movement as well.
Enemy movement will be the big hurdle in developing this game because canned animation can’t interact with an uncontrolled human. Because of this enemies will need to be able to target moving body parts/regions such as the players head for a punch, torso for kicks, etc.. With that consideration taken in there is also the reaction of the enemies to attacks. If I punch someone in the head dead on they are pushed back but if I throw a hook their head will be turned away from it. If I kick someone on the outer thigh their knee bends and they dip little but when you kick the inside of the thigh their leg lifts and the body moves back and slightly off balance. The consideration of these differences in reaction to attacks should result in movements that vary from nuanced weight shifts to all out kung fu movie spins before falling to the ground.
There should still be motion captured moves done by the enemies and these will adjust with difficulty over the course of the game. Early on unskilled people that happen to be attacking you will be throwing really obvious haymakers and swinging two by fours. Next comes not skilled fighters but more intelligent enemies that will at least throw strait punches and try out kicking. After this you will progress through levels that are made up of differently styled fighters such as Karate, Kung Fu and Capoeira as well as facing bosses that may use weapons or be way larger and stronger than you. (a giant enemy that is trying to grab an throw you must be dodged)
This lends itself to many stories such as enacting famous kung fu movies but there are definite limits to the technology. Grappling in particular isn’t going to be possible due to the lack of any tactile feedback and the limitations of natal. The natal is effectively one 3d camera meaning, like a real camera, it is limited by line of sight issues. That means if your arms aren’t visible to the camera then the system doesn’t know your position and can’t react to it. Grappling moves invariably cause this problem because you are on the ground.
Finally there is the issue of a graphical treatment. If all of these interface elements work together nicely and feel natural and fun I still don’t see this being received well as a cartoony game or a kid centric version. I am proposing a serious investment in fighting simulation and that requires a quality look. No transparent silhouette as the main character because as Bruce Lee said “We need emotional content.” A protagonist that has a background and a skill set and a reason to fight are vital to the players immersion in and enjoyment of the game.
Camera angles will have to be either pre-determined or naturally dynamic since the player doesn’t have the time or the control scheme to adjust it. This affects the level design and the story greatly because a player can’t walk to a goal or waypoint and, at least mid battle, cant look around for a clue.
Complete rethink. This is an action movie game. The fighting is the same but there are also chasing and dodging scenes. that may intermix with fighting as well. Your character runs through a crowded street. Your control is moving let and right to avoid obstacles, pulling boxes over to stop chasers, and throwing punches or knees at enemies blocking you. You might have to decide if you want to move right and plow through a guard or move left and jump over a barricade but if you fail at either you slow down and may get caught and then have to fight your way out.
When situations come up you can choose to run or fight, the game freezes and moving an arm to one side or the other indicates the choice.
This is still largely incomplete but in the interest of getting feedback I’m posting what I have now. Please let me know what you think. Would you play this game?