First Impressions of Microsoft's Kinect - It's a hit!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Well, chalk me up as surprised, but my first impression of Microsoft's new Kinect is that it's a rousing success for what it's intended for, much moreso than Sony's PlayStation Move or Nintendo's Wii Motion+. I had preordered the standard Kinect bundle, which comes with "Kinect Adventures", from Amazon, along with "Dance Central", as part of a special promotion. It arrived yesterday, which was the official street date when retailers were authorized to actually sell the thing (there were only a few cases of a broken street date). As is usual for a Microsoft product, it's a rather convoluted and bulky setup, but since it actually works, I can't be too critical of that aspect of the device. By the way, as a point of full disclosure up front, as luck would have it, we probably have the ideal family room setup for motion games, with a generous amount of space between the TV and any other obstacles, like our sofas, so, unless you want to move furniture to make the necessary 6 - 10 feet or so of clear space (you want a generous rectangle), know that your mileage will definitely vary from mine in terms of hassle-free play (you'll generally need a less space for Move and Motion+).

I have the old style white Xbox 360, and, as such, I was required to plug the Kinect into the rear USB port and then plug in yet another (albeit small) wall wart (this is necessary, because, among other things, the camera can turn on its own). If I had the new style Xbox 360 slim, it has an accessory port that the Kinect can draw power from directly. Anyway, for those of us with the old style Xbox 360's (which is probably most of us), they also give a small USB extension cable so the wireless networking card dongle can plug into the front USB port, since the rear USB port is a requirement for Kinect. Ugly. However, in my particular setup, both my 360's still have HD-DVD drives attached to them (yeah, I admitted it), which is where I have my wireless dongle attached to, so in fact I didn't need the extender as I could just plug the USB cord from my HD-DVD drive to the front USB port. Needless to say, with the old style white Xbox 360, a USB plug sticking out of one of the two front USB ports and the HD-DVD drive next to it (along with an old style memory card that keeps my sign-ins portable), it's hardly a sleek looking setup, though my launch ("fat") PS3 hardly looks much better since I have the PlayStation Eye camera always plugged into one of the front four USB ports. Looks aside, plugging it all in was logical and went smoothly.

Even though I had already updated my system a few days ago, upon detecting the Kinect attached to it on startup, my 360 still wanted to download another update (which I believe was the actual Kinect interface). The process was fairly smooth as is usual on the 360 (it's painful on the PS3 and not frequent enough on the Wii to be much of an issue either way). While I don't want to bore you with all of the details, there was a calibration process, including testing how noisy my environment was (since it has a built-in microphone array and features speech recognition). Everything passed. A little later in the process, I associated my face with my avatar (it does facial recognition to know who's who) and went through an interesting calibration process where I had to stand at various points in my room and mimic poses on screen. Again, all smooth and not a big deal.

With all of the initial setup and calibration done, I tried a few of the interface features out. It has its own Kinect menu system that you can activate by saying waving your hand or saying "Xbox" (the voice recognition has thus far been perfect). Once that happens, you're in the menu system, which you can navigate with simple hand gestures (and essentially resting your hand briefly on a certain spot) or by saying "Xbox" and then saying whatever it is you want to activate that happens to be on the screen at the time (for instance, "Eject disc"). In short, it works and works well. What disappoints me is that I had assumed that the Kinect interface would be pervasive through the whole 360 menu system, but thus far (at least as far I can tell), it only works in this exclusive menu system. I don't know if there's a way to add applications to it, but right now it's missing one of my most used items, Netflix, which I still have to access the traditional way. I'll see if that gets updated at some point.

In any case, beyond the voice recognition and standard gesture recognition, there's a universal way to pause a Kinect game (or Kinect-enabled app), which is to simply hold your left arm slightly away from your side and back, and have your right arm at your side. After a few seconds the pause menu options activate, including all of your standard dashboard stuff. A simple, but effective way to get around the whole "no controller" thing.

