Electronic Theatre has long sung praises for Microsoft Studios’ ‘2-way TV Experience,’ and now that it’s here the proof is most certainly in the pudding. Just like the leap to three dimensions, the constant advancement of visual fidelity and the advent of motion controls for videogame consoles, the interactive television experience offered by Kinect Sesame Street TV is a generational leap. However, just like those other events of note, this interactive television might not be to everyone’s taste.
Ignoring the subject matter for a moment, Kinect Sesame Street TV presents a revolution for television that, if it manages to achieve the success it so clearly deserves, will become the future of entertainment broadcasting. Many smart TVs already include Kinect like features, and so it’s only a matter of time until the potential for the techniques used in Kinect Sesame Street TV can become widespread: imagine an adult programme where the lead character in a mafia opera turned to you and asked you to aid him with a drive-by, or a scene in a hospital drama where you take the part of an anaesthesiologist, monitoring and informing the surgeon of the patient’s heart rate. These are potential designs the tech behind Kinect Sesame Street TV is more than capable of, should it pass the litmus test of an international family audience, and that’s a big ‘if.’
Kinect Sesame Street TV is exactly as you might imagine if you think of an episode of the television programme with interactive sequences, rather than a videogame based on the Sesame Street franchise. Kinect Sesame Street TV has more in common with a DVD of the series than Double Fine’s underrated Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster: it’s not a collection of mini-games, nor is the gameplay a main feature of the videogame product. It’s an optional extra, an aside which places the Xbox 360 one stage closer to being a family entertainment centre and one stage further from being strictly a videogame console.
Kinect Sesame Street TV features four episodes in each season and the retail package contains two seasons. Each episode lasts between thirty and forty minutes and is structure very similarly to an episode of the television programme: a series of short, light hearted clips with a central theme, and represented by a single letter, number or both. Each episode of Kinect Sesame Street TV is brought to you in the same tradition as more than forty years of the television series with one major difference: interactivity.
Each chapter of each episode features a varying amount of interactivity, depending on the on-screen action. Asking the player to jump to help dislodge items from a tree or ring a hanging bell, waving at animals and throwing coconuts, as well as the action featured in every episode: take pictures of a specified object in each episode’s core story sequence. The player is always congratulated for their participation, whether they achieve full marks or not, but even when the player makes no effort to interact the episode will wait a short while before continuing under its own steam. A seamless transition between live recordings, Kinect Sesame Street TV will prompt the player two or three times before simply loading a bypass sequence and moving on to the next part of the show. There is no win or lose, there is no fail, there simply is the show.
The visual design of Kinect Sesame Street TV is fantastic. Our new muppet host, Cooper, is created specifically for the videogame is entirely virtual, along with Mirror – another new muppet – are comprised entirely of the graphics processing capabilities of the Xbox 360 console. Other effects, such as occasional backdrops or interactive items are rendered in the same way, but the vast majority of the production uses high quality live action sequences. It’s a remarkable feat that the change between animation and puppetry is so close that few will acknowledge it, and even fewer will be take issue. The sound design is also near-perfect, with the voice acting just as well presented here as with the television itself.
Alongside the dual release of digital and retail versions of Kinect Sesame Street TV comes a free app, featuring a number of clips from past shows and other features. To suggest that Microsoft Studios is presenting Kinect Sesame Street TV as a new wave of children’s entertainment on Xbox 360 is understating the fact: this is not an accompaniment to the television programme; it’s a replacement for it. As with any other entertainment product, of Kinect Sesame Street TV builds an audience the advancement of hardware will open up many more doors for interactive television and Electronic Theatre can plausibly see a future where children see the interactive nature of titles like Kinect Sesame Street TV as a standard part of their television entertainment. Kinect Sesame Street TV is bridging that gap between passive and interactive entertainment, and that is nothing less than an extremely exciting proposition.