Quick Hits: Dance Central, XCOM

There aren't enough hours in the day for E3. The expo floors are packed with video screens, play booths and makeshift meeting rooms. Some of the bigger news outlets here have upwards of 18 people attending, a small army setting out each day to invade and conquer the Staples center. GWJ is just a tight-knit squad of news solders, like Gears of War with significantly more neck.

What I'm trying and failing to say here is that there's no way we'll get to see it all. But we've seen a lot. Here's a couple of games that stood out to me on E3 Day Two.

Dance Central
Harmonix Lead Designer Dean Tate sneaks up behind me as I watch the professional dancers shake. "Are you ready to try?"

I tell him I'd like to ask him a few design questions first. You know, for journalistic integrity. Totally. He nods. I think he knows I'm stalling.

The hardest part of a dance game, from my own nerdy perspective, is getting past the initial embarrassment of dancing. No one wants to be that guy or girl, awkwardly doing the Carlton in the middle of the dance floor. Adding controllers or floorpads to the experience runs the risk of reminding you that you're dancing in your apartment instead of up on the stage.

Microsoft's Kinect solves the problem of the peripherals, tracking the moves you make without making you hold a Wiimote or stomp on the ground. But the real secret sauce to Dance Central is just how cool Harmonix makes you feel in the game.

After stalling as long as I could, I stepped up on the stage with a professional dancer and waved my arms around to start selecting a song. Unlike our experiences with Move, Kinect didn't ask me for any crazy calibration techniques. I put my arms up and I was done. Finally I picked an M.I.A. track and waited for the cues.

Shawn shot video of the event, mostly for blackmail purposes, but I've got a feeling the footage will show just how much of a blast I had. Did I dance well? I got 4 stars, but more importantly I felt like I was learning a dance routine and being given positive feedback when I did well. When the Freestyle section kicked in and I quickly reverted to my established White Boy Booty Shakin' moves, I had completely bought into the groove of the song. I never thought I'd enjoy a dance game, but this was a blast and Kinect performed extremely well.

XCOM
2K has a lot to prove with their reboot of the X-Com franchise, especially with the transition from a tactical strategy game to a first-person experience. They've convinced me XCOM will be a great game, but I'm not sure it'll be an X-Com game.

Our demo started in XCOM headquarters, an old airplane hanger in the 1950's that contains alien tech research labs and a War Room where players select missions. 2K stressed that the mission selection requires strategy, as there are consequences to saving a family from an alien threat instead of harvesting fallen alien wreckage. We got a feel for the NPCs we'd be interacting with and picked up some new alien weaponry, then headed out to stop Blob invaders from slaughtering a neighborhood.

The first-person mission sequences are easily the strongest part of the experience. With a couple of AI-controlled teammates, we watched as the player moved slowly through the neighborhood, searching for signs of the disturbance. Once we found the extraterrestrials, the action got chaotic. The Blob creatures from the first trailer played out in full form here, attacking and attempting to take over characters in a frightening, forceful manner. Our retaliation came in the form of Blobitovs, explosive fire grenades made from research on the creatures themselves.

As you can imagine, the house was a wreck when we finished off the last blob. Without control over the squadmates, one of our team had perished in the fight but a civilian had been saved. That must have angered the Blobs, because suddenly the whole house was attacked by the Obelisk shown in the trailer. It was an epic battle, with cars and fences disintegrating as we tried to flee. The demo ended on a fade to white just as the Obelisk was about to finish us off.

Like I said, epic firefights. But is it X-Com? 2K is going for their own spin on the game, and the world they've laid out looks pretty amazing. XCOM might not be the reboot fans were looking for, but I left the demo eager to explore 2K's version of a 1950s alien invasion. Count me in.

Comments

Cory totally missed his calling.

Spoiler:

You are actually pretty good, dude:)

What, Business Time wasn't an option?

Regarding XCom: Were you actually playing or watching? So you have zero control over squad actions (that doesn't bode well)?

Nevin73 wrote:

What, Business Time wasn't an option?

Regarding XCom: Were you actually playing or watching? So you have zero control over squad actions (that doesn't bode well)?

Watching. Just realized I didn't make that clear. 2K didn't show off any control options for the squad.

Megasharkawesome!
Well done, bro. Gratz on the cojones for stepping up there in the first place. And you even sell it by making it actually look like a fun party game.

Look at those hips!

Seriously, it's just awesome you even gave the dancing a chance.

I really wish the XCom game wasn't called XCom. The name seems more of a hindrance than anything. Then again, this is the studio that took on Bioshock 2, so I think they're use to being in this position.