I only had a chance to try a few mini-games in "Kinect Adventures", but hope to try "Dance Central" tonight or tomorrow with the family, which will really be an interesting point of comparison since we love "Just Dance" on the Wii, but Just Dance's tracking algorithm with the standard Wii remote is pure garbage. A short time with "Kinect Adventures" was enough though to truly convince me of the Kinect's potential and how it's radically different from the Sony and Nintendo offerings. The tracking has thus far been nearly perfect, knowing where my head, arms, legs and torso were just about all of the time. It's NOT accurate enough to detect individual fingers (it sees your whole hand as a block) and I'm not sure if the technology will ever be accurate enough to detect that this generation, but just tracking those major bodyparts already puts it leagues ahead of what I've experienced thus far with the Sony and Nintendo offerings. It's truly a liberating feeling not having ANY controller and definitely a generational leap from the old PlayStation 2 EyeToy camera. In any case, in "Kinect Adventures", I played "Rally Ball", which was one of the famous demos from the first E3 unveiling where you serve and swat at balls with your limbs, sort of like a combo of racquetball and Breakout. This worked well and it was probably the first videogame experience I can recall where I had to use both arms and legs to play in that manner. As such, it took a bit more coordination than I had at the time, though I'm sure I'll get better at it with practice. The second mini-game I played was "River Rush", where you have to navigate a raft through a crazy river course (sort of like "Hydro Thunder" without the competition). This was great fun, as I had to scurry left and right like a crab to steer and then jump to lift the raft into the air. It had the same frenetic energy that a good game of the aforementioned "Hydro Thunder" has, except I was the controller. Great fun, and I'm sure it will be even more fun with a second player (I imagine trying to coordinate your movements with a second player would be more frustrating than two player "New Super Mario Bros. Wii"...).

On a side note, after I changed and put my glasses on, I had to have it recognize my face again. Now it has my glasses-less face and glasses face in its database associated with my gamertag. Apparently each time you have it re-scan your face (different times of day, different lighting, etc.), it will get better and better at recognizing you.

Now, with all the above in mind, I have read many mixed reviews. Some were ecstatic about it like me and others had the usual tracking/delay issues associated with all these devices, so again, your mileage may certainly vary based on your environmental conditions. At least based on my conditions, it's some exciting technology with a lot of promise, even if right now it's just from having really fun whole body activities and an experience like no other to date. Keep in mind though that it will give you quite the workout even in non-workout games (of which a cavalcade of them are coming), and, as with all motion based gaming, more often than not after a long day I'd rather just sit on the couch and press some buttons, so I'm certainly aware this is not for full-time gaming or for that matter, people who don't want to get up and be active when they want to game.

I'll update the comments with my further impressions, including of "Dance Central", after I get some more time with it all.

Did you get Kinect too? I'd love to hear your thoughts on that and of course even on Move and Motion+.

Comments

clok1966
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I have both (move and kinect,

I have both (move and kinect, mine also arrived yesterday by Fedex). I am not as impressed as you, but I think the way its used it the KEY. When the Wii came out i had friends over and the sports games shined as we where all on even footing, nobody was better or worse (new) and we all played against each other. But as my friends are are all over 30.. it passed VERY quickly and the hardcore sports sims moved back into play the arcade stuff was forgotten (as was the Wii, mine collected dust almost 2 years till Monster Hunter came out (fan of the ps2 version)). The MOVE was really a sad day (when friends came over) it was pretty much dismissed as Wii wannabe, and most commented on the fact they felt they had done it all on Wii and where bored of it. Though most felt the game that was with it was a bit more mature and skill based then the Wii stuff. But it dropped with a thud, and to date I havent had it on since the first 2 days.. except when a game was patched to include it use (and so far none really are worth the time IMHO)... kenict night last night, 4 of the friend showed up.. And it was about like Move, most didnt like it at first, but once they felt a little more in tune after some play thought it was ok, but again felt like Wii games all over, good for a few minutes at first, but pretty "kiddy", most us over 30's felt it was harder to use and we all got tired much more quickly (hence lost interest very quick). madden was in before the night ended...

I can see younger people loveing it, more then Wii And MOVE.. An Bill I know you are in shape (I am not) so you can handle it, but I still stick by my original assesment that the average gamer will be tired far to quickly (or just flat out lazy).

Those are my very quick thoughts (allow me to re do my comments in a year).. I know I would have a blast playing with my nephew he would love it. But as a over 30 gamer, its just another "gotta have" that i will seldom use.

Bill Loguidice
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Here is a response I gave in

Here is a response I gave in another forum about the difference between Kinect and what Sony and Nintendo offer:

Not sure if you got the chance to use Kinect or not, but I do find it a different experience over Move and Wii Remote/Motion+. I would put Move and Motion+ in the same category, really. I think we can all agree that the major failing of the Wii Remote always was its accuracy in translating your movements. Naturally, this was affected by developer skill and what was being asked of the remote to do. A lot of that was addressed with Motion+, of course, but it still has weird issues with losing calibration and is still the same basic experience--tracking the motions you make with your arm. Move basically copies Motion+, but adds in the camera element, which in theory (though I've only experienced glimpses of this myself in my time with Move) should result in an even more profound interactive experience. You're still limited though to the main tracking of the glowing orb and whatever is doing in the controller itself (accelerometers, etc.). What I really like about Kinect (again, at least in my one night of experience) is how the main points of my whole body are being kept track of at all times. I don't have to worry about doing an unnatural thing like keeping a remote in a certain spot or making sure the glowing orb is visible--I more or less have to do what comes naturally by positioning my body as I intuitively would to perform the actual activity in real life. That to me is the difference and that to me is what gives the Kinect (again, now having experienced it first hand), a seeming generational leg up on what Sony and Nintendo are offering. Certainly each approach has its advantages and disadvantages and no doubt games that will be optimized for each that may not work as well on the other, but I'd say as an overall concept and take off of what Nintendo popularized, Microsoft actually gambled correctly here in my opinion.

