Michael Jackson: The Experience (Kinect) Interview

Don't stop till you get enough (answers to your questions)

Michael Jackson The Experience Kinect Interview  Everybody Plays
12th March, 2011
If you've read already read our hands-on preview, you'll know that we had a trip down to the posh London Covent Garden Hotel to play the upcoming Kinect game, Michael Jackson: The Experience. After sitting in the reception for a while, looking a tad underdressed in our jeans and hoodies, we were led into the basement of the hotel, where we managed to get an interview with the producer for the Kinect version of the game:

One of the first questions we have has to be about the way Michael Jackson: The Experience for Kinect is going to be presented. With the Wii one, which was based on Just Dance, it was very easy to get into - you just wanged a Wii Remote around and it worked. I can't help but feel that people are going to look at the Kinect version, and think it looks a lot harder than the Wii one, because it's tracking both your feet and hands – and everything else. Is it that much more difficult?

It is actually tracking the feet, the hands and the entire body. The main thing though, is we tried to make it as accessible to everybody as possible. For example, when we were working on the dancing system, me and the actual choreographer for 'Beat It' had a dance-off – and even though I'm obviously not a dancer, I was still able to beat him a couple of times, and him me. So we're aiming at a broad range of people, not just at fans or dancers – everybody. We made sure that the scoring system and the body-tracking will fit that idea.

I guess in this case, the increased accuracy could be something of a worry. How accurate do you have to be, in terms of what you're doing matching the screen?

You need to move the way that the coaches show you to do. We have a tolerance level for how far away you are from what the coaches are showing you, and we score you based on that.

So the more accurate you are, the closer you are to it and the better you score?


With regards to the singing and the karaoke part of it, how accurate is that? Is it tracking what you're singing?

It is actually tracking what you sing, based on the pitch and the actual singing of the lyrics. It's a bit more permissive than the dancing, because the part where you dance and sing is quite difficult already, so we needed to make it more permissive than a karaoke game. So on the singing parts, you'll be able to concentrate on it as much as possible, and we'll just score you on what you did.

I noticed there was no pitch bar or anything for judging how close you are to what you should be singing.

No, there isn't. We are still comparing your pitch to Michael Jackson's pitch, but as we know, nobody can sing or dance as Michael Jackson, so we had to bigger tolerance and be a little bit more permissive.

[Editor's Note: We spoke to another Ubisoft representative later in the day who told us that the game only tracks the rhythm, not the pitch of what you're singing. We're awaiting further clarification from Ubisoft]

With regards to the development of the game, was this – or the Wii version – in development before Michael Jackson died, or is it something that's happened since?

We've actually been working very closely with the Michael Jackson estate for a long time. They've been very helpful and provided us with a lot of assets from his concerts, video clips, songs, lyrics – everything. So we've been working very closely with them.

Around when did the partnership begin?

We started the project about two years ago.

Michael Jackson: The Experience Screenshot

Become the King himself.

Is there going to be any DLC available?

It's on the table. It's under discussion. But I can't reveal anything yet.

I was hoping for a Captain EO themed DLC pack, with the choreography from the film...

(Laughs and smiles, knowingly, perhaps.) We'll see. As I said, it's under discussion. I'm afraid I can't reveal anything more.

How well do you expect the game to do? As the Wii version came out first, do you expect these to sell to two different audiences, or do you think people who bought the Wii version will also buy the Kinect version for the extra features?

That's a hard question... I hope so! As you saw, it's not the same game, and we're aiming for a broad range of people – the more the merrier, really.

I noticed as well there's no difficulty options on the songs – you can't pick an easy route through the songs, or a hard one. So is there only one choreography set for each song?

Each song has a difficulty rating. Some of the songs do have two different difficulty levels – complete performance is generally simpler, and the master complete performance is more oriented towards the fans, with the choreography as close as possible to the videos. So if you compare our choreography to that of the 'Beat It' video, you'll see it's very close.

Do you have to be more accurate when you're doing the Master Performance then?

It's the same scoring – we're still trying to have a broad range of people playing it, and not just fans – we tried to make it accessible to everybody. So either as a fan or a regular player, you can still do it if you want to challenge yourself.

Michael Jackson: The Experience Screenshot

Sing along with the master performance.

In terms of learning the songs, how easy is it to just jump in and do the moves? Because with things like Dance Central, I have to break it down and go very slowly while I work out what all the moves want me to do.

To make it easier for the players, you have a learning curve throughout the song. It doesn't necessarily start with all the moves, or the more physically demanding ones – we keep this harder part of the choreography to the end, trying to build up to these moves as you go through the song, so if you play the song once or twice or maybe three times, you'll be able to do all the moves by the end.

So it's not that the song changes the more times you play it?

No it doesn't change – it's just that the beginning choreography of the song is a little bit easier than that at the end. So it becomes more complex as you go through.

Does the Kinect version have any extra fan service bits – like Michael Jackson facts and pictures?

The Kinect version does have the Michael Jackson school, where you can access videos of some of the people that he worked with, choreographers explaining how certain moves should be done in things like Smooth Criminal or the moonwalk – his iconic moves are explained by the people he worked with.

I guess that leads us to the question everybody wants to know – will it teach you to do the moonwalk?

I was just discussing this with one of the other journalists – he was trying Billie Jean. You don't need to moonwalk [in real life] to do the moonwalking [in the game], but the more you practice the more you'll be able to do it, so eventually it should!

So the Michael Jackson School will be telling you the secrets behind the moves, then?


Michael Jackson: The Experience Screenshot

Make sure you stay standing in the circle

With regards to space – the game seems to use a similar sort of thing to Your Shape. My problem is, with Your Shape, I actually have a few problems running that in my living room because I don't have the room to do the stretches. Does this need the same sort of space as Your Shape? Is there a minimum amount of space it needs?

Yes, it will need a minimum amount of space but we did take this into consideration when designing the choreography. [We understand that] there will be people who may not necessarily have enough room in their living room, and people in some countries where their living rooms are very small and limited, so yeah – we did take the space into consideration [when designing the moves we'll ask you to do].

With regards to the multiplayer, I was kind of expecting it to allow for two players at the same time, with the same sort of duet dancing as Just Dance does?

It's mainly a limitation of the Kinect technology. We can track two skeletons with Kinect, but the player projection can only cope with one person at a time. So that meant we had to design the multiplayer around this limitation.

That's why instead, we've got a co-op mode where each person takes it in turns?

[Yeah]. It's still a lot of fun though, because you never know who's playing next or what the next player will be doing, whether it'll be singing or dancing, or which section they'll be doing. So this is why we have a relay of people jumping in and out.


So there you have it - Captain EO DLC as good as confirmed! Or at least, we hope so, just for being able to legitimately do the thrust parts without the disapproving looks from pensioners you tend to get when you get just a bit too into the song while waiting for the bus... For a more in depth look at the game's features (and to hear how we got on when we went body-on with the game), why not check out our Michael Jackson: The Experience Hands-On Preview
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