My (brief) Kinect Adventures

kinect 1

(This is the point where you are standing in the middle of the floor, leaning to one side, flailing your arms like a loony, and hoping the neighbours don’t decide to pop round any time soon.)

If you have been following the gaming news, you probably know all about the Xbox Kinect already. Made up of a set of cameras that you attach to the console, it removes the need for an actual physical controller. Instead you can posture and dance around in front of the Xbox and Kinect recognises what you are doing.

It also likes to embarrass you in public, and is the sort of smug device that informs you graphically that it isn’t just misinterpreting your baggy jumper, but can figure out exactly how fat (or thin) you are underneath.

Thanks to a good friend with a new Kinect, I got a chance to go over and try one out last weekend. I was intrigued, but mildly dubious. I knew it was supposed to be good but there’s always an element of doubt until you see the thing working in person.

Kinect: the good

First off, it is frankly quite an amazing device. The xbox has never had a nice controller so being able to ditch it completely was always going to be beneficial. But even just being able to control the device by waving and (possibly) shouting at it is a very different way to interact with technology.

Kinect turned out to be very adept at picking out the various different players, all of different shapes, heights, etc. There is even a mode where it can show you how it has traced a skeleton for you, to prove that it really is tracking the arms and legs properly.

The games themselves are a mixed bag, and it’s going to be an acquired taste. We tried one of the dance games that’s been well reviewed and I wasn’t all that excited by the whole thing. Dancing is cool, having a console that can track your moves and tell you when you’re doing it wrong is cool, but as a game it’s just not all that fun. It’s probably a great keep fit programme though.

The game that really grabbed me though was the raft racing that came with Kinect Adventures. It’s in the screenshot at the top.

It was intuitive in a way that I’ve just not experienced before in a computer game. As soon as you see the opening graphics with the first person view of the raft about to go down the water chute, you just know that you’re expected to act as though you’re balancing on that raft. You know that you’ll steer it by leaning in one direction or the other. When the raft goes up a ramp, you know you’ll be able to get more height by jumping when it reaches the top.

And it works in exactly the way you’re expecting. The screen gives you all the feedback you need to adjust your stance, ‘steer’ through the obstacles, and collect the balloons by hitting your ramps full on.

This is just the beginning. This type of game isn’t new (Horace goes Skiing goes back as far as 1982) but this way of controlling it is something you might only have associated previously with very expensive simulators. Now you just hook up a Kinect and can ski/ raft in your living room.

Having seen it, I can’t wait to see what else devs can come up with. I think this type of controller really needs a very different approach to UI and game design so that it feels natural (like the rafting) and not awkward (like the leak sealing game).

Kinect: the bad

You may have heard that it needs a room with a lot of space. The bad news is that it needs a room with a lot of space, which is one of the reasons that we won’t be getting one Chez Spinks. (The house is an old Victorian terrace with small rooms.)

I mentioned earlier that Kinect likes to embarrass you in public. The way the current set of games do this is by taking pictures of the player and showing them to you afterwards, asking if you’d like to share them with your friends (!) In fact, the games we tried deliberately set up stupid moves for you just so they could take pictures at exactly that point. How mean is that!??

Anyone else tried the Kinect? What did you think?

4 thoughts on “My (brief) Kinect Adventures

  1. Actually have one of these setup at work (with that Adventures game in fact) and I’ve seen a few people play it.

    It looks to be a somewhat promising technology, but I think despite the fact that it appears to be commercially viable now — which is to say, there are people who are going to buy it — it is still very much in its infancy.

    It’s sort of like that mindreading controller that was released I guess 2-3 years ago now, I forget the name of it or the manufacturer. Honestly in that case I don’t know how commercially viable it was, it seemed to take a lot of effort in training people to use it.

    Basically it worked by allowing you to map key presses to certain impulses, started off with just one or two and could ultimately increase your maximum number of keybinds. From what I understand if you were willing to put the weeks if not months into training yourself to use the thing, it was pretty spectacular… But… it was still only mapping impulse to keys.

    Baby steps and all that, but this is the technology I’d more like to see pursued and continued to develop, perhaps even in conjunction with these more active based camera controls. Despite how uncannily accurate they can seem to be at times, observing other people play I can see that they were still a fairly ‘loose’ control mechanism.

    I’m guessing that is largely due to the limited processing power of the Xbox360, but I don’t really know.

    In any event, I’m glad to see such technologies getting out there and getting out there in means and by companies which should ensure their success; I just want more and I want it now. 😉

      • Pretty nifty video.

        I found the device I was talking about as well, it was released by OCZ, and is called the NIA or Neural Impulse Actuator.

        One review of it can be found here:–neural-impulse-actuator-review/1

        But that fellow had a pretty short time with the device, was able to get a beginners grasp of controlling it via muscle movement and glance direction, but didn’t have enough time to start learning alpha/beta brainwave control.

        Given that I’ve heard next to nothing about the device since it launched in 2008, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it probably didn’t do too well. I’m imagining that was largely because it was just too difficult for too minimal a gain.

        I hope it doesn’t put them — or other tech companies — from trying to push the technology forward to a more commercially viable state, however.

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