Microsoft's three-eyed wünderbar.
Novemeber 2010 saw Microsoft’s Kinect released worldwide. Previously known as Project Natal, or simply Natal, the computing giant pulled no punches in expressing it’s intentions with this product. This was the motion control system to rule them all.
Thinking back to early 2006, Nintendo announced at E3 that the much rumoured ‘Revolution’ project would be renamed as the Wii for launch. Much of the gaming world looked puzzled as the obvious urine-related jokes emerged and general concerns of ‘epic fail’ surrounded the branding. Few remember the concern now, as the Wii is now synonymous with videogaming in everyday pop-culture. Everyone from Gordon Brown, to generic geriatrics have been getting in on the wrist-flicking tennis action and motion controlled games are as mainstream as monopoly at family gatherings, or drinking games at parties.
Ironically, Revolution would’ve been a far more fitting name to the little white box. Whilst it did not bring the traditional gaming developments of shinier graphics, it took it’s control innovations, and thereby bust the gaming market wide open. All of a sudden people that had never played games other than minesweeper, or indeed anything, were getting involved, buying hardware, software, peripherals and expanded the sales base within one Christmas period.
Nintendo managed to hold on to this highly profitable sector, almost exclusively, until 2010. With the release of the Sony’s PlayStation Move system for their already well embedded PS3, Nintendo suddenly had a major competitor. Nintendo of course had a three and a half year head-start (and a 40-month catalogue of shovelware to prove it) which had given it a chance to get it’s family-friendly reputation into the hearts and minds of buyers and place the Wii under their televisions already. Sony of course, with the power of the PlayStation brand were no slouch either, but would their more ‘hardcore’ gamers be interested in Waggle-technology?
Well, for every gamer that tried the Wii and came away having been entertained, but ultimately disappointed at the limits of the accelerometer technology, the PlayStation Move answered their prayers. With that extra time between the Wii and Move, Sony had invested in improved accelerometer tech, added gyroscopes and camera tracking thanks to the use of the PlayStation eye camera. This suddenly meant 1:1 tracking ratio for movements using the Move wand and an unprecedented level of accuracy for gaming. This took all of the games concepts that were possible on Wii, and made them more immersive, more technically impressive and of course, high definition. Essentially, they made it interesting to core gamers (the community rarely uses the term ‘hardcore’ for gamers any more, they realise how pathetic it sounds). Following the release of some solid launch titles, which conveniently echoed those most successful full on Wii (Wii Sports = Sports Champions for example) the PlayStation Move sold well beyond expectations, considering the lack of coherent marketing. It was bought by those ‘in the know’.
Microsoft, never one to be to be far behind when there is serious money to be made from technology – took a rather radical approach. Remove the controller entirely.
That, in a rather convoluted way, brings us to the point of this blog post. The Xbox Kinect. Much to my surprise, I received a Kinect and Xbox 360 slim for Christmas recently (Thanks Claire, Mum and Dad!). As we already have the aforementioned Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 with Move in the household, I thought I’d be in a good place to offer my thoughts on the Kinect.
The Kinect is a very smart combination of hardware and software that allows full motion body-tracking of several people at once, in almost any lighting situation. This immediately overcomes one of the biggest issues with the PlayStation Eye camera, lighting requirements. The Kinect raises it’s own set of questions and needs however. How on Earth do you play games purely on motion tracking? How much space does it need?
Well, to answer the first, surprisingly well. The concept of using your body as the controller was initially concerning to a pessimist like myself. Currently it does appear to limit the scope of the types of games you can play with them, there’s no first person shooters for example (and nor can I see how they might implement Kinect controls for one, as the sole input at least). However, what it does offer right now, works better than I could’ve imagined. The launch titles vary hugely in quality and experience but those that I’ve experienced include Kinect Adventures (the pack-in title that comes with Kinect purchases), Kinect Sports and Harmonix’s Dance Central. I’ll come to those in a moment.
In terms of how much space it needs? Well, rather a lot. Unfortunately all of Microsoft’s advertising surrounding Kinect, shows players using the system in warehouse-sized living rooms, or in one instance, an actual warehouse. The reality is that the software asks you stand at least 6ft back from the television, with 6ft of width minimum, this is for one player. Two simultaneous players naturally will need more room depending on the game in question. We have quite a small living room, and aside from bashing into sofas fairly regularly, we managed to work the games without much hassle. We’re not ideal, but we’re not at a point where the system is not able to work. Unfortunately for Microsoft, many, many bedroom gamers will not be in a position to utilise Kinect. This would’ve included myself had I still been living under my parents roof! The best advice here is to measure up, or even better, borrow a friend’s Kinect to check for sizing. If you think it’s far too small, it probably is, if you’re unsure that it might be a touch too small, you’ll probably be fine with some creative placing of the sensor.
If they made overweight Avatars it'd be more accurate
Kinect Adventures, as I mentioned previously, is bundled with each Kinect Sensor. It offers 5 fairly lightweight mini-games to give you a feel for how the Kinect operates and how it allows you to interact with the system. It isn’t however, the most fun selection of games available, presumably in a smart attempt to give you a taster, but pushing you to seek out other titles.
From my perspective, the ‘River Rush’ rafting game (for one or two players simultaneously) is a favourite. Reflex Ridge is surprisingly knackering having you jump, crouch, pose and crotch thrust in a bid to race and collect point tokens. 20,000 Leaks is pretty much a 3D version of Twister you play standing up (that’ll make sense if you play it) and Rally Ball is a 3D version of Breakout/Arkanoid, that you play standing up. The really weak mini-game is Space Pop which basically involves you flapping your arms and stepping back and forward to collect point tokens. Whilst your actions are faithfully represented on screen, it’s just a boring and aimless exercise.
Later in the week I’ll be looking at Kinect Sports and Dance Central in some short reviews as I don’t want to push your attention span for too long, plus I want to get to bed soon!
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and thanks for sticking with me this first week of blogging on Eighty Three.
A slightly different approach this weekend as I thought I’d be better placed to write a more in-depth article using the weekend as a whole rather than two separate posts for each day. Comments welcome.