Can you at least name the hapless redshirts anything you want? Something about watching Quintin_Stone getting blobbed to death appeals to me.

The real question is when the dancing was over, did your female dance mate become enthralled with you due to the Demiurge mating dance?

IMAGE(http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4039/4661222729_99d2b6308b_o.gif)

Rat Boy wrote:

Can you at least name the hapless redshirts anything you want? Something about watching Quintin_Stone getting blobbed to death appeals to me.

Me too!

When I was watching the Microsoft press conference, Dance Central was the only Kinect game that really grabbed my attention and made somewhat interested in buying one. The linked video only reinforces that thought. That game just looks like a blast to me, and it's a game that really isn't possible on the Wii or Move.

So I have a question about Dance Central: Did your onscreen avatar match up to your movements? It didn't really seem to from the video, but it was hard to tell. The avatar definitely didn't have the Cory Sway.

Nevin73 wrote:

So I have a question about Dance Central: Did your onscreen avatar match up to your movements? It didn't really seem to from the video, but it was hard to tell. The avatar definitely didn't have the Cory Sway.

The avatar on the screen was doing the correct movements. When I'd do something wrong, the limb that goofed up would be outlined in red. I have more questions for Harmonix on additional tracking, but the interface let me know when I was doing something wrong. Not sure if you can tell in the video, but I felt like I was noticing and compensating for my dance mistakes.

Additionally, I believe there's a small box to the right of the screen (by the upcoming moves list) that shows the lead dancer and backup folk in silhouette (white and red, respectively). While the colorful avatar doesn't match you 1 to 1, the silhouette gives you a good representation of what you look like moving.

Cory's got some smooth mooves, I will say that.

Here is a thing I know: Dean Tate, lead designer of Dance Central, also helped design X-com and the Bioshocks. Isn't that a career 180? He is everywhere like a mystery.

I just bought "Just Dance" for my sister's 18th birthday this weekend. Figured she could use it with her friends and such when she goes off to college this fall.

Anyway, this has really gotten me into the dance-game mood and I really like the way it works. I can't believe I'm being sold on Kinect by this but...I guess I am!

Like the 3DS, I was VERY skeptical when Kinect was announced. But hell, this dance game looks like a total blast! I know I'd have a ton of fun with it at Rabbitcon... as long as there was some Rush involved.

I'm curious, though: From the video, we can see that Dance Central does a good job of tracking "awkward white boy shuffle" (I don't mean Cory -- I meant Steve From Harmonix; Cory's actually not half bad). But how does it do with more fluid dancers? That is, is the game ONLY programmed to be able to recognize jerky, stiff motions from people who don't dance well (a la Para para or DDR), or can it accommodate dancers who've had a bit more practice, like the girl who was standing next to you? Do good dancers "bug" the game out?

If a Dance Central/Kinect bundle comes out at a decent price I could see Kinect getting some traction.

Yay! Glad I'm not the only one really interested in the dance game. My wife and I used to have a lot of fun with DDR at the house.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Like the 3DS, I was VERY skeptical when Kinect was announced. But hell, this dance game looks like a total blast! I know I'd have a ton of fun with it at Rabbitcon... as long as there was some Rush involved.

I'm curious, though: From the video, we can see that Dance Central does a good job of tracking "awkward white boy shuffle" (I don't mean Cory -- I meant Steve From Harmonix; Cory's actually not half bad). But how does it do with more fluid dancers? That is, is the game ONLY programmed to be able to recognize jerky, stiff motions from people who don't dance well (a la Para para or DDR), or can it accommodate dancers who've had a bit more practice, like the girl who was standing next to you? Do good dancers "bug" the game out?

Not that I have any info on it, but I'd assume it can recognize all levels of dancers. This is Harmonix we're talking about so they've got the classic Difficulty Levels to work from and I'm sure if you're playing on expert (or dance central equivalent) the game will keep up.

Now, does anyone possessing more than assumption and conjecture want to join in?

It can track the the higher level dancers. I was watching the professional choreographers they had on stage land five stars on tracks.

My theory on Kinect is that it all comes down to the software. So of course Harmonix knocks it out of the park.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

IMAGE(http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4039/4661222729_99d2b6308b_o.gif)

You know, you could probably synch that to any music you want and he'll still be dancing in tune with it.

That youtube video confirmed for me that I will not be purchasing Dance Central.

And I still hate 2K for abusing X-Com. They might as well have called it X-Files.

Kojiro wrote:

That youtube video confirmed for me that I will not be purchasing Dance Central.

I'd buy it if they threw in the dance instructor with the hat and the holes in her pants.