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Bill Loguidice
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Also, Clock, I agree 100%

Also, Clock, I agree 100% with your assessment and touched on it a bit in my blog post that Kinect, like Move and Wii, are NOT for everyone. Like you, I find myself playing motion games far, far less than regular games (if I sweat, I shower, period). Motion gaming is PART of the present and future, but is NOT a replacement for traditional gaming. I don't think anyone is really proclaiming that, though. It's just another advancement of the state of gaming.

I'll leave you with this...
Imagine a second generation Kinect with a glasses-less 3D television and tell me that doesn't get you a wee bit excited. The next step after that might be a third generation Kinect with a hologram TV (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19673-3d-holograms-enter-the-fourt...). Boom, then we pretty much have the mythical holodeck! Again, such things have to get their starts somewhere...

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Bill Loguidice
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I'm becoming a *gasp* fanboy of this...

After our weight training, Christina and I (along with the girls) played Dance Central to get some cardio in. We chose "Dance Battle", where two players alternate the indicated dance moves. You can follow along with the move indicators a la DDR, or follow along with the avatar, more akin to what you'd do with Just Dance. The accuracy is not perfect, but still impressive. The important part is the Dance Battle was tremendous fun and the music selection seems reasonable (my 4 year old is a big fan of Lady Gaga, for instance, and we're fans of Kylie Minogue, both of who are represented along with other music stars past and present).

I then tried the "Your Shape Fitness Evolved" demo on the "Kinect Adventures" disc. Lots of fun and very interesting technology, definitely the next iteration of what Your Shape was doing on the Wii and PC. This is definitely the preferred platform for that game. I hope to get "Your Shape Fitness Evolved" next, because, among other things, it's supposed to teach karate (plus there's boxing and kickboxing in there, along with all the traditional workout stuff). The accuracy here seems extremely high.

We then tried the rest of the mini-games in "Kinect Adventures". Everything worked perfectly and the mini games are quite a bit of fun. Besides "River Rush" another favorite in there of mine is "Space Pop", where you flap your arms to fly and put your arms at your side to descend. All this while you move back and forth in 3D space. It's all so intuitive and just feels right, and again, the accuracy is spot on.

I hate to say it, but I'm a total convert of this, much moreso than I ever was at the most enjoyable with the Wii Remote or Move. This is truly a different, free form experience and it works. I'm very much looking forward to trying more software. Again, I'm still a total traditional gamer (ass on couch and controller in hand), but I can certainly see myself playing Kinect quite a bit since it's pretty effortless to start and stop playing since the only thing that needs to be in position is the camera. I'm eager to see this evolve.

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Bill Loguidice
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My response to someone on

My response to someone on another forum being critical of the potential fun factor of dancing one at a time versus something like Just Dance on the Wii which allows for up to four players:

I can understand the "why". It takes a decent bit of room to actually dance and it's field of view, while able to accommodate two players for certain games (like the raft ride in Kinect Adventures), seems like it would limit what you could do vis-a-vis the actual dancing that you're doing in Dance Central. With that said, the Dance Battle in Dance Central was just like cheesy movies where one person dances while the others watch, then another person jumps in to try to one up that person. It's NOT superior to simultaneous dancing, but it's definitely a viable alternative and the four of us did have a great deal of fun with it (me, my wife and our young daughters). There are opportunities (albeit limited) when one person is dancing for everyone to jump in freestyle and dance about (and get your pictures taken so a quick, silly video is created). It's quite dynamic actually and something that we'll definitely be doing again when we want to get some cardio in. I'm sure we'll play Just Dance again, but it seems like that experience would be rather flat now in comparison, even with the two simultaneous players (in our case, since our daughters are still too young to properly coordinate the dance moves for four player games).

Again, we need to keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages of all the tech. The Wii allows for four players at once in some cases, but then the tracking is much more limited than what's going on with the Kinect. It's either have the profound tracking experience and limited players or have the approximation tracking and more players. It's good to have the options with the three systems...

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Bill Loguidice
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In looking through the Kinect

In looking through the Kinect games on the 360, several support co-op (play at the same time for two players) and some four player, albeit two local and two online. These include EA Sports Active 2, Zumba and Dance Evolution, so it's quite possible it's NOT a technical consideration that Dance Central does not have two players at once and it's probably more my theory that because of the dance moves in question that use all of Kinect's left-right viewing space it's restricted to one dancer at a time...

