June 9, 2009 was the day we were all exposed to “Project Natal”. In typical Microsoft fashion this accessory was named after a Brazilian city, it was shown off in front of an excited E3 crowd. Showcasing games such as Ricochet where you would use your full body to hit away sports balls, using the motion capture technology within “Natal” it was able to detect your movements and apply them on screen. The media was also shown a private demo featuring its inclusion into Burnout: Paradise, this skeleton mapping technology could follow movements of up to four people playing the same game, at the same time.
June 13, 2010 marked another E3 for the gaming industry; it was also time for Microsoft to reveal the name of their “World premiere ‘Project Natal’ for the Xbox 360 Experience’, we were finally greeted to Kinect. November 4, 2010 the Kinect was released to the public and sold an astounding 8 million units in 60 days, with an extremely hard push in marketing by Microsoft, which included a surprise guest spot on Oprah.
The Kinect has infiltrated our homes, but what did we really think about the experience it had to offer?
Kinect never excited me, I am an old school gamer at heart, I don’t like change. I love the idea of a controller, the revolution of wireless controllers wowed me, the idea of ditching my trusty and favourite controller from my Xbox 360, seemed crazy to me. Before movies as a kid my friends would play the light-gun game known as Time Crisis, this never interested me, I thought they looked like fools and the games were way to on rails and expensive for any kind of enjoyment from me. Also being one of the kids who were never good at sports, jumping around doing sport like activities in my own home didn’t seem to entice me on the Kinect. No, I wasn’t scared of having flashes of my past and ending up in the fetal position awaiting the bullies to get me, just didn’t seem like my thing. Doesn’t seem like I am all too keen on the “Xbox 360 Experience” does it? Well it may surprise you that I own a Kinect and actually have played the device quite extensively over the past few weeks.
My first real Kinect experience came with the 2012 Summer of Arcade title Wreckateer, this was an Angry Birds style game where you would use a series of boulders all possessing different abilities, trying to knock down castles infested by those pesky goblins. The games simple premise hid the fact that this game could actually be quite challenging, almost near impossible if you wanted every single one of those ‘Chievo’ points. My initial thoughts of Kinect possessing children’s titles and nothing that could keep my interest were gladly mistaken. Playing the game I was encapsulated in its world, forgetting that I wasn’t using a controller and only thinking about the game and the task at hand. Sure I did look like a complete tool, but the game dealt out an experience that was able to capture my attention and keep it long enough for me to finish the game, which even some AAA games, have not been able to do.
The Kinect experience does not limit itself to gaming; allowing you to live out your sci-fi fantasies as you can control your Xbox 360’s menus with the wave of a hand. Moving through each section of the Dashboard is one feature that will always wow my friends and family. Also containing an in-built microphone Kinect is able to recognize voices and key words.
Having purchased a Kinect at the perfect time, the Australian voice commands were all fully recognizable. Kinect gives you the ability to search using the Bing engine using your voice, “Xbox, Bing, X-Men”, the Kinect’s first voice test. There for my own enjoyment was every movie, game or gamer picture that was relevant to the X-Men franchise, without even pushing a button. The voice reorganization has even made it into some high profile titles, Halo Anniversary: Combat Evolved has the interesting function of being able to throw grenades via your own voice. The Kinect picked it up, sent the information to the game and in-turn threw the grenade. I tried this in empty spaces to test it out, it worked alright. But this is where the problems began when I tested it out during a real-combat scenario.
Lag. The simple and biggest issue the Kinect has to offer, the grenade voice command once it his recognized and sent through to the system has a 2-3 second delay, and this delay is enough to get you killed. This also resonates through the voice commands on the Dashboard, meaning your words will once again take a few seconds before the search even begins. This isn’t a big issue for the Dashboard since you are under no pressure and if you do not own the Chat-Pad controller attachment; this is still the fastest option to use when searching. However moving through the menus of the Dashboard became a chore, as it would either go crazy or skip many of the blades I wanted to view, or not recognize my motion at all.
This became an issue with Wreckateer as well, to the point where I was in a sweaty state of depression when my motions were either so lagged that they were not recognized in time for my shot, or just not noticed at all by the device. The other big issue is the amount of space this device takes up, the box describes 6-8 feet as the recommended clear space needed for best results. This example is clearly under-exaggerated because I had at least 10-12 feet of room for my play area, yet the Kinect still would randomly detect…Well it wouldn’t detect, telling me I wasn’t actually in the play area I arranged. These problems are so great, that they hold the Kinect back from reaching the heights it is trying to reach.
There have been strong rumours of a Kinect V2.0 being released with the ‘Durango/720/NeXBox’, but the fact remains this device needs to have one-to-one detection of your movements or there is no chance gamers will be happy playing games in this manner. Costing a player their lives in a game, from no fault of their own, is unforgivable to many gamers, so if this occurred why would they keep using the device? I know it seems crazy that the system has to have one-to-one abilities for motion and voice, but if it doesn’t the device may sell to casual gamers, but no one will buy games to play using the device and the hardcore gamer will have none of it.
The Kinect has potential to be a fun experience, most fun seems to be had in conjunction with the controller itself, this variation of both motion/voice and controller input seems to be the best way Kinect functions best for the hardcore market. But otherwise does the secluded couch loving gamer really wanting to play games this way? Even the casual market will realize their mistake when they have barely purchased games for their children on the original accessory, why make the investment a second time for a permanent dust collector?
The Kinect HAS potential, maybe not the potential to be the new evolution in the way games are played, but definitely to be a variation some gamers may enjoy. If it is to succeed the lag issue needs to be addressed, sure the accessory may cost more but I think if it isn’t up to standard it is worth it. Motion control gaming is going to be around for a long time, be it through touch controls, motion through our bodies or by waving around silly attachments. But until the experience can rival the performance that a controller posses. The Kinect will not be able to build on the solid groundwork it has built in this generation.
Choice in gaming is something we take for granted, even though motion control may not be for everyone. Someone else may only be able to have fun playing games in this fashion, with motion being here to stay, let’s make the experience something…Out of this world.
Jamie Briggs looks after Analog Addiction where you can find all his latest reviews, interviews and features and also like them on Facebook. Also follow his daily life on Twitter @AnalogAddiction and his videos on YouTube.