Almost a Love Kinection.
Even since I took a computer science class on hand gesticulations for user interfaces (NERD!!!), I knew that they would be the wave of the future, and that video game consoles would be among the earliest adopters of the controller-free interactions that they would provide. Though the Kinect isn't the messiah or must-have peripheral that it wishes to be (yet), video games are now much cooler for the peripheral.
[image1]Comparing the glossy black, 11-inch wide, 3-inch deep Kinect to the Playstation Move and Nintendo Wii may seem obvious since they all attempt to bring in the casual market and incorporate motion controls, but the Kinect's technology is distinct. The system is completely controller-free, without any buttons, and scans your gestures and movements for navigation through the Xbox 360 Dashboard and of course for play in Kinect-supported games. By tracking 48 key joints on your body, it is able to combine that information with the webcam-styled RGB camera and depth sensors to create a 3D depiction of yours truly in real-time. It also includes a multiarray microphone for voice-activated commands, great for telling videos to pause, stop, rewind, and fast-forward without a pesky remote.
Installing the Kinect is a breeze. Right out of the box, it can be plugged into a USB jack on the Xbox 360 console. Slim models have a slot in the back for the Kinect that will power the device; older models will need to take use of the included splitter and plug. The peripheral can be placed above or below the television but is recommended to be placed above, so you might consider getting a mount if you have a flat-screen television. Wherever you put it, though, the circular rubber mount has a firm grip and the camera head will track your face and body for automatic adjustment. (I heard that it also tracks your life.)
While Microsoft is certainly right to tout the Kinect as a "full-body controller", it focuses on that fact too narrowly. The chief complaint of the device is that it requires six feet of space in front and about four feet from side to side, without any coffee tables or young children in the way. Anyone with a tiny apartment or a small living room will want to hesitate before getting swept away in the Minority Report fantasy.
[image2]But that's only because all of the games in the Kinect lineup – which is noted by their purple jewel cases – need that much space to work properly. Why aren't there any Kinect titles where the player can relax and sit? Not many people are going to navigate through the Xbox 360 Dashboard standing up, anyway. Hopefully, developers will catch on and create games for people who have had a long day at work and don't want to flop around their body before going to bed. (If they're going to expend that much energy, they might want to try, um, something else as exhausting before bed…)
The same goes for the inherent lag with the camera and the way interfaces work with the Kinect. Nearly every Kinect title asks you to control an in-game character by using your body, but most of the time, you're just moving to trigger preset animations instead of moving the character in real time. Most of the launch Kinect titles also have lag, sometimes debilitating lag, forcing you to do a move earlier than you might intend to. Dance Central has circumvented this problem by having players match the characters instead of the other way around, and is spades better for it.
You can also dock the Kinect interface of the Xbox 360 Dashboard for its hovering point mechanic that has you move your hand over a selection and hold your hand there for about two seconds. Other games, again like Dance Central, have already adopted the faster hover-and-swipe method. But this is more of a software problem, and one that can easily be fixed through a Dashboard update. On the other hand, you could just use the controller, which is usually faster and more precise.
[image3]Some will argue that the Kinect's price at $150 is too much given that the Wii and a choice Xbox 360 model is only $200. While the Kinect 4GB Slim Bundle is $300 and the 250GB bundle is $400 – both effectively saving you $50 – you also don't have to purchase any controllers or batteries. Sure, it's not as price effective if you intend to play Kinect alone, but playing the Move or Wii alone is just as unfortunate. And without the controllers, you can avoid the whole masterbation joke… maybe.
Some critics claim that the Kinect isn't catered for the hardcore gamer, and of course it does try to garner a wider casual audience. But the definition of the "hardcore gamer" is changing, especially given the right motion controls and the right game to go along with it. Is a person who can dance through the songs in Dance Central on Hard a casual or hardcore gamer? Absolutely the latter.
Don't look at the "B" grade for the Kinect at face value – that's only the grade as it is now. It will take time before developers, Microsoft included, gain enough experience with the device to create games and interfaces that are better suited and more polished for it. Perhaps the Kinect can introduce a button controller in conjunction with the full-body scanner, combining the physicality of its motion controls and the instant accuracy of a button press. Beyond the realm of blind optimism, I have every confidence that the Kinect will become an 'A'-range device. It just needs some lovin'.