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
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
A recent Penny Arcade:

A recent Penny Arcade: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/3/25/
(for the record, I like them both!)

The commentary: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2011/3/25/

n/a
Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Dance Central 2 on Kinect is that cool

I've been making some recent comments about Dance Central 2 being so much better than other dance games, that it's ridiculous. Here's a good video showing how cool it can really be:

Christina and I use it mostly for our cardio after we workout in our home gym. The addition of the two player simultaneous mode made an already great game nearly perfect. We also have a few other dance titles on Kinect, like Just Dance 3, which actually supports up to four simultaneous players, but that game misses out on the polish that Dance Central 2 has by a mile, resulting in a far less fun experience. I can't even imagine playing dance games on any other platform or setup after Kinect, that's how ideally suited it is for such an experience.

n/a

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.