Kinect Sports 2 'pushing speech a hell of a lot' - Rare

Develop 2011: Studio's next game entirely navigable with voice; golf to have more than 300 voice command phrases.

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There are "over 300 phrases" in the voice controls for golf in Kinect Sports Season Two, says Nick Burton of Kinect Sports studio Rare. In a session at UK-based industry conference Develop, "incubation director" Burton discussed the particular challenges in producing Kinect control schemes for the Kinect Sports sequel.

If only golf balls would heed voice commands as well.
If only golf balls would heed voice commands as well.

The first Kinect Sports focused on games that could be mirrored and mimed most literally, said Burton, since Rare thought there were some sports "we just couldn't do," since they "couldn't figure them out from a design perspective or a technical perspective." In the Kinect Sports follow-up, though, Rare is including "most of the sports we thought we couldn't," apparently having overcome the design and technical difficulties. Kinect Sports Season Two features skiing, American football, golf, darts, tennis, and baseball.

Burton called golf "a particularly interesting [challenge]," in that players properly mirroring real golfers would have to look down at a pretend gold ball rather than at the screen, "which is kind of a problem if you're playing a game." Similarly, Burton said, there's an issue with positioning and turning: if you turn your body to turn your avatar, you wind up not facing the screen head-on any more. "You can't just mime golf," he said.

Instead, Kinect Sports Season Two's golf has players step left and right parallel to the screen in order to pivot their avatar left or right. Rare also turned to voice commands in place of a real golfer's caddy to supply the player with clubs and to avoid forcing players out of the golf experience into a menu to pick new ones. Besides selecting clubs with spoken phrases, players will call "practice shot" to have the Kinect give them a practice swing, and so on.

"We've got over 300 phrases you can use," Burton said, noting that the next largest implementation of voice controls in a Kinect game, Kinectimals, is an order of magnitude smaller, with just 30 voice phrases. The game's entire user interface will also be navigable by voice. Rare is "pushing speech a hell of a lot with Season Two," he said. At the E3 demo of Kinect Sports Season Two, stage demonstrators shouted calls in the title's Kinect-enabled football game.

On the topic of advancements in the Kinect's voice detection, Burton said: "The really neat thing about voice is that we're starting to be able to tell who's actually talking with skeletal tracking…Imagine side-by-side multiplayer [with two-player voice control]."

Kinect Sports Season Two is out on October 25 in North America.

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