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Kinect & Kinect Adventures Impressions

by Justin B. December 7, 2010 @ 6:30 am

Witnessing the success of the Nintendo Wii and its motion control has brought about two more ways of controlling games, from Sony’s “copy-cat” Move controller to Microsoft’s unique Kinect motion controller. The Kinect goes where no other gaming company has with its removal of a physical controller. Both the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move require physical controllers to track the players’ movement but Microsoft has developed a camera system capable of detecting a person’s movement without a physical aid.

Several months ago I got my first “hands-on” with the Kinect in a Microsoft-controlled environment at E3 and have been eagerly waiting ever since to play more of it. Nearly five months later the Kinect is available for purchase at a retail price of $150 which includes the Kinect sensor and Kinect Adventures.

Setup

If you currently have the new Xbox 360 all you have to do is plug the Kinect into the back of the console’s Kinect-specific USB port. However, if you are using an older Xbox 360 without the high-powered USB port you will need to use a separate AC power adapter which can add even more clutter to your gaming setup.

The setup process took some time with a required software update for the dashboard and a first-time calibration process. In order to use the Kinect you’ll need 6-8 feet of play space in front of the sensor and position it to a point where it can see the floor. I should note at this point: the play area that I’ve used for my Kinect is the same area and distance that I’ve used for the PlayStation Eye & Move combo.

Thankfully the Kinect only needs to be calibrated once whereas the Move requires re-calibration before each game. The motor inside the kinect hardware allows the camera head to pivot up or down so it could keep track of a player’s wide range of movements.

Note: If you want to get technical you have to “calibrate” the Kinect before each game by standing in the play area so the game can determine if you have enough space for 1 or 2 players.

Body Tracking:

The ability of the Kinect to track your movements is instantly represented as soon as it is finished configuring. In the bottom right-hand corner of the Xbox 360 Dashboard you will see a black-and-white stream from the camera that highlights your hands. Just wave at the camera and the Kinect will detect your motion and go to the Kinect dashboard.

Navigating around the dashboard with your hand is a surreal experience, instantly bringing about memories from The Minority Report. The current implementations of the tech seem to only track a skeletal outline of each player with not all games taking advantage of the full skeleton. So far the hardware/software cannot pick identify individual finger movements (at least not replicated in-game) so the range of controls is limited to distinct, sometimes exaggerated, body movements.

Game: Kinect Adventures

I currently only own a copy of Kinect Adventures which comes bundled with the system. Right off the start I already have gripe: you can’t skip the warning videos or any other introduction/title screens. It’s important to have safety first but I can only wait for so long….

Kinect Adventures is an excellent game to show off the capabilities of the Kinect’s tracking with all the games portraying the player as an in-game avatar replicating the movements of the player close to a 1:1 representation.

Most of the “sub-games” of the title do a good job of using your whole body whether you’re plugging holes underwater, popping bubbles in a “zero-gravity” environment, dodging obstacles, hitting blocks with a ball or going down a river in a raft. River Rush, Reflex Ridge and Rallyball are all great games to play, whether with yourself or with a partner, but their longevity dies out after only a few rounds.

The other two games, 20,000 Leaks and Space Pop, are more frustrating than anything else and I can’t imagine their fun factor lasting more than one or two rounds.

The three “good” games in Kinect Adventures are enough for a few good laughs and play-throughs with friends but its longevity as a single player experience is short. Although there’s enough content in the game to get a few hours of gameplay in.

The photo capture points are located at distinct points in each game which hope to get a good variety of different positions/poses from the player. The best part of the game comes when the game is over; you’ll get to see your score tally up and finally see some of those ridiculous, albeit low-resolution, pictures of yourself.

Performance

The Kinect currently has a slight noticeable lag, more than any of the other motion controllers on the market; often requiring compensation by the player. I often found myself telling my friends to jump earlier when playing River Rush or try to anticipate the balls path in Rallyball before it zooms past. Reflex Ridge also requires the player to move slightly ahead of time to compensate for the lag. Hopefully this could be improved upon with a update down the road or by developers predicting the movement of the player.

