Kinect Launch Day Round Up

After more than a year of eager anticipation we finally have our hands on Microsoft’s newest piece of tech. Kinect is here and we’ve been giving it a thorough talking to (and waving at) all day. Here are my very brief first impressions on the hardware and a round up of some of the software that goes with it.

The box contains the sensor unit, Kinect Adventures disc, a couple of pieces of documentation and enough electrical cabling to moor a small sailing boat. It might seem an odd thing to notice but there is a lot of wiring here, a nice long lead from the power socket to the sensor and a long return to plug into the USB at the back of your Xbox 360. You’ve probably seen all this on one of the many unboxing videos that appeared in the days preceding release.

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It was simple to set up physically, just place it on the same surface your TV sits on and facing in the same direction. If your TV is wall mounted you might have an issue but the actual footprint of the sensor is no bigger than the PlayStation Eye or many high-end webcams.

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Setting up the sensor itself is also very easy thanks to the setup wizard that walks you gently through the process. Once you’ve run this setup and configured your own Kinect ID settings (so the unit recognises your face and voice) you will be fully in control of it