Kinect: Gimmick or the Future of Gaming?

Like a lot of people this Christmas, I got myself a Kinect controller for my Xbox360.  I also picked up a copy of Kinect Sports which is way better than the included demo game Kinect Adventures.  In other words, I got myself an exercise regimen for Christmas.  I guess that takes care of the new years resolution as well.

A few years ago, my sister got a Wii, and my brief visits over there got me addicted to Wii Bowling.  I thought about getting one myself, but at the time it was damn near impossible to find a store with Wiis in stock.  I eventually got an Xbox360 instead, then also got a Playstation 3 too, so there was no point to get a Wii as well.  Wii still had one gimmick that the others did not, and that was the motion sensitive Wii remote, which thanks to international patents remains the exclusive feature of Wii.

This year Sony and Microsoft answered the Wii remote with their own exclusive technology.  Sony introduced Playstation Move, which uses a remote with a colored ball on the end and a camera to track the balls movement. This is motion capture technology that has been around for a while, but never for the home.  This technology beats Wii remote tech in both speed of response and accuracy, but unlike Wii, you have to use it within the field of vision of a camera mounted to your TV.

Microsoft went with new technology that does not even need a remote. We are in the very early stages of holodeck technology here.  Kinect uses stereo cameras to create a depth of field map and recognizes a human standing up in front of the cameras.  It then tracks the movement of the humans head hands and feet in all 3 dimensions.  Its like attaching five Wii remotes to different parts of your body in order to control your on screen character.  This tech is way cool!

I love how as you move, the avatar on screen moves the same way.  Sway your body, tilt your head, pump your fists, etc. Your on screen avatar does exactly the same thing in near real time.  Your body becomes the controller, which is really cool until you realize that you have to stand up and move in order to play games.  With the Wii remote, you can lazily flick your wrist while sitting on the couch.  Kinect does not let you get away with that.  Hence the exercise regimen aspect.  Soccer matches only last 6 minutes in Kinect Sports, but I’d estimate that one match is the equivalent of jogging in place for about 2 minutes, depending on how aggressively you play.

(Side note: Games like Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures like to take your picture as you play.  Make sure you disable the online sharing if you are playing naked.)

You will notice that I bolded the word “near”.  The current weakness of the Kinect system is that there is a noticeable lag between your movement and the onscreen movement which will affect your gaming experience.  The other is the need for free unobstructed floor space, which is not a problem for me since I don’t have lots of furniture, but is likely to be a problem for others.  The lag and accuracy problems of the Kinect is going to limit the types of games that can be played on it.  The current games available seem to all be sports or dance games, which are obvious uses of this tech.  This is why gaming sites comparing Move to Kinect seem to favor Move for hard core gaming reasons.  Meanwhile, the marketplace has spoken.  Consumers overwhelmingly have chosen Kinect.  It is now the fastest selling gadget in history.  I’m hoping some truly innovative games, stuff we have never seen before, will eventually use this technology.

Because the Kinect uses a USB interface (thank the need for compatibility with older Xboxes for that feature) it can be hooked up to a PC.  Already I have seen demos for 3D video capture, controlling web browsers using gestures, and the inevitable sex game interface.

I’d love to see motion capture to BVH files that can be imported to Second Life, among other places.  That would bring the price of animations way down.  Better yet would be real time movement of your avatar in a virtual world, tough I’m not sure how well that would work in a multi avatar environment.  It would make for much more entertaining dance parties though.

Despite the lag and lack of accuracy, I see the Kinect as the next step toward the “Holodeck” that we all dream of having some day.  On the other hand, it could just be a fleeting gimmick people will tire of as we go back to controllers.  Time will tell.


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