One of the oddest moments of EA's Press Conference was the unveiling of Harry Potter's Kinect functionality. The Weasley twins stepped up on stage to cast some hands-free spells in the new challenge mode... and if it's good enough for them, it had to be worth trying out for myself. Plus, my time with Sorcery's tech demo had raised the bar fairly high and I was looking forward to comparing how the two motion control peripherals handle wand-based combat.
As it turns out, there's a clear winner.
Whilst the upcoming HP title is a cover-based third person experience, the challenge levels resemble an arcade rail shooter. Harry trundles along a preset path, stopping frequently to deal with spellcasting Death Eaters that leap out from time to time. Once I'd stepped into the vaguely sinister Kinect Pod (complete with a perspex window so the entire gawping convention centre could laugh at my antics), the rep filled me in on the controls.
Flicking the right wrist and upper arm prompts Harry to launch a simple projectile spell in the direction that you gesture. Holding up the left hand and pushing outwards with your right triggers the powerful Confringo charm that blasts a massive beam of magical energy. Holding out both arms raises a shield that can block incoming blasts, and miming an underarm throw lobs an incendiary potion at groups of enemies. On paper, this sounds like a perfect little setup... except for one minor detail.
It doesn't work.
Flicking my arm and wrist usually resulted in my magical projectile veering off to the right hand side of the screen, with a little (yet noticable) delay between making the action and watching the result. I occasionally managed to get a shot on target, but it was exceptionally difficult to get any sense of bearing or position relative to the screen. This problem became infinitely more vexing with the Confringo spell that's practically impossible to aim. More annoyingly, Harry frequently cast it straight at his own feet even though I was aiming it straight ahead- resulting in self inflicted knockdown and muffled titters from the crowd behind the perspex.
The protect mechanic worked well enough, but the clunky animation created a massive gap between me raising my hands and Harry actually following through. Could it be masking a little lag? A little latency perhaps? Not half. The potion mechanic simply refused to activate- and no matter how many times the rep told me to keep my arms at my side (and how many different ways I tried), Harry stalwartly refused to do anything whatsoever.
It's possible that I just sucked beyond all reason... but if there's any sort of steep learning curve, surely that's going against everything that Kinect ought to stand for? Plus, I was delighted to see my fellow journalists failing just as miserably after I left. Vindication.
After this disastrous showing, the flustered rep assured that the demo represented a work in progress and that some serious tweaking would be taking place before release. And despite all my moaning, I genuinely hope that they get it working. I'm still convinced that the Kinect hardware has real potential to change the face of casual gaming... but it can only flourish by securing frequent big-name third party titles. For the love of Allard, Microsoft, get on the case.