INTERVIEW: Kinect boss Kudo Tsunoda

Kinect Star Wars finally arrived on shelves earlier this week, standing as a flagship for the new generation of Xbox 360’s motion controlled titles. MCV speaks to Microsoft’s Master Yoda of Kinect, Kudo Tsunoda, about why the game is a major boon for the device and how far the technology can go…

How will the power of the Star Wars brand drive Kinect’s appeal to a mass audience?

That wasn’t necessarily the goal for this project.

From the beginning, when we were brainstorming what type of experiences we most wanted to build with Kinect, Star Wars was always at the top of our list. Lots of us are huge fans.

I remember playing as a Jedi in my living room when I was young, wielding my paper towel holder lightsaber – but when you’re doing that with a controller, it just doesn’t make you feel like a Jedi.

The biggest reason for doing this game is that Kinect makes you feel like a Jedi better than other video games or any other kind of medium. And that’s the reason this will connect with the mass audience.

How will you appeal to the more cynical Star Wars fans, the ones that deem most games to be cheap cash-ins?

We made sure we had ‘cynical’ Star Wars fans on the development team – although we just prefer to call them ‘passionate’. We approached the game with a level of care, crafting and love that fans would want put into a product like this.

There are so many parts of the franchise now: the original movies, the prequels, the Clone Wars cartoon.

The most challenging thing was trying to make a game that has something you would care about, regardless of when you came into the universe.

George Lucas has done such a good job of building a brand that encompasses so many different types of people, across so many ages. We’ve tried to build a Star Wars game that fans are going to love, no matter what their age. We felt that if we did right by those fans, we were going to have a good product.

Is there much crossover between Star Wars and Xbox 360 fans?

Both Star Wars and Xbox have, over time, grown to a more and more mass audience. While the first Star Wars movie was hugely successful, it was primarily a sci-fi brand, just as Xbox was originally a gaming brand. But I think both have expanded what their brand does to the point where they each appeal to a mass audience. And I think that’s why the two marry together so well. There is such a good crossover between the types of people they appeal to and there’s a really good mix of consumers that love both.

This was one of the first titles announced for Kinect. Why has it taken so long to arrive?

Kinect hasn’t been out that long – less than a year and a half. When you think what it takes to make a truly high quality game, Kinect Star Wars really hasn’t taken that long to arrive. We’ve put time and effort into giving players the Kinect experiences in the Star Wars universe that they’ve wanted since they saw the movies.

How well do you expect the game to perform? Could this be a long-tail seller for Kinect?

I think we’re going to have a really good boost of sales at the launch but Star Wars really is one of those evergreen brands. No matter when people are buying Kinect, this is the sort of the product that has legs. It’s super high quality, and the Star Wars IP is obviously very appealing. This is the kind of experience that can continue to sell at a good pace for months and years to come.

Kinect has a strong library of XBLA titles. Why did Star Wars merit a retail release?

This is a super huge product, it’s one of our blockbuster games and it’s got a really iconic IP.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything that necessarily makes something a boxed product or a download. So much entertainment is now available via both.

With this title, we decided the most logical way to release it was in store. The IP’s widespread appeal means it made sense to have it on the shelves where people buy Kinect.

Microsoft is constantly updating Kinect. What can we expect to see from the technology in future?

We’ve done so much work just with software to enhance Kinect’s abilities over time. Since it came out, we’ve been able to do a lot more seated play, let people scan in objects and have the game recreate them. Even Kinect Rush scans in players and turns them into Pixar characters, which is awesome.

What we’re really interested right now is creating experiences that help you develop real world skills that help you in other parts of your life.

We’re also looking at how we can make people more like actors within a narrative. I think the work done in Mass Effect 3 has been awesome. We want to get to the stage where not only can Kinect detect what you’re saying but also tone of voice and body stance, and work that into the narrative. There are some really compelling experiences to be gained from that.

Mass Effect 3 and Kinect Star Wars have been deemed second generation titles for the device. What defines ‘second generation’?

One thing that has been great is integrating Kinect into a wider variety of titles and genres.

Mass Effect 3 does a great job of integrating Kinect in a unique way that’s different from other titles and in a way that really pays off for its fans.

Another thing about second-generation stuff like Kinect Star Wars was improving the responsiveness, such as when you wield the lightsaber. If you’re going to be a Jedi, you want a lightsaber that moves really quickly and smoothly in your hands. A lot of work has been done on that one-to-one action.

But the most important thing is that there’s so much variety and so many people doing different things with Kinect, that second generation basically becomes something you couldn’t see in launch titles.

It’s been great to see how people are using Kinect in ways that we would never have thought of. I’m continually surprised by the stuff we see from Kinect’s development community on a daily basis. That’s what I’m most excited about: how much room there is to invent new things with Kinect.

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