Does Kinect-style motion control work on mobile?

Does Kinect-style motion control work on mobile?
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

July 16th 2014 at 3:26PM

We speak to X-TECH founder Arman Atoyan about how full-body motion control works on smartphones and tablets

Full body motion control on home consoles has proven to be quite divisive amongst consumers. While many enjoyed the early EyeToy games on PlayStation 2, Microsoft's oft-criticised Kinect did not enjoy as glowing a reception – particularly with the enhanced second-generation version that was originally bundled in with Xbox One.

But developers are experimenting to bring these experiences to far more popular gaming devices: smartphones and tablets. Using the technology created by Extreme Reality, a firm that specialises in enabling full-body motion control with just a standard webcam, Armenian studio X-TECH has introduced the control scheme to its endless runner SnowBall Effect.

We caught up with X-TECH founder and CEO Arman Atoyan to find out how this control scheme is handled on mobile devices. You can check out SnowBall Effect and its full-body motion control in the video below:

How does the motion control work in Snowball Effect?

First, some background on the game. SnowBall Effect is a “runner” game but instead of an avatar, players control a rolling snowball through a variety of different obstacles. The game was originally launched in March 2014, and is available on iOS, Android and Windows. After initially introducing the game with tilt control, we wanted to provide our users with a different experience. The X-TECH team had developed other games for Kinect in the past, and we thought it would be a good idea to add motion control to SnowBall Effect. We started by integrating the Leap Motion controller, but many of our customers didn’t have the hardware.

Then we learned about Extreme Reality and the ability to integrate motion control without hardware. The way it works is that a user stands a few feet away from their tablet or PC, raise their arms to calibrate the motion control capability, and then move their full body to control the path of the snowball. The objective is to keep the snowball rolling and growing, collect coins as you pass them, and avoid obstacles such as rock and trees. The goal is to accumulate as large a snowball as possible -- the record is 5,000 kg.

How hard was this to implement? What barriers did you have to overcome?

Our team has had experience with motion control since 2011 with the games we have developed for Kinect. It was an easy process for us to integrate Extreme Reality after having that experience. We also received fast answers from the Extreme Reality support staff when we had questions and the documentation for the API answered many of our questions. 

What does this type of motion control bring to mobile games?

Motion control is a totally new and really cool experience for our players. It’s much more immersive than traditional controllers.  With Extreme Reality, it’s even better as nobody ever expected you could have motion control through a regular camera in the tablet or PC they already own. 

How does it compare to developing motion controlled games for consoles, e.g. Kinect?

The difference is that Extreme Reality is entirely software-based, so it requires no additional hardware that players have to purchase like the sensor hardware for Kinect and Leap. It works best on higher-end cameras.

I would say that Extreme Reality is somewhat easier to develop for because it is all software. Kinect can, however, provide slightly better and accurate data and the ability to track more than one person – as many as six people.

In terms of comparing to Leap, our users tend to prefer full body motion control versus the finger control that Leap offers. 

What technical challenges do you have to account for, and how do you overcome them?

Motion control of any kind requires significant compute resources. Over the years we have learned how to best optimise our code so we can dedicate more resources to the motion control. As new devices come out with faster processors, this will be less of an issue. 

What challenges do the players' circumstances, i.e. Where they play, how they play, present you? How have you tackled these?

A cool thing about Extreme Reality is that it’s mobile and can be played on any device. This is opens up a huge new market for us, as there is limited numbers of people who have Leap or Kinect hardware at this moment. Also, everyone is moving to mobile gaming, playing at lunch or other free time, and because Extreme Reality enables gameplay on mobile devices, we’re seeing more and more use.

Do you expect to see more developers introduce this type of motion control into their games?

Yes, sure. Since it provides a new experience, it’s easy to retrofit traditional motion games with this motion control capability. We like that it can be played on any mobile device – the market is huge.