It’s a big week for mature gamers with the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops. But the biggest Xbox 360 news is the release of Microsoft’s motion and sound sensitive, controller-free Kinect. Kinect is hot – 4 of the top 5 selling video games use Kinect, and currently the top selling bundled console is the Xbox 360 250GB Console with Kinect. Nintendo Wii and Playstation Move both require a controller in your hands, but with the Kinect, YOU are the controller.
How does Kinect work?
According to David Pogue at the NY Times:
“The Kinect is a glossy, foot-wide, black plastic horizontal bar. You plug its single cable into your Xbox. (If you have the bulkier, pre-2010 Xbox, you also have to plug the Kinect’s power cord into the wall.) You park the Kinect itself on, or beside, your TV. During start-up, a motor moves the bar on its stand, making it scan the room up and down like some would-be Wall-E. It has four microphones and three little lenses: a video camera, an infrared projector and a distance sensor. Together, these lenses determine where you are in the room.”
Microsoft developed sophisticated, specialized “’machine vision’ technologies designed to map the skeletons of players as they stepped in front of a camera so that foot, hand and head movements quickly trigger like motions on screen. They also devised ‘beam forming’ microphone technology that could focus on verbal commands coming from a player, ignoring the ambient noise likely to be occurring in a living room during game-playing sessions” says WSJ.com. Microsoft also created software for what the “Kinect development team called the ‘annoying little brother problem’—the phenomenon of a sibling sneaking up behind a player and trying to disrupt their game-playing by waving their arms in the air. The group created software that lets Kinect ignore such distracting motions”.
Microsoft’s director of the Kinect technology, Alex Kipman, says “Kinect uses its software to essentially form a virtual cone around the speakers mouth and listen to that one spot for commands. And it can do that even if the person is moving.”
Clear out your living room
Kinect is motion sensitive, and your whole body is the controller. So start by clearing the entire area between the sensor device and players – Kinect requires LOTS of open space, standing up, and moving. Move that coffee table, furniture, lamps, and any delicate items out of the way. You’ll need to be at least 6 – 8 feet (but not more than 12 feet) away from your device and TV; 6 for 1 player, 8 for 2 player. And you’ll need the play space to be at least 6 feet wide (but not more than 12 feet wide). You’ll also need to be sure the room has bright even, lighting. Watch out for people hitting each other. And be prepared to get sweaty. I’d recommend checking out the Xbox Kinect web site here.
Reviews for the Kinect highlight a fun, impressive game experience when things work right, but also point out several software bugs and instances of sluggish, uncoordinated play. There’s also the hassle of controlling the interface with your hands and voice, instead of a controller. The biggest issue is the amount of space the Kinect device requires to function correctly, and recognition in multiplayer simultaneous play.
Engadget: “The Kinect as hardware is great, but there’s plenty of room for software engineers and UI designers to improve. And speaking of room, if you’re worried about cramped space, you might want to get a measuring tape before shelling out $149.”
Joystiq: “It’s bordering on absurd how broken Kinect is when it comes to something as simple as working in your home…”
NY Times: “You can’t play Kinect sitting down, and that’s a plus. I left my two youngsters alone with Kinect Adventures one afternoon. When I returned, they were drenched with sweat, panting hard and practically levitating. “Dad! Dad! Can we get one for Christmas? Please? Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing doctors say, “I think your kids really need to play more video games.”
IGN: “Most of the sports included just don’t control well, especially the football running challenges and the kicking games in the soccer category…Boxing was also incredibly unresponsive…MotionSports is not a strong launch title for Kinect. Its inconsistent controls, poor interface, and general lack of polish keep it from being the entertaining mini-game collection it could have been. I highly recommend that gamers looking for a sports compilation go with Kinect Sports instead, which is far superior in its controls and interface.”
Popular Science: “A bounding leap forward in potential for the future of gaming, your living room, and the way we interact with machines.”
The Guardian: “The console is pricey and some games are flawed, but it is undeniably impressive and filled with potential.”
Best game to start with?
The launch titles with the most favorable reviews are Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures (comes bundled with Xbox console), and especially for kids – Kinectimals.
“Kinectimals is easily the top-rated game for the Kinect. Basically you choose a wild cat that you adopt, and then you explore an island with it, playing mini-games and interacting with it along the way. You can play games with your adopted cat, pet it, and teach it tricks. This game is geared specifically towards children… It isn’t a very deep game, but it is a solid entry for children (and only children).”
In the end…
Overall, the Kinect looks exciting and fun. It’s new technology so, unsurprisingly, it has a few issues. A lot of complaints seem to be about the amount of room and available space required to play using Kinect, which makes me think those reviewers are new to motion sensitive controllers. We have a 10 foot deep and 9 foot wide area in our living room (that only requires moving a coffee table) to play on our Nintendo Wii. Games that make you move require space. I don’t consider that a negative; it’s just the way it is. Another thing that we find helpful, to avoid accidental black eyes and bloody noses, is when we’re playing a multiplayer game where we take turns - if it’s not your turn, you’re on the couch. It’s for safety reasons. Trust me.
We’ve never gotten an Xbox as there’s never been too many games for children available for the Xbox console - mostly M rated. But with the Kinect comes a whole slew of family friendly, esrb rated E titles. Not to mention anything that gets our family moving more is a plus. Something to think about. But for now, I think we’ll stick with our Nintendo wii, as there are a number of new releases we’re putting on the list for Christmas.
Sidenote: Although its only been out for less than a week, the Kinect device has already been hacked. Here’s an example of a Kinect being controlled by Windows 7, not an Xbox.
Have you tried out Kinect? What did you think?