My Elderly Aunt Skyrim

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Although the most recently announced Skyrim patch at time of writing introduces mounted combat, I’d like to take a step back and talk about the Kinect patch. Yes, this is the patch which only acknowledges the existence of Kinect’s microphone (and yet whenever people ask ‘why not have headsets supported?’, Microsoft execs put their fingers in their ears and scream ‘lalalalala’ very loudly). Having finally given Kinect-enabled Skyrim a try, I can confirm that the patch has the unexpected side effect of turning this epic, critically-acclaimed RPG into something resembling an elderly relative.

What I mean by this sloppy simile, of course, is that the voice recognition isn’t perfect. No big surprise perhaps, but… you know… this is Kinect! The company that developed it tells us it’s amazing hardware, so it must be true. Heck, they’re planning to use Kinect technology to help build stuff in space like some kind of god-like Lego set! Apparently! So I suppose the hope was, shared by Microsoft and its customers alike, that Kinect’s microphone was somehow magical. Well, it ain’t.

In all fairness some of the voice recognition works perfectly, even though I have the bare-faced cheek to speak with an English accent. If I say ‘pause game’, the game is paused. If I say ‘quick map’ while playing then, without fail, I get on-screen text confirming that Kinect heard me correctly and Skyrim lays its map open for me. Quick skills, quick magic… the basics work nice and smooth. But it’s no fun talking about what works properly, is it? So let’s get started! Carefully placing Kinect beside me like the cyborg child I wish I had (his name would be Christopher Chrome), I popped Skyrim into my 360, downloaded the patch, and dived in.

I’d watched the Kinect tutorial video about three weeks before, and I’d almost paid attention. As such I kind-of-sort-of-nearly remembered a few commands, but not enough to have a firm grip on the system. Still, the whole idea is to make it intuitive and accessible. How hard could it be? I was about to find out. My latest save placed me in the middle of a friendly town, with no enemies anywhere near. A nice, safe place to test the voice commands. Regarding the blank yet non-aggressive faces around me, I decided to try something simple. “Equip sword.” I said in clear, confident tones.

Storm Call

Instantly (and very much unintentionally), I summoned a localised storm. Furious at having their rags drenched – or possibly more bothered by the lightning which struck them repeatedly, slowly and painfully dealing out electric death – the entire town began to converge on me, determined to express their displeasure through the time-honoured tradition of introducing me to pointy things at great speed. After a quick and fully justified rolling of the eyes, I reloaded my save.

Later I found myself exploring one of the many many (many) Draugr infested dungeons. The enemies were getting tougher; I’d already come up against Restless Draugr, Draugr Overlords, and Draugr Death Overlords. If you haven’t played Skyrim, trust me – I’m not making these names up. Anyway I thought that, due to the lack of autosave points in these dungeons, making a save while I was about halfway through would be a good idea. And of course, with my newfound power I could do this without fiddling about in menus. “Quick save.”

Quick Save

No, not... never mind.

Worked like a charm. Now, how to load that save I just made? ‘Quick load’ and ‘load game’ had been ignored. So how about “Try again”?

Fire Breath

Damn, one of my precious Shout opportunities wasted. Even worse, the huge plume of flame I belched out did no more than shift a harmless corpse a few feet to the right. Wait a minute; shouts! Of course, I can use shouts by saying the name of the shout or, best of all, by calling the Words of Power. Which one to try? Well, there’s only really one choice, isn’t there? Double checking there was nobody nearby to hear me make a complete fool of myself, I called the immortal words: “Fus Ro Dah!”

?

“Fus Ro Dah!”

?

Fus Ro Dah!!

?

“Oh, fuck off.”

?

At least it didn’t start swearing back at me. I would most likely have soiled myself.

Later in the same dungeon, I found myself facing a whole pack of powerful Draugr. I needed to keep my distance while using the most powerful weapon I had to hand, which was a magical staff. “Equip staff.”

Storm Call

What was it with this game and the Storm call? I wouldn’t have minded, but we were deep underground! As the plants outside were getting some life-giving water, possibly while children who had been playing tag in the streets moments before were now crying out in pain as the heavens sought to fry them, undead warriors tore me apart while I tried to scare them off with a stern look. In combat, Kinect was not my friend.

Another day, another Skyrim session where I wrestled with Kinect. Having spoken moments before with Brynjolf from the Thieves Guild (who looks amusingly similar to Ginger from British rock band The Wildhearts), I decided to give the voice commands another try. This time far from any enemies who might take advantage of Kinect’s insubordination, I again tried to equip a weapon. Optimistically, I tried “Use sword”.

New Save

Brynjolf, on a day off from thieving.

Yes, now I know that the Kinect commands don’t actually allow you to equip weapons and items during gameplay (which is a bit stupid if you ask me). Still, the game would sometimes acknowledge that I was trying to equip something and refuse to do anything about it, without explaining why. More often of course it would simply mishear me, thus: “Equip right flames”

Frenzy Spell

“Equip left healing”

Shield

And so on (incidentally the game didn’t do anything shield related – just enthusiastically informed me that it was aware of the existence of the word ‘shield’). Having finally given up on the equipping lark, I decided to go back to something that I’d tried briefly and had actually experienced success with. Opening the magic menu with my voice, I found that the game was happy to instantly switch between the various magic types as I spoke them. I was particularly impressed with the ease with which it recognised me saying ‘conjuration’ – four syllables! I had to say the word ‘illusion’ three times before it reluctantly admitted that was what I was saying. Also, even though most of the voice selection worked perfectly, I still had to use the joypad to scroll through and select spells. The phrase ‘half arsed’ comes to mind.

Later, while creeping carefully round a house I was planning to break into (yes I’m still talking about Skyrim), my eldest daughter came into the room looking for something. She explained what it was, and told me when she found it.

“Okay.” I said, smiling.

Fire Breath

Oh if only, IF ONLY this were a character race.

“I thought I heard something” said the bright lad guarding the house, as a red-hot plume of deadly flame thundered through the gate a few feet to his left. I then heard him make angry noises, and grunts and cries as though in combat; though I couldn’t see him, as he was just out of view round the corner. I decided to sneak round the walls and launch a surprise attack.

After a few cautious minutes, which included picking two Expert level locks, I found myself looking down on the area where I had inadvertently disturbed the guard with my fiery belch. At that exact moment, I saw a woman looking down at a corpse on the grass.

“Oh, what happened?” she asked with complete disinterest, as she walked away.

I jumped down to investigate, hoping that the nearby soldier wouldn’t mind I was clearly trespassing and about to loot a fresh corpse (he didn’t). The dead young man was the guard, whom I’d been warned could prove to be a fearsome opponent. I’d been debating whether to tackle him with my most powerful weapons and spells, or take the extra time to clear his debt, thereby currying favour with him. Instead he had, so far as I could tell, picked a fight with an unarmed hedge and lost.

I’d previously found that even if I kept my mouth shut, Kinect could still misinterpret speech; by listening to what in-game characters were saying. Once again with my rock star friend Brynjolf, he had cause to say “I appreciate the armour”.

Pause Game

Rather than unpause the game I left everything on hold so I could think about how truly wonderful that armour was, and how lucky we were to have it. It’s what Brynjolf would have wanted, and who knows? Perhaps his AI was so advanced, he’d paused the game on purpose. Although that is extremely unlikely.

Oh, dear old auntie Skyrim. Her hearing may not be so good, but it’s always nice to laugh at her. I mean, with her.

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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