Make sure you're Kinected... - This 8-Bit Life
So, I was a bit skeptical of the Microsoft Kinect when I first heard about it. The concept itself sounding absolutely amazing to me but, I was concerned about whether it could deliver what it was promising. So the question is, does the Kinect work as advertised? The answer is a resounding… mostly.
I actually kind of bought it on a whim, as I am often want to do. I had of course been following the coverage on it and a few of the launch titles that sounded interesting to me and was firmly on the fence about it. When it launched @ midnight on the 4th and I started seeing reviews posted (mostly on joystiq and IGN) I assessed what the internet was saying and it seemed to be about what I expected. So I picked it up and I have to say I’m not disappointed in the slightest. First of all, the setup was nice and simple. I could easily see buying this for a non-techie family member and them being able to set it up with relative ease. After I watched the concise video on how to use the device and calibrated it that was it. Nice and easy. From here I was presented with the ‘Kinect Hub’, which is a simple interface for the dashboard that gives you access to basic functionality like starting a game, opening ESPN, last.fm, calibration settings, etc. Everything is lain out well and the tiles for your options even have a nifty 3D effect on them when you hover over them with the cursor/hand. Making selections is fairly straightforward, you simply hover the cursor over a tile and wait a few seconds for a ring to fill up around the cursor. Your cursor will also snap-to items on the hub to make things a little less frustrating. The tracking is not quite 1:1 but it is extremely responsive and worlds away from the lagginess of the Wii.
After playing around with the interface a bit I loaded up the one game I bought (The Kinect does come with Kinect Adventures as a pack-in title.), Dance Central. I’ll review the individual games later, for now this is specifically about the device. I was impressed with the implementation of the device to control menus. Instead of using a cursor you are presented with a typical menu. You can highlight menu items by moving your hand up and down. I have to say that this definitely feels like the future, I was immediately reminded of Minority Report. To select menu items you simply move your hand to the right as though you were pushing the on-screen arrow over. Simple, functional and elegant. I hope to see this type of menuing utilized in more Kinect titles. I picked a random song to learn the choreographed dance for and was immediately impressed with the Kinect’s ability to recognize even the most minor of flaws in a movement. I am sure a lot of this has to do with the quality of the game itself but of course the game relies on the abilities of that hardware. I am certain we’ll see a ton of crappy games that have horrible tracking. I am not the best dancer in the world but I could definitely see this game improving my timing and rythm.
Next I loaded up Kinect Adventures which is a collection of mini-games that work more as a giant tech demo than an actual game. The responsiveness in a lot of these games felt a bit lacking. Again this illustrates my point that the quality of interaction is going to rely heavily on the software itself. One interesting thing that both Dance Central and Kinect Adventures do is take advantage of the camera in the Kinect. They will periodically snap stills of you playing the game or record short clips that can be used on XBOX live and, I believe, be posted to Twitter and Facebook. I haven’t confirmed this yet as I am hesitant to try lol.
I gave the Video Kinect a brief look and it’s definitely pretty compelling. If it were limited strictly to Kinect users it would be nearly useless but it has integration with Microsoft Live (read: IM). That means that if you have a webcam and their free IM software then you can make video calls to Kinect users and vice-versa. The motion tracking on Kinect is quite impressive, I was able to get up and pace around the room while having a conversation with my girlfriend and it followed me well. This all being said the video quality is just terrible. At 640×480 the quality is about what you’d expect from a 30 dollar webcam from Wal-Mart. The audio is actually quite superb though. I was able to speak in a normal, comfortable tone from about 8ft away with no trouble at all. The video was a bit choppy but the audio was crisp which is really the most important factor. I do hope that the next iteration of this device will at least have 720p resolution.
And now on to one of the nicest features of the device: voice commands. After familiarizing myself with the physical controls I immediately moved on to the voice commands as it had me pretty excited. You are able to issue the call “XBOX” to tell the device to start listening for a command, this in turn brings up a context menu with other command options like “Play”, “Pause”, “Kinect Hub”, etc. This works nearly flawlessly. I tried the last.fm app with this and was easily able to navigate the menus and control functions of the player even while music was playing. It is a wonderful experience and I cannot wait to see more Xbox programs use it. I can definitely see having people over to watch live events on ESPN and using this instead of messing around with a controller. So far there are only a few apps in the Kinect hub (Kinect Dashboard) that use this functionality but there is immense potential.
All in all I love this thing. The price is steep at $150, I hope to see a price drop around Xmas. It would certainly make it more appealing to the average consumer and that will in turn make it more successful. The gameplay is solid but lacking in hardcore titles, hopefully that will change with Child of Eden and I really hope to see M$ open up the device for the Indie Market devs. Its extra functionality like video chat, voice commands and menu navigation are all solid but could certainly use improvements. I would love to be able to make my own tiles in the Kinect Hub. I recommend casual and hardcore gamer alike go get one as I see them selling well come Black Friday.