The Kinect SDK is doing the rounds at the moment; ending up in the hands of engineers, educators and plenty of homebrew coders willing to tap into the peripheral's massive potential. Indeed, Kinect seems to be revolutionising everything except videogames at the moment. However, a group of student developers at SRH Hochschule Heidelberg have also been provided with a dev kit... and are doing something quite remarkable with it.
They're actually making a game. And a damn fine one at that.
GravityPull gives its players the opportunity to dive headfirst into a visceral voyage through gaming history, meeting all manner of classic characters in their quest to get the quickest times and the highest scores possible. Kinect is crying out for more imaginative games with tight controls and artistic flair, and we're certain that this small university team are onto a winner.
Players hurtle through a tunnel representing gaming history, with a first person perspective and reckless sense of speed vaguely recalling the likes of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Blatant Disregard For Gravity. Gameplay revolves around collecting powerups for points and passing through boost rings in order to net the fastest leaderboard times, but this is just the context for a nostalgia trip that actually provided us with one of the most memorable experiences at this year's Gamescom. As mentioned, the tunnel actually represents the history of videogames, so you'll need to dodge around classic gaming characters instead of more regular hazards and barriers. Your journey starts out with the likes of Pac-Man and Blinky, hares past Donkey Kong and the 1UP mushroom and eventually culmanates with the Doodler, Raving Rabbids amongst many others. Eyecatching wireframe visuals and outstanding graphical fidelity make GravityPull incredibly easy on the eyes, and it looks even more beautiful in furious, hectic motion. The level on show was just a prototype and proof of concept, but the sheer amount of polish is nothing short of gobsmacking.
Like the very best Kinect games, GravityPull handles brilliantly so long as players are willing to throw themselves into it. The tunnel can be rotated using broad, intuitive arm movements, and players can move left and right by simply stepping or angling their bodies in the desired direction. Velocity is equally easy to alter by leaning forwards or backwards. After a minute of practice I found myself completely engaging with the experience, using my whole body to control the careening caper. Which, let's face it, is the whole point of the peripheral! The fact that a small student team has completely mastered Kinect's control capabilities is incredibly impressive... and doubly so considering that so many major outfits seem unable to follow suit.
In terms of development, MSc student Jeff Zimmer has been single-handedly coding GravityPull using C# and Microsoft's XNA Game Studio. Fellow masters Christian Gilde and Carlos Ott designed the game graphics from scratch as well as the handling the level design; leveraging a mix of Photoshop and Maya 2009 to turn two dimensional concepts into the striking 3D imagery. Maurice Bremer pioneered the original concept, gameplay mechanics and controls, laying the foundation for the title. Finally, Jan Hanisch has been working on the sound design and basing the music and SFX on traditional classics.
Zimmer, Gilde and the team are currently seeking a publisher - and we feel that the recently-launched (though slightly buggy) Kinect Fun Labs would be a perfect launchpad for the title. Naturally GravityPull will have to be redesigned thanks to its gleeful use of copyrighted game characters, but we're convinced that they'll make a fine investment for anyone willing to take the plunge and give them the funds and support to do what they do best. GravityPull has a bright future - and we'll keep you posted as we hear more about it.