I’m a big fan of the futuristic science movie Minority Report which has a famous scene where a character manipulates photos and information on a screen by swooshing their hands around.
So I was quite keen to attend the Australian media launch of Microsoft’s XBOX Kinect, a new camera system that uses infrared sensors to allow people to play games and issue commands to play movies, tv, music etc on their XBOX via body movements and voice commands instead of holding a games controller in their hands.
For a contrarian view on Kinect I recommend reading the very funny Charlie Brooker’s Guardian column Why talk to a computer? Surely talking to a human is traumatic enough?.
If you don’t own an XBOX already you can opt to buy a 4GB Xbox 360 slim console, the Kinect, a copy of Kinect Adventures game, one controller and basic cables for $449. If you already own an XBOX (even if its several years old) you can get a Kinect for $199 and just plug it in.
In terms of bonus features: Kinect has Video conferencing built in which is a handy extra easy to use feature for XBOX owners and FOXTEL Internet Pay TV on the XBOX 360 will offer lots of channels including Fox Sports, Discovery, Disney, Nickolodean, Video on Demand etc without needing a cable TV box (minimum 1.5mbit broadband internet required).
Joy Ride – Example Body Controlled Kinect Game
After the Microsoft managers announced Kinect was being launched in Australia on Thursday 18th November there were several gaming areas setup so that the media could try Kinect out by playing some of the 15 games initial games which will be launched for the platform.
As an example I’m playing the new XBOX Joy Ride racing game below by holding my hands as if they were on a steering wheel and using my body to lean to the right to steer around a right corner. The video shows my journalist friend Leigh Stark driving the game for a lap.
Kinect – Initial Verdict
Kinect says it will let you control games using your body and this worked to a large extent. However it felt really strange to be playing games which required physical exertion like bowling with visual feedback but no physical feedback to your hands. The promised voice and hand signal command driven music/tv/video features weren’t available for testing.
For example I like 10 Pin Bowling so I tried that option in the Kinect Sports game. While there were interesting tricks like glowing arrows on the bowling alley to show where the ball was going to go and the ball trajectory on screen impressively spun in the direction my wrist moved, it felt very strange not to have the weight of a physical bowling ball in my hand.
Similarly I like driving games so tried out the Joy Ride game but not having a wheel or games controller to make subtle movements meant I had to lean my whole body to the left or right to turn, the car accelerated by itself by default and there wasn’t a reverse gear.
So the technology works but I agree with WIRED that there should be more Kinect games which work with minimal, subtle body movements. Also it would probably be more effective with a combination of a controller, body movements and voice, i’m told this functionality will be enabled in the future.
Overall playing Kinect made me tired faster than I expected, even though im pretty fit walking over 50-60km a month. A lot of gamers prefer to sit on a couch or beanbag while playing so i’m not sure if the Kinect will appeal to them. However it may appeal to non-traditional gamers like people who found the Nintendo Wii fun.