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Hands-on with Madden 13 at E3: Kinect's killer app

Surprise, surprise: new technologies and one of the best uses of the Kinect I've ever seen made Madden one of the stars of the show.

James Martin

Normally, a new version of EA Sports' Madden Football is an E3 non-event. Not so at E3 2012: in fact, it became a sort of poster-child for future-forward gaming.

Admittedly, the second-screen Madden prototypes on Xbox SmartGlass shown briefly at Microsoft's press conference aren't real (yet), but Madden 13 does feature integrated Kinect features and completely new player physics, dubbed Infinity Engine.

The most interesting part of the Madden's Kinect feature-set is that it doesn't use the camera: instead, it relies on voice commands as a way of controlling pre-snap adjustments on offense and defense. Joe Montana seemed to pull it off well during Microsoft's keynote, but I needed proof. I tried it in a relatively quiet E3 show floor booth, and it not only worked, but it could end up being a feature I actually use.

EA Sports reps say that Madden 13 recognizes up to 6,000 words. Like Kinect controls on the Xbox 360, a menu of accepted words for the given situation appear on-screen: Audible, Line, and so on. Individual players can be called by name, and a second menu appears with options. You call appropriate moves by voice, instead of browsing menus with a control pad.

Why is this useful? Before a snap, there are enough parts of a game to pay attention to without pulling up sub-menus. My problem with Siri on the iPhone has always been that its voice recognition takes time to figure out what works and what doesn't. The Kinect cheats the system by offering you direct command suggestions, eliminating the guessing.

It looks like voice commands could shave an extra click or three, maybe even saving a precious few seconds. If that's the case, then Kinect voice command could catch on quickly. Also, let's face it: it just feels cool to bark out audibles like a stressed-out QB. Once in a while, the Kinect had a hard time understanding me, but the moments were few and far between.

EA Sports

The new physics may matter even more. I played Madden 13 in New York a few months ago before the Infinity Engine physics were implemented, and the difference could be felt in my half of a Jets-Patriots game. Broken tackles are now more of a living struggle than a set of preordained animations, and running backs and linemen push off and roll into open space with a more kinetic flow. Physics are hard to describe on paper, but a slow-motion instant replay of a linebacker tackle on a running back revealed body motions that looked utterly real. (And, yes, I tried a few plays with Tebow, but I realized I'm absolutely terrible at executing the Wildcat.)

Oh, and in my first game with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms as commentators, I have to admit I like the move.

Madden 13 comes out August 28, and I can't remember the last time I was this interested to play.