While the Kinect is relatively large in size, the housing just contains the cameras and sensors while the majority of the processing and work is done by the Xbox 360. As such the Kinect is more CPU-intensive than other controllers which developers must account for and work around. Kinect games will still look substantially better than Nintendo Wii games though, even with the added strain on the system.

Dashboard and Navigation

Once you start up your Xbox 360 with the Kinect plugged in it will take roughly 10-20 seconds for the Kinect to start up. In the meantime you’ll see a “Staring up…” text in the lower right-hand corner of the dashboard. Once the Kinect is successfully running you’ll get the box in the lower right-hand corner of the screen which shows the Kinect’s vision as it highlights your hands. Just give the Kinect a wave and you’ll be brought to the kinect-friendly dashboard.

On the Kinect Dashboard you’ll be able to launch your games, sign-in to your profile, navigate to Netflix and Zune or check out other kinect-enabled applications. Navigation amongst these menus is extremely easy, requiring either a left or right swipe to change pages and a pause over an item to highlight and select it.

The dashboard is a nice way to show what is kinect-enabled but I would’ve loved to see full access to the main dashboard to be used with my hands. You won’t be able to access your music or videos on USB storage nor are you able to remotely shut down the Xbox 360.

To pause a game in progress or bring up the Kinect in-game menu you have to put one hand on your side and the other at a 45 degree angle from your body. The only problem with this pause gesture is that it is only able to be executed under certain circumstances (can’t pause near end of games, have to wait till it’s done doing whatever it’s doing). It lacks the immediacy of what the pause button previously has allowed on physical controllers.

At one point I had my roommates walk in front of the sensor and I was unable to pause the game because of their constant movement in front of the sensor and the game’s 3-4 second “pause” it takes as you hold your position.  It’s not as universal as the Xbox Guide button either with some games opting for their own type of Kinect menu; however you can still access the “classic” kinect menu through another menu button.

Voice navigation is more of a gimmick as it takes a while for the Xbox to register what you said, and in some environments requires yelling at it to get recognized. The voice commands are relatively small in number and difficult to learn as they’re buried on some page on the Xbox’s official website (not in the manual!?).

Potential

One of the main reasons I purchased a Kinect is because of its potential. There has been an active community effort in getting the Kinect to work on PCs and so far we have already seen several great examples and implementations of the hands-free controller. The current offering of Kinect software is relatively limited but it’s growing at an exponential rate.

One company, Evoluce, who works with multi-touch and gesture-based computing, has developed a presentation application that uses the Kinect for controlling presentations using just your hands. While it seems the hand-control is only usable within the software application the same company also demonstrated using the Kinect within Windows 7.

Is it practical? Probably not. Is it cool? Definitely

Wrap Up

Is the removal of the physical controller such a good idea? Controllers have been an essential part in the development of interactive entertainment so how will we fare without them? We’ve got a lot of questions regarding how this new technology will translate into other games and we are still waiting for an answer.

The Kinect is great in theory but the current technology could use some improvement. Compared to the Move I see the Kinect as a more co-operative system so far with the game offerings while the PS Move offers more competitive gameplay.

At $150 with the sensor and Kinect Adventures and $49.99 for each game (MSRP) it’s not a cheap system. As it stands right now I would advise waiting until better games come out. The $150 purchase of the Kinect system isn’t justified in itself yet; would’ve been better if it was bundled with Kinect Sports or Dance Central.

  • More “interactive” games
  • Full body tracking
  • Photo Moments
  • Future Potential (PC applications, Games)
  • Seamless step-in player join

  • Required play space
  • Unable to skip welcome screens
  • Kinect takes a while to startup when Xbox is powered on
  • Lag in movements
  • Can’t remotely shut off console
  • Kinect Dashboard limited in capability

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x3sphere says:

Nice write-up Ipaq :) Very informative. I might pick one of these up eventually to play around with on the PC.

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