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

Bill Loguidice
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Space requirements and other thoughts
Rowdy Rob wrote:

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.

Well, it's clear from the launch line-up that it's the usual mix of mini-game compilations, dance games, and fitness games. There's one racing game and one fighting game (the Move has them too). For a launch line-up, it's actually fairly solid, in that they give you an excellent impression of what you're for with the device going forward. Launch line-ups are rarely awe inspiring, though, and this is no exception, but the potential it points to is there, and that's all you can really ask.

And yes, space is the key requirement for this thing, along with reasonable lighting. Like I said, Kinect requires the most space, followed by Move, followed by Motion+. Any type of motion gaming requires more space than regular gaming, just like any control method that requires anything other than sitting down. Kinect DOES work sitting down, but only for the simple motions like menu navigation (you can also control things with your voice). However, menu navigation is not the thing's primary purpose, so yes, you do need the space. If you have a small amount of space, you're pretty much limited to one player gaming. If you have the ideal amount of space, you're good for two player simultaneous gaming.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

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. :-)

Right now, there's only "badass" fighting game, which I have not yet tried. I can tell you though, that just like with Nintendo's cutesy stuff, you won't mind playing this cutesy stuff since it (thus far) works so well. Again, we're talking a unique experience here.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

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.

The EyeToy worked reasonably well under certain conditions, but lacked the next level of sophistication that Kinect is offering, which I think is the key difference. It's a bit silly to say, but things like Motion+, Move and Kinect ARE the killer app, not necessarily any one game. Naturally a Halo-like must-have game for something like Kinect or Move would help tremendously, but I think in this case just continuing to support the things with a reasonable variety of software that maximizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses is all that will be needed to keep the small momentum these things have going. There are LOTS of consoles out there, so even if a small percentage of existing and new owners get Kinect (or Move for that matter), they'll be successes and will no doubt be integrated into the next generation of systems in a slightly more sophisticated manner.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

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!

There are certain game types that will simply not work well on this unless there's some serious interface reworkings, that much is true (like I said, I'm lukewarm at best on Kinect Joyride, the racing game--it just wasn't accurate enough for my tastes). Remember Steel Battalion, that $150 Xbox 1 game that came with that awesome mech controller? Well a version of that game is coming for Kinect, for instance. There's some skepticism with how Capcom will pull that off, but you can IMAGINE how it might be done. Since it tracks hand/body movements so well, it could be a combination of a pseudo exo skeleton approach (like in Aliens) and pushing virtual buttons. That could work REALLY well, though I too am quite skeptical.

It's difficult to create something like this for the PC, because you can't guarantee enough people owning anything you create for the PC, since it's so fragmented. Also, something like Kinect is the last thing you'd want for the PC, at least in it current form. If lots of people don't have enough space between their TVs and playing spaces in their living rooms, they'd certainly have even more trouble getting enough space between them and their computers. It's the kind of tech (most forms of motion gaming) that are best left to consoles.

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Mark Vergeer
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Space needed?

What is the amount of space needed to operate Kinect properly? The Wii will pretty much work everywhere where there is a TV a sensor bar and a Wii. The move requires somewhat exaggerated movements especially when you compare it to the Wii controls. So how does Kinect stack up? Will I be able to use it in my gameroom where I am perhaps 2-4 feet away from the TV ?

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Bill Loguidice
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Room
Mark Vasier wrote:

What is the amount of space needed to operate Kinect properly? The Wii will pretty much work everywhere where there is a TV a sensor bar and a Wii. The move requires somewhat exaggerated movements especially when you compare it to the Wii controls. So how does Kinect stack up? Will I be able to use it in my gameroom where I am perhaps 2-4 feet away from the TV ?

Two feet, no, four feet, yes, but you'll be limited to one player gaming. You'd want at least four feet left and right too. Also, with your height, Mark, you'd probably want even more distance so the camera can see all of you. Where I have the camera now, it has trouble seeing the feet of my four year old because she's so short (I have to lower the camera placement, right now I actually have it above the TV, not on top of it).

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Matt Barton
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I put motion control stuff in

I put motion control stuff in the same category with 3D. Great in principle, certainly alluring for awhile, but once the effects of the flash bang wear off it just ends up collecting dust.

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Keith Burgun
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Doom...

Doom......

DOOOOM!!!!

DooOoooooOooooOOooommmm!!!!

Catatonic
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The Kinect looks like great

The Kinect looks like great fun to play with your family. This is not for sitting alone on the couch for hours in the dark (a.k.a. "serious gaming").

