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'Skyrim' with Kinect: We try shouting at some dragons!

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WE FUS RO DAH IT UP!

Skyrim
Skyrim

It started last November. A week after Skyrim had released, Todd Howard and his team at Bethesda Game Studios had their first Game Jam. The concept was simple: Howard told his team members to spend the next week putting something cool in the game. It could be whatever they wanted and while it may never get released, it was a cool exercise for a team that was likely pretty beaten up from the grueling bug-fixing stage. A video, first publicly released at DICE, revealed some of these creations to the world. One of these creations was the addition of a slew of new kill cams which have already been added to the game as a free update. The next Game Jam idea is already planned for release: voice control functionality with Kinect. Earlier this week, we had the chance to test the Kinect update by belting some dragon shouts in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan.

It started last November. A week after Skyrim had released, Todd Howard and his team at Bethesda Game Studios had their first Game Jam. The concept was simple: Howard told his team members to spend the next week putting something cool in the game. It could be whatever they wanted and while it may never get released, it was a cool exercise for a team that was likely pretty beaten up from the grueling bug-fixing stage. A video, first publicly released at DICE, revealed some of these creations to the world.

One of these creations was the addition of a slew of new kill cams which have already been added to the game as a free update. The next Game Jam idea is already planned for release: voice control functionality with Kinect. Earlier this week, we had the chance to test the Kinect update by belting some dragon shouts in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan.

Skyrim's Kinect functionality is strictly limited to voice controls (so no swinging your invisible sword or anything like that). That said, the voice controls are pretty diverse.

The first feature we tested: dragon shouts. (Sadly Bethesda wouldn't let us film the experience, so you don't get to hear me sounding like a jackass.) There are two ways to use dragon shouts with Kinect. The first is just to say the English name for a given dragon shout. For example: "Slow Time" will cause you to use the "Slow Time" shout. It doesn't need to be equipped, so you can say the name of any shout you have already unlocked. If you say the English name, the game will automatically have you cast the highest level shout for that word.

But there are plenty of you who probably want to be all legit and yell dragon shouts in the true dragon language, just like Dovahkiin does in the game. You can do that too. While holding the right bumper, you can say individual dragon words to call up different levels of shouts. So, for example, if you only want a level one "Unrelenting Force," you can just say "FUS!" while holding down the right bumper. If you want to do the full level three version, you do the same, but you say the full "FUS RO DAH!" instead. Simple as that.

Admittedly, accuracy here was a bit of an issue, especially when using the dragon language. I had a tough time getting a specific level shout to activate right when I wanted it, and sometimes other shouts would be called by accident. The English version seemed much more reliable, though.

Beyond shouts, you can navigate Skyrim's menu, saying things like "Quick Magic, Destruction, Fireball" to select your fire spell. You can also assign favorites to voice. For example, saying "Assign shield" while highlighting your favorite shield will cause the game to equip that shield whenever you say "Equip shield." You can do this with a number of different categories, from swords to bows to magic types.

Other handy additions include being able to quick save or quick load by just saying those words. I was actually able to quick load with my voice while I was falling off a cliff. Theoretically you could do the same with the "Become Ethereal" shout to save yourself from a nasty fall.

Inventory nuts will also appreciate the ability to sort by weight and value using voice. You can also set loot thresholds so that you'll automatically pick up only objects of X value and higher, thus keeping you from becoming bogged down with unnecessary carrots.

All told, the Kinect update is cute and occasionally pretty handy. Based on the so-so accuracy I wouldn't really trust the Kinect controls when your life is on the line, but when it comes to navigating menus or calling out your favorite shouts, it'll probably help you shave off a few mindless seconds here and there. For a free update, it's pretty hard to complain about.

"There are going to be other ideas that will be implemented. How those are going to be deployed...is still being determined." Fingers crossed for dragon riding.

During my play session, Matt Grandstaff, Senior Community Manager at Bethesda, mentioned that we haven't seen the last of the updates from that Game Jam video. "There are going to be other ideas that will be implemented," he told me. "How those are going to be deployed, whether it's downloadable content or through future updates, is still being determined." Fingers crossed for dragon riding.

Oh, and still holding your breath waiting for honest-to-goodness Skyrim DLC? Said Grandstaff, "I think you're going to hear stuff pretty soon. It's not too far off. They are looking at sizable content that they want to do. [Fallout 3's] 'Point Lookout' was referenced as a benchmark. It might be a little bit bigger or around that size."