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Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor interview: Capcom on Kinect

By and Jamie Wotton
'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom

Capcom's mech simulator sequel takes the Xbox original's proprietary controller - with its pedals, joysticks and dozens of buttons - and replaces it with Kinect's motion controls, with some effective and rather impressive results.

We chat to Capcom producer Kenji Kataoka on why they went with Kinect, Microsoft's thoughts on using a controller at the same time, and whether dying in the campaign will still wipe your game progress.

> Read our hands-on preview of Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor

What was it like going from a device with many buttons to a device with no buttons at all?

"The original controller obviously had all these buttons and levers, and it was one of a kind, really. When Microsoft were pitching the idea of Project Natal to publishers, when we first saw it we thought it was amazing. You are the controller itself. Your gestures basically control the game.

"We saw real potential in this idea, and we immediately decided and thought that Project Natal was Steel Battalion material. In a way, the original Steel Battalion was limited by the controller that we made, and couldn't do anything more than what the controller had equipped.

'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom



"Whereas Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor with Kinect, it can do things that the controller cannot do, like shake hands with someone or catch an apple. All of those things will be demeaned to pressing a button on a controller.

"In a way by using Kinect we've opened the door to pretty much infinite possibilities in terms of control form, be it sticking your hand out or waving your hand at someone, all these have broadened the sense of immersion in a game.

"The screen and yourself are the controller, rather than being confined to a classic controller or even a 50-button controller. Kinect would be a lot more than that."

Why decide to bring in a controller as well? Why both?

"There's a typical pitfall when something really new or innovative appears and that is to abandon everything that has been there before, and people try to do something or everything just within the newly-invented technology, which is a bad, bad mistake.

"That is why with Heavy Armor, you sit down to play, you don't stand up. If we then say, 'If you want to move your character, you'll have to do the moving gesture as well', you'll be exhausted after ten minutes. We want people to sit down and really sink into the game, and therefore we had to make it so you could play sitting down.

'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom



"You know, sitting down and playing is considered traditional and in the Kinect world, maybe standing up and playing is the way forward, but we didn't see the point of being confined within the newly-extended technology, so we thought of using the extension on top of what we already have in the long gaming history and it's conventions.

"Combining the controller and Kinect really came natural. We didn't want to force people to do something they weren't used to, just because it's new. We wanted to keep traditional controls on a traditional controller, so moving forward, rather than doing gestures, just press the D-pad, come on, that's easier.

"For things that only Kinect can realize, like shaking hands with someone or pulling levers or pressing buttons, that we use Kinect for. By combining the two, we truly managed to extend the limitations of traditional gaming and take it to the next step rather than having this new technology limit us which has happened in many other games that we see."

'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom



Do you think developers are being a little bit too ambitious with how they're using Kinect at the minute, and maybe they should take it one step at a time?

"I don't have the right or intention to talk about other games and how they use Kinect, but from my perspective it's really important to look at things from the consumers' view and not from the developer's view.

"Just because we've got a new technology, we don't want to force people to use it, saying, 'It's new, it's amazing! You have to use this!' That's not right. At the end of the day, yes, Heavy Armor does use Kinect and its new technology, but when it comes to comfort, we're not afraid to shred a few features of what Kinect can do and make it as comfortable to play and as immersive as possible.

"I think the current combination really is the result of all the testing we've done, it's where everything sits in balance."

'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom



How did Microsoft react to using Kinect and a controller at the same time?

"You know, Microsoft is a bunch of really bright people, their initial policy, actually, was a Kinect game needed to be Kinect-only but then we basically went there and just explained what we just told you, then they said, 'Hmm, you've got a point, why not then?'

"They were really supportive, they saw the point, and they understood the fact that… I think they feared that we would use Kinect as a gimmick, but really they now understand that for Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor - you need Kinect, and it's not just a gimmick, they're all meaningful movements, and they all understood a few years ago that that was the case and they were happy for us to go ahead."

From Software didn't develop the first one. Why choose them as a developer?

"When we decided to do a sequel to Steel Battalion, we had to select a studio to work with, and we obviously knew From Software from renowned titles such as Armored Core and Chromehounds, and we knew their stoic pursuance of quality from games like Dark Souls and all those hardcore games, and kind of synchronised with them really well, and we wanted to see their technology in their mech games or robot games with Capcom's existing know-how of action games, and we wanted to see what happened combined, and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor is the result of that."

'Steel Battalion - Heavy Armour' screenshot

© Capcom



The original game was quite challenging, and I'm sure you were keen to keep that aspect in this game as well…

"I mean, from the point where we used From Software, I think it was kind of set in path that it wasn't going to be a casual party game. It's not gonna work, is it? But in terms of difficulty, we obviously didn't want to overdo it, but we are highly-competitive people in Capcom and From Software.

"We couldn't stand the fans saying it's an easy game, we had to make it at least challenging. It's set fairly difficult, but obviously not impossible.

"We had to make it at least tempting, so it's set fairly difficult but not impossible. A lot of the perceived difficulty comes from getting used to Kinect, rather than the game itself; it's not as difficult as Dark Souls or anything."


In the original, if you died it wiped your save. Did you consider doing that here?

"Erasing your data once dying is a bit too hardcore, and we didn't want to make this game a masochist's game, so we refrained from that. But we did pay an homage to that by placing a self-destruct button, so if you feel like just throwing everything up in the air and destroying yourself, feel free!"

There have been ongoing rumors that there may be a new console soon, including a new version of Kinect. What features would you like a new Kinect to have?

"The main thing probably would be the resolution. Currently your hand is a point in Kinect. We'd like to see the whole hand being broken down into each joint so that it would detect your hand movements. Also, increase the AI of the voice recognition as well, because it's relatively primitive at the moment.

"Also we could do with some improved depth, so X, Y and Z. Lastly, possibly, the field of view. At the moment you have to be quite far away from the screen because it doesn't… you need two metres, I think, at least - if they made that shorter and maybe detected a wider field of view, then I think it would be nicer for most households. Especially in Japan where you don't have five-metre living rooms.

"Maybe not for next-gen Kinect, but the generation after that, I'd like to see a neuro-input device where you just have to think of a movement and your character does it."

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor will release exclusively on Xbox 360 on June 19 in North America and on June 22 across Europe.

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