Bill Loguidice
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There is a difference
Catatonic wrote:

The Kinect looks like great fun to play with your family. This is not for sitting alone on the couch for hours in the dark (a.k.a. "serious gaming").

Even without the family it would be fun, but I agree this is not for sitting alone on the couch for hours in the dark or even playing for hours like regular gaming. This is more akin to arcade gaming. Short, quick, fun game sessions, like most motion gaming experiences. I'm ready to be proven wrong though with the right deep full body tracking experience. Maybe there will be a deep RPG or even that Steel Battalion sequel that will be the game changer for motion gaming from casual to more serious...

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Mark Vergeer
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Lounge only type of location

Bill, thanks for all that extra information. I think the gaming area in the games room is just too snug for the Kinect. The lounge/den would be the best area to set up Kinect. As I have my old 360 system repaired I could opt to put that downstairs in the living room and have a Kinect setup over there. Or I just could go without Kinect as I do have my motion sensing experience on my Wii already. I am curious how this will pan out.

I always thought the 360's platform to be more of a hardcore gamer's platform with similar set-ups to mine. Perhaps the ones with the 50+" plasma on the wall of a huge games-room will switch to Kinect but perhaps others who have smaller gaming quarters will let it pass by.

I am afraid that the Move and the Kinect are a little too much too late in the game. History has proven that peripherals released later on in the lifespan of a computer system/console won't extend the life expectancy of the console. At the high price point people would probably much rather just buy a new game or couple of games then go for the add-on. Software support still is in its infancy.

I do hope both Move and Kinect will do well but I am afraid software companies will continue to bring out mainstream games that can be played without. So the control schemes of Kinect and Move will just remain optional for a lot of games?

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Bill Loguidice
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Kinect possibilities
Mark Vasier wrote:

Bill, thanks for all that extra information. I think the gaming area in the games room is just too snug for the Kinect. The lounge/den would be the best area to set up Kinect. As I have my old 360 system repaired I could opt to put that downstairs in the living room and have a Kinect setup over there. Or I just could go without Kinect as I do have my motion sensing experience on my Wii already. I am curious how this will pan out.

I always thought the 360's platform to be more of a hardcore gamer's platform with similar set-ups to mine. Perhaps the ones with the 50+" plasma on the wall of a huge games-room will switch to Kinect but perhaps others who have smaller gaming quarters will let it pass by.

I want to stress that Kinect is a completely different experience from Wii, so one is not a suitable substitute for the other. Move and Wii are very similar, though Move does require good lighting in some cases (it can be played in the dark if it's only tracking the orb) and typically a bit more room than the Wii, which obviously has no camera (though even with Motion+, it has the downside of being the least potentially accurate of the three). While Kinect is different from Move/Wii, I will say it probably appeals to the same type of gamer/player, though, so if you're not on board with Move/Wii, then you'll probably not want to bother with Kinect.

Like most others, I was lukewarm on the whole Kinect thing prior to actually using it. I think many of the positive press/accounts post launch are no accident. It certainly has the power to convert just about anyone with the big stipulation that it has to be played under the right conditions, which many people will not be able to meet.

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clok1966
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I spent more time with mine

I spent more time with mine and chcekd out most of the stuff that comes with it. I'm not sure my opinion has gotton alot better but I did enjoy most if it for a bit. The Dance game seems to be a hot with the kids (seemed to be too, iffy one if what I did and what it wanted me to do was the same thing to me (not sure how to say that) as is the animal one... sonic is not good... Otherwise its just workout stuff ... like 7 of um!

Again, its almost more fun to watch people play ( we got lots of laughs at that, but it does make you worry a bit when you play). The KIDS loved it.. And as I say, most of the stuff held my interst for about 10 minutes and then it was really... um.. wiggling over and over... After a weekend I gotta say, untill something (games) else comes out I'm not going to use it for anything but navagation (something people dont think about, its dang cool to navigate without a controler.. not $150 cool (or in my case$450 (it and games).. Im feeling a bit foolish now the unit, yes if you have interest, current games.. no unless you have young kids (opinion only).

As an old school gamer I would like to see something like the old Intellvision game (microisum?)where you navigated inside a body (err... hmm Truama Center from the Wii?) or that old Intelvison game where you defussed bombs (forgot the name). Or Something lemmings like, popoulous.. some god games where you manipulate but dont need perfect precisison (and before somebody says it, I think its pretty damn impressive for how good it is precision wise). the fast atction lots of movement games just wipe me out in minutes...

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