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Matt Barton
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I've found from experience

I've found from experience that it's easy to get blown away by the newness and marketing of something, only to find, inexplicably, that a few weeks or even days down the road, it's no longer interesting. Most recently that happened to me with Deathspank--blown away at first, really excited, and then realized that something just doesn't click. Same thing with King's Bounty, Dragon Age, and Drakensang--huge impact at first, then the excitement wore off and I realized these games were actually boring me!

At any rate, I'll be very curious to see if in a few weeks you're still this pumped about Kinect. If so, then we should all run to the stores! :)

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Bill Loguidice
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That new car smell...
Matt Barton wrote:

I've found from experience that it's easy to get blown away by the newness and marketing of something, only to find, inexplicably, that a few weeks or even days down the road, it's no longer interesting. Most recently that happened to me with Deathspank--blown away at first, really excited, and then realized that something just doesn't click. Same thing with King's Bounty, Dragon Age, and Drakensang--huge impact at first, then the excitement wore off and I realized these games were actually boring me!

I never liked Deathspank (I played the 360 version). I loved the cinematics, but the actual game stunk.

Matt Barton wrote:

At any rate, I'll be very curious to see if in a few weeks you're still this pumped about Kinect. If so, then we should all run to the stores! :)

I'm not saying ANYONE should run out and get this. This is just a DIFFERENT motion control solution to what we're used to from Nintendo and Sony. The difference is that for SOME game experiences that require motion control, you just do what comes naturally, which you can't usually due on the Wii or PS3. So my main point is is that this gets motion control spot on for specific game types and that to me is the difference that makes it worth playing. Sure, it's new to me now and obviously that WILL wear off and I'll get back into my comfort zone of usual gaming habits, but I can all but guarantee this will become a more regular part of my gaming than either Wii or Move for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the hassle factor has been reduced to almost nil (again, if I didn't have what amounts to an ideal space for Kinect, I'm sure I'd be quite frustrated).

Sony kind of dropped the ball with Move in my opinion because they took the approach of tacking on Move controls to games that were originally designed for controllers. That doesn't bring out the best in Move or the best in the games in question. Regular controllers do. So Sony really diluted Move's potential impact. The upside with Kinect is that it's all but impossible to tack on Kinect support to most games simply because there are no buttons, so they have to create only new games for it that are specifically designed/tuned for it. That has always been the issue with Wii games as well. When games are truly designed for the Wii Remote or Motion+, the experience is very satisfying, but then you get all these watered down quick cash-ins that leave you feeling frustrated and not in control. So that's a win for Kinect right there by ironically being so limited...

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Bill Loguidice
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Just to keep the motion

Just to keep the motion control vibes going, I decided to give the Kung Fu Rider demo a try for PS3 Move. It's quite an innovative concept, but the controls are overbearing (i.e., there are too many moves to think about). I then gave the Sports Champions demo another try and I was very impressed. First I played Ping Pong, which I'm still not a huge fan of how racket sports are implemented with motion controls, but it's very well done. Then I played Disc Golf and that was quite a bit of fun. Very accurate and a very fluid, clever use of Move. Like I said, it makes a BIG difference when a game is designed for the controller in question in the first place.

Next up is Tiger Woods 11 for the Wii Motion+...

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Rowdy Rob
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Kinect needs a killer app

I may have a poor imagination, but it seems to me that the Kinect is primarily designed for "party games" and fitness-oriented games. For kids that have XBoxes in their bedrooms, it's unlikely that they'll be flailing away in front of the TV on their own, and most kid's rooms that I've seen don't have the area needed (if I gather correctly) to allow them to do so anyway.

Since the XBox audience seems to skew against "cutesy" stuff, I would think that more mature "party" games and more macho "fitness" games might be in order. Perhaps a fitness game like "UFC Badass Fitness Quest" might be in order. :-)

The Kinect seems, to me, to fall into the "Eye Toy" category - a peripheral that doesn't seem to have a major killer app on the horizon that everyone has to play. If MS can come up with a game that college kids can "party" with in dorms, it might be a hit. But it would have to be a game that guys can play in front of their friends (or ladies) without looking like a bunch of dorks.

Yes, I'm a bit skeptical. It looks like a very fun (and even athletic) system, but for only niche game genres that are already dominated by the cheaper Wii system. I don't see shooters, sims, or in-depth CRPG's with this system. I think the Kinect is fascinating technology, but I feel it would be much cooler if it was a computer peripheral, rather than tied to a closed-off game system. Imagine the types of apps and games that might come about if such a peripheral was released to the computer programming community!

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