At Microsoft's E3 media briefing today, Ubisoft announced a new entry in its stealth action series Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The on-stage demo was set on the Iran-Iraq border and showed series' protagonist Sam Fisher shooting, strangling, and mauling "terrorists" in conveniently de-personalizing headscarves. At one point in the demo, Sam climbed up the wall of a building in the enemy compound and while hanging of the second-floor ledge the player called out "Hey you!" to get the guard's attention.
It was a small feature, and one that's been used in several other games from Mass Effect 3's voice-commands to Ubisoft's EndWar, the voice-controlled real-time strategy game. Kinect's speech recognition was a major part of Microsoft's press conference, featured in demos of FIFA 13 and Madden NFL 13, where players can call out plays, audibles, and hike the ball with voice command. Users can also use Kinect to do Bing searches and navigate the Xbox dashboard with discrete voice commands.
But there was something especially promising about Splinter Cell's feature to let player's call out to other characters in the game. More than motion controls or menu navigation, the ability to relate directly with fictional characters is an powerful idea that could potentially build on some of the most interesting attempts at making conversation a form of play, from Facade to L.A. Noire. Blacklist's Kinect features is an extraordinarily simple example of this idea, but even in that limited form it connects to a rich and exciting network of experimental game design. Why shouldn't Kinect be the basis of an interrogation scene with Sam? Building a conversational bridge between him and those de-personalized enemy could be an amazingly dramatic way to transform a player's relationship with all those identity-less drones they're so used to attacking for fun.