By Faheem Abz Abrahams
In the beginning…
A few short years back Microsoft announced their motion gaming Xbox360 peripheral, Project Natal along with what later became a ‘demonstrating’ title by Lionshead Studios entitled Project Milo. If you don’t know what we’re on about… head here to catch-up before this becomes a ridiculous history lesson. What you really need to know (if you were living under a rock for the last 3-5 years) is that the peripheral is a motion sensing, voice and face recognizing input device for the console.
In 2010 the project was officially launched and renamed, Kinect. It even outsold the iPad, iPhone and Amazon Kindle for a while. Since then it has received a ton of mixed reviews, but strangely enough not just by gamers. As a matter of a fact, although launched on a gaming medium, it turns out this piece of equipment is really some hi-tech state-of-the-art stuff. As a result it’s been hacked by nerds all over the world to serve different purposes.
How does it work?
Witchcraft… well sort of. It uses an infra-red projector, RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, special microchip (to do 3D motion tracking of objects and individuals) and all kinds of software voodoo to achieve the magic.
What’s it look like?
Uhm, it’s long, black and shiny with eyes. Yep basically the thing looks like Johnny5 from Shortcircuit (awesome flick – go see it now) made sweet binary loving to a webcam… the fact that it has a built-in motor to auto-adjust just adds to this analogy.
It’s not just a fancy toy…
Okay so hacked is a strong word… especially since Microsoft has encouraged users to do so (wait… WHAT?). Yeah my words are truth bullets bro! In June of this year, they released a non-commercial Kinect software development kit for Windows with a commercial version following at a later date. The SDK allows .NET developers to write Kinecting apps. Basically they’re keen to see how much Kinect can be used and how the imaginations of a world could employ their technology. I say ‘tip of the hat to them’.
Check out some of the other uses for Kinect at here – I love the inspiring video and be sure to Google/Youtube more amazing stuff then add your favourite or other cool uses in the comments section – share the knowledge!
As an Xbox peripheral
Now you can interact with your 360 and XBL without the need for a controller… sometimes you don’t even have to waggle your hand at the TV. Yep, you can browse menus and search by waving your hand like god or barking orders like that black dog from Summer of Sam (the Spike Lee flick about that serial killer who was instructed by his neighbour’s dog).
Overall it’s pretty awesome and it always impresses your friends for quite a while although you can never watch or listen to something for more than a few minutes before the next idiot has to try it out. The downside here is well, uhm, living in South Africa – we don’t get many of the features that other regions have like working accounts for Zoom, Netflix, HBO GO, UFC, Last.fm (the list goes on). I’ve heard that some of these services will change but that will probably take forever so until then – hey DSTV – wanna get in on this or maybe Exactmobile and ZOOPY. Yeah porn and celeb gossip on my Xbox and all I gotta do is either stroke the air or use my voice to keep my hands free for other stuff – ha-ha yeah, I went there!
The really cool thing is that you don’t need a headset when playing online – so if you’re playing call of duty and have a few guests at your place, but only one headset… now everyone can enjoy being trolled by a 12 year old yank. There’s also the Kinect video chat, which works really well although you may be hard-pressed to find friends that actually have a Kinect so Skype may still be the better option. Although since Microsoft owns Skype… I’m still waiting for them to include an app on XBL, which I think would be pretty cool. Imagine being able to party chat with Skype friends while you game – what? – I love the idea since now I can get my game on without taking a break to chat to far off friends and family.
Get to the gaming asshole!
Ah the much debated gaming section for Kinect… I smell trolls beyond these borders.
For the most part, Kinect titles have really catered to the casual community and community is the optimum word here. As a more hardcore gamer, I have plenty of friends who aren’t gamers at all and I hate being distracted from unlocking more ‘Chievos’ when they visit. Hence the peripheral and the plethora (Just take a look at the growing list on Xbox.com) of casual titles turn their visits into awesome Kinect eves. The popular titles are usually the sports titles, Fruit Ninja and Adventures.
Occasionally we hit the XBL Fun Labs. This is kinda cool as there are a bunch of novelties to fiddle around with to give you an insight on the possibilities of Kinect’s future (more on that later). But that usually just wets the appetite for more intense action. Before you know it, the windows are all steamed up and people are dripping sweat in their drinks. The thing is, it’s easy for anyone to play… the controls are as natural as instinctual movements most of the time and that’s why everyone (young and old/gamer and non-gamer) can – and do – generally enjoy it.
[Side note: If you’re into that kind of thing or wanna entertain a bunch of women at your pad – I suggest getting a good ‘dance’ title like Dance Central 2]
Overall these titles are really fun and they really show off the accuracy in the motion capturing of this technology. I’m a huge fan of the table tennis among other sports titles and have even lost quite a few belly inches from regular play.
Kinect however is not just for family fun times. Recently we’ve seen a push toward the more core gamer interests with titles like Rise of Nightmares and arcade hit, The Gunstringer. Along with other upcoming games like Blackwater, Steel Battallion 2, Ryse , Fable: The Journey and Star Wars, its confirmed that developers – although testing the waters – are keen on using the new device for the core market too. Here’s another list on Xbox.com – I’m seriously stoked for Steel Battallion and Ryse.
So what do I think?
So far, most of the titles released aren’t quite there yet and probably do more harm than good as far as faith in the device is concerned. But I’m still a fan… the possibilities are infinite at this point and we’ve only seen the surface thus far. At the moment it seems that core interest in the Kinect is really hanging on hybrid titles that allow you to use a controller as well as Kinect. Games like Forza 4, Mass effect 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier and Halo Anniversary are all opting to use the device in interesting ways.
Personally I love this idea and would really love to see the Forza head movement/look around be integrated in FPS titles. It would be cool to aim in one direction and tilt your head in another to see more on your flank or something. You could even signal a team member’s attention by looking at them, calling their name and giving field commands… that would be nifty.
As for those of you too cool for school and terrified of looking like a waggling penguin tripping on acid… you’re missing out. Kinect’s really an immersive experience with regard to most of its titles but you’re not missing out on a whole lot right now. So if you plan on waiting for things to get even brighter on the core side, then go right ahead. But you’ll be missing out on some serious group fun at home for everyone.
So really I’m hoping that developers, hackers and gamers invest more time, money and support into this technological marvel so that we can see it evolve even faster. So yeah please Microsoft – enough with the crappy exercise titles – Wii Fit capitalized, but can we move the fuck along already and feed the core gamers’ appetite with something substantial?