It all started with the Wii Fit. It took a surprisingly long time for publishers to realise that the applications for motion gaming went beyond merely entertaining younger audiences. The average Australian gamer is now 32, according to Bond University, and looking for ways to expand their experiences beyond shooting the latest type of generic antagonist. With the success of the Wii console, which was marketed towards older and casual gamers, came the realisation that full-body interactive experiences were here to stay. After that, the Wii Fit was peripheral hardware designed to combine fitness training with an interactive medium and the concept was met with huge consumer uptake, selling one million units in a little over the first month. The Wii fit was built for a casual audience on a casual console and the stage was set for a more serious approach to the relatively new genre of fitness gaming. After the commercial success of the Kinect and Move (from Microsoft and Sony respectively) came the inevitable demand for fitness games for a more serious audience. So here we are, with the release of Adidas' Micoach for Kinect and Move last week, we've moved into the world of serious training regimes for casual and hardcore gamers alike.
Micoach is training software available for the motion control peripherals Kinect and Move. The game allows you to input data through a variety of ways to tailor a workout to your needs. Using the cameras on the Kinect, for example, to track your movements and offer training tips for whichever sport you choose allows the game to correct mistakes and effectively improve your workout. I got a chance to chat with Will Genia of the Queensland Reds and the Wallabies about fitness games and how the new breed of serious titles embraces a more athletic audience while still staying accessible.
The Micoach system boasts some impressive sporting names, including Genia, who have weighed in on the development for a variety of sports. Kaká, Dwight Howard, Ana Ivanovic, Eric Berry and even José Mourinho all feature in their respective fields. The training also extends to these sporting personalities helping, throughout development and in-game, to tailor the experience to the player's needs.
As I've mentioned, previous sport training software concentrated on casual players. The difference in Micoach's design and implementation is the focus on appealing to the serious market. Specifically, Micoach approaches this through sport-specific training and adult design, but the future of fitness games lies in cross platform integration. Usually this would mean cross-console, but rather Micoach does this by utilising a pedometer and heart rate monitors (that need to be purchased separately, or in the Micoach App) to gather accurate information about your training program as you work out and relay that back to the console.
This is an important step for the genre and it's what puts Micoach ahead of existing fitness software. Genia is quick to mention the benefits of a personalised experience, "Mate, it can get as personalised as you want it to be, that's the great thing about the game. The interaction is great, you can build your own personalised training program, input your own personal data and develop it as and when your fitness improves. Not to mention I'm there walking you through the workout the whole time. I think that's pretty personal."
Providing the game with accurate information, not merely standing on an electronic balance board, about your fitness level would seem like an important facet of a well-rounded workout but before now that technological integration wasn't possible. When you combine this personalisation with the ability to tailor the training to your sport of choice, it's easy to see what the fitness genre has been clamouring for. Genia offered his body and mind to help improve the rugby aspect of the training to account for a near professional level of dedication if needed. Genia's comments on the in-game professional help were especially encouraging. "The great thing about the game is the interaction. It's a blast training with an actual athlete, I'd say it's got a lot in common with professional training. The fact that you focus not just simply on pure strength, but core strength and flexibility is spot on. Those are both really key in training these days."
The last, and most important, aspect of the new generation of training games is the sport-specific help. Having Kaká to help you with your football fitness and Dwight Howard to assist your basketball skills is a concept so brilliant it's a surprise it hasn't been done before. Who would know what it takes to succeed in these sports better than them? Genia also helped to make the rugby training as smart and professional as possible, as he enthusiastically described, "the rugby training programmes are really good, I think the exercises are key to good physical conditioning and will help any rugby player get stronger, faster and fitter overall, which hopefully helps you stay injury free during the season. On set and in the development of the game, I had a lot of input and worked together with the Athlete Performance guys to make sure the specific exercises used were just right for rugby."
Taking the genre away from a general fitness focus and concentrating on techniques to help a player's area of interest can only be described as the future of fitness software. While the genre isn't ready to take on physical fitness trainers, who hasn't wanted that level of advice in the privacy of their own home?
The Kinect has been around since 2010, but only recently have we seen a gradual shift toward serious motion gaming. This can only be a good thing as gamers desire a greater range of experiences from their entertainment machines these days. When examining fitness games, and Micoach, the differences are obvious. For a game to encompass the casual aspect of merely getting in shape with serious athleticism and sport-specific training regimes is a surprisingly large step for the genre. To say that motion gaming has finally embraced all groups, and not just the casual crowd, may still be wishful thinking as a greater variety of titles are still needed. Regardless, Micoach is certainly a step in the right direction to broadening the genre's horizons.