The first of two ‘interactive television’ products coming from Microsoft Studios this autumn, Kinect Sesame Street TV delivers exactly what that label promises. This is a familiar television programme delivered a familiar episodic fashion, with the only difference being that of its interactivity. While television shows are currently an entirely passive activity, that will all change with the launch of Kinect Sesame Street TV next week, as Microsoft Studios and London based Soho Studio present the first step onto an evolutionary ladder that the videogames industry has been dreaming of for decades.
Virtual reality was a fad of the 80s and early 90s that cited a future wherein the player would escape to an alternate universe; a construct entirely separate from our own and entirely man made. Many would argue that the likes of Super Mario 64 were huge leaps closer to making this technology a reality, and that World of Warcraft paved the way for such ideals to become more than mere experiences: they become an enjoyable and sustainable form entertainment in their own right. Kinect Sesame Street TV takes the promise of virtual reality and moves it into a different paradigm altogether. This isn’t you jumping into a virtual world; this is knocking down the fourth wall and having the virtual world become part of your reality.
Kinect Sesame Street TV may appear similar to Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster to many, and on the surface they might be right. However, Kinect Sesame Street TV takes things one stage further by using the technology developed alongside the Kinect hardware to revitalise the television shows, rather than create a spin-off with a similar attitude. There’s a lot of Lionhead Studios’ Milo & Kate in Kinect Sesame Street TV, so much so that the very first interaction is based on the area assessment technology. Hosted by virtual muppet Cooper, the player is introduced to the Kinect Sesame Street TV series with an incredibly simple yet endearing action: upon ‘seeing’ what colour your shirt is, our compère ducks out of sight for a moment and returns wearing the same colour shirt. A smirk-raising trick for adults, an utterly delightful action for young children.
Featuring eight episodes in the series (all of which are included on the retail disc) and a handful of unique chapters in each episode, Kinect Sesame Street TV isn’t light on content. Players can skip directly to their favourite chapters of course, but each episode presents the same series of themes as it would were it broadcast in the traditional fashion: a letter, a number, a season or a hobby are presented throughout, resulting in a videogame product that easily has as much educational value as it’s television counterpart if not more so. The interactivity of a videogame product does present more opportunity for a production like Sesame Street to get its audience involved, whether that be jumping to shake an item loose from a tree or responding directly to an invitation from an on-screen friend, it’s easy to see just how quickly children will become involved in the activities, and not just as a passive observer.
The visual quality of Kinect Sesame Street TV is also remarkable, with both real-time generation of its host, Cooper, filmed sequences and even combinations of the two. A brief glance at a chapter featuring Count von Count demonstrated just how effective the combination of muppet and real-time imagery can be. The developers have also made a very wise design decision; incorporating animated symbolism to denote when the player’s interaction is being recognised. Using the example of the shaking tree once again, as the player jumps leaves fall down the screen; an immediate and direct feedback that even the very youngest of children will be able to acknowledge, if not directly translate as a product of careful design and implementation.
Kinect Sesame Street TV will be launched as both a downloadable app and a retail product simultaneously, with the same recommended retail price (RRP) for either version – a commendable effort in its own right – but additionally a free Xbox LIVE app will also be made available. Presenting clips from the television show and the opportunity to purchase episodes individually, Microsoft Studios is clearly keen to test all the waters with Kinect Sesame Street TV. Soho Studios claim that the underlying intent behind Kinect Sesame Street TV was to create an ‘interactive experience unlike anything else,’ and from that which Electronic Theatre has seen, it’s looking very much like the team have accomplished this goal with aplomb.