(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?