Kinect: Innovation or end of an art form?

Gaming Editor

Adam El Araby

©xbox-kinect-xbox-360

It’s hard to watch TV, read a magazine or even browse the web at the moment without being subjected to the ridiculous sight someone flailing their arms manically, jogging on the spot or rolling around the ground like a dog. What’s the cause of all this extraneous exertion? None other than the herculean marketing machine behind the launch of Xbox 360 Kinect, Microsoft’s foray into the motion-controlled gaming depths so thoroughly plumbed by the Wii Remote and Playstation Move.  But is it worth the hype? Don’t be silly, of course it isn’t but it might be some day.

The first thing you’ll notice about the device is just how large it is. It’s long and deep and comes in the same glossy black that the new slimmer Xbox 360 uses. Unless you’re rockin’ a widescreen CRT TV, you probably won’t be able to stand this thing on top of it easily.  Luckily for you, MS are kindly offering a Kinect stand for a mere €30. How thoughtful of them.

There’s a heft to it that reveals the amount of technology that’s been packed in here. It combines an infrared laser with two cameras to enable it to track your body’s movements in 3D in almost any lightning condition. It also has a built-in microphone that can be used for video chats or in place of headset on Xbox Live.

Once you have it placed under or over your TV you’re going to have to contend with the greatest challenge of the Kinect experience. Setting up a suitable space for it to work its magic. In order to function correctly, the Kinect requires that there are no obstructions between you and the device and the player should be at least six feet away. A tall order if you want to set this up in a small bedroom or student accommodation. Just to make it work I found it necessary to move around most of my living room to satisfy its imperialistic desire to exert control over my home.

Microsoft offer a whole host of hints and tips about how to make it work optimally including everything from changing your clothes to buying a new house with more even lighting but most of the time it picks up your movements fairly reliably, if you have the room. Once your redecorations are complete and the builders have gone home it’s time to turn on your 360 and set the bad boy up. You’ll be taken through a series of simple tests designed to make sure it can see and hear you clearly. Kinect is mounted on a motorised pivot that nods up and down when the system boots, which when combined with its two large eye-like cameras, makes it look not entirely unlike a miniature Johnny 5.

Prior to Kinect’s launch, one of the main areas of concern was whether or not it would work while sitting. Early reports indicated that the system was incapable of properly recognising a seated body but Microsoft managed to sort it out in time so now even the hopelessly lazy will be able to get in on the fun and control the dashboard with just a wave of their hands. One of Kinect’s other main features is its extensive suite of voice commands, sadly and irritatingly, these would be supported for people in Ireland until sometime next year. But having tried them, I can say that they work well.

Kinect requires more power than standard 360s are able to provide via USB, so it will require an extra free plug, unless you have one of the new 360 S units, which have been designed with Kinect’s requirements in mind.

The most worrying technical issue with Kinect at the moment is the noticeable lag between your actions and when they’re picked up in the game.  It can be quite jarring at first to adapt to the delay and it makes the overall experience feel less immersive. Rather than being in the moment of the action on screen, it often feels more like you have to predict what will happen in advance to account for the Kinect’s lag.

With Kinect Microsoft promised an innovative new way to interact with games that would open up exciting for opportunities for the medium. But the launch titles have largely failed to offer anything new.  With a steep price of €150, it’s hard to recommend Kinect to all but the staunchest early adopters. There is hope however, in the form of exciting titles like Child of Eden. It’s clear that, whatever happens, Kinect is a major part of their future strategy for the Xbox and it’ll be very interesting to see what impact it’ll have on the industry.

Top 5 Kinect Launch Titles

So you’ve decided you want to jump into the world of controller-free gaming, but of the 16 launch titles, which are the best? We’ve gone through them all to give you an idea of which ones pick up first.

5. Sonic Free Riders

Sega’s blue mascot didn’t waste any time getting onto Kinect. Less casual-orientated than most of Kinect’s early fare, Free Riders offers a surprising challenge as you pretend to be racing on a hoverboard. Overly awkward controls and clunky menus mar the experience slightly but there’s plenty of content here for Sonic fans to enjoy, including single-player and online modes.

Hidden behind Sonic’s usual bright graphical style is an in-depth racer that takes quite a bit of skill to master. The campaign is a lengthy series of races and as you progress new boards and bikes can be purchased to upgrade your performance.

4. Your Shape: Fitness Evolved

We’ve seen fitness games perform extremely well on the Wii and it’s a no-brainer that Kinect’s controller-free interface would make it perfectly suited for exercising at home. Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is the first such game to make it out. If you’re interested in using your Kinect to get a work out, Fitness Evolved is the way to go.

It shows off the power of Kinect by putting a surprisingly well-rendered image of your body on the screen and will get your heart pumping with a range of exercises including squats and boxing. Finally, when you’re ready to relax, Tai Chi and Yoga are included too.

3. Kinectimals

Although I am undoubtedly an incredibly manly man in all respects, I couldn’t help but be won over by the incredibly cute feline cubs offered by Kinectimals.

The story is pretty basic; you’ve landed on a mysterious island where you’ve been informed treasure is hidden. How do you find this treasure? By playing with the kitties. Wonderful. You can teach your animal friends a wide range of tricks or play with balls, Frisbees and RC cars.

The animal AI is adaptive and endearing at all times. Kinectimals is an impressive display of what Kinect is capable of and surprisingly enjoyable despite its cute exterior.

2. Kinect Sports

We’ve all probably had enough of sports theme minigame collections over the last few years but the Kinect technology allows Kinect Sports to feel different to the rest. Arguably the most impressive display of what Kinect can do, it uses full-body motion tracking to get you involved in the on-screen activities in ways that Wii or Playstation Move cannot.

There are six main games included in the package, Table Tennis, Boxing, Beach Volleyball, Soccer Bowling and a collection of Track and Field sports including javelin, discus, hurdle, sprint and long jump. Multiplayer supports two players at once.

1. Dance Central

If you can only get one game to show off your Kinect, make it Dance Central. From Rock Band developers, Harmonix, Dance Central sees the player dancing along to on-screen prompts while Kinect watches your moves to make sure you stay accurate. It also cleverly avoids lag issues by not showing your dancing on-screen.

It’s tough and tiring but always great fun. The tracklist has something for everyone with artists from Lady Gaga to Beastie Boys included. Just like in Rock Band there is a range of difficulty levels to suit everyone from dance pros to complete beginners.  If you have even the slightest interest in dancing, you will probably love this. It’s excellent for parties too.

Originally published in the 23/11/2010 edition of the UCC Express

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