Let's get this out of the way first -- I detest terms like "hardcore gaming" when it comes to the Microsoft Kinect, the PlayStation Move and the Nintendo Wii. We're all playing games, folks, and it's a bit ridiculous to live by the notion that some games are "serious" while others are "casual" and not worthy of consideration.
It's just downright odd that people will laugh off the potential of motion controls based on ideas of what gamers are serious and which ones are not. Phooey on every bit of that. While a good number of motion games for the Kinect are, at this point, shallow, only time will tell if the hardware will be utilized effectively in on down the road.
Yes, it's all about software. Based solely on that, the Nintendo Wii simply blows the Kinect and the Move out of the water. Ah, but those PlayStation and Xbox 360 fans who picked up motion controllers are attracted by the potential of the devices.
And the Kinect is simply brimming with potential. The heart of the system is a VGA camera that tracks movement in three dimensions. Yes, video chat is possible with this thing, but most people looking at the Kinect just want to know two things -- does it work and how much fun are games built for it?
The first question is easy enough to answer. The Kinect works quite well provided you've got plenty of space free in front of it and decent lighting (nothing extreme -- our living room light fixture with three, 60-watt bulbs works just fine for us). Space could easily be an issue because you've got to have about eight feet of free space in front of the camera and enough room so two adults can stand next to each other and not whop one another while playing. We've got a ridiculously huge living room with all the furniture at one end and the television/entertainment center on the other. Space isn't a problem for us, but it could be for people with a lot of furniture or a cramped living room that's standard issue in most apartments. Live in a dorm? You've got some challenges with the Kinect, ace.
Setting up the Kinect is very easy, too. I didn't buy a bundle, so I was required to simply plug the Kinect into a USB port on my Xbox 360, find a spare outlet for the power cable and the hardware was ready to roll. We weren't ready to start playing games, of course, because that requires quite a few steps.
First of all, my Xbox had to download the Kinect control panel over my broadband connection. Fortunately, the Xbox went ahead and did that a couple of weeks before I got the Kinect. That download, by the way, took about 10 minutes to grab and configure, and that can be a chore for the impatient (and, yes, I include myself in that company).
Next, it's time to configure the Kinect. All four of us in my family had to go through the configuration process, not one time apiece but three times. Why three times? The Kinect needs to look at people under different lighting conditions to identify them when they step in front of the machine and start playing. The configuration process takes a few minutes, so we're talking about more time lost to getting the software to work well with the hardware.
We've been through all of those steps in my family and I'm glad to say the system works pretty well. There are times when it won't identify one of us properly (for example, I've learned wearing my bathrobe makes me a complete foreigner to the system), but logging in through my Xbox account doesn't take long. The rest of the time I'm rocking through with voice commands (which are hit and miss) and hand gestures (which work very well).
And, yes, it's gestures and body movements that drive the Kinect and make the thing so appealing. I have noticed some lag in Joy Ride (a great racer that's my favorite game for the system so far), but Dance Central (my daughter's favorite game) picks up my kid's hyperactive movement very well. That causes me to think that any lag is mostly a software problem rather than a hardware one, but it's hard to tell -- we've only got four games for the system, and Joy Ride appears to be the most laggy one of the bunch. When we get more games, I'll be able to better judge if Joy Ride is just a fluke or if lag is a real problem.
And, yes, Joy Ride is dandy fun, even if the controls don't feel as precise as they should. So far, Dance Central is nothing short of impressive. My daughter messes with that one a lot and the Kinect does a very good job of picking up on her movements and determining is she's in sync with the dancers or is simply flopping around like a maniac (which does happen quite a bit). That game shows off the potential of the system quite well -- it's able to keep up with her entire body well enough to accurately tell if she's doing things right or not.
The same is true of Kinect Adventures (although there is clearly some lag in a three-dimensional game that requires the user to float around and pop bubbles) and the ridiculously cute Kinectimals.
Ah, but the software for the Kinect is a problem. There's just not much of it right now. What's in store and how much fun will upcoming games be? That is, again, an unknown. The same questions buzzed around the Nintendo Wii when it first came out on the market, and the results have been mixed -- a lot of innovative, quality titles and a ton of shovelware that treats motion controls as a gimmick. If we Kinect owners get shelled with gimmick games and don't have enough solid titles, that will effectively kill the system. Again, it's all about the software.
I am glad I plunked down $150 for a Kinect and more money for games to go with it. I've traditionally hated Microsoft with a passion, but the Xbox 360 is different -- the company seems to understand the video game industry is highly competitive and Sony or Nintendo will stomp it into the ground if the hardware and software aren't solid (remember how bad Windows was when Microsoft acted like it was the only game in town?) The technology behind the Kinect works quite well and is a lot of fun, and the games for the system so far point to the potential of the machine. I'd like to see some more depth in future titles, however, and hope that wish is granted. If not, the Kinect will be seen as a dog instead of the innovation Microsoft wants us to believe the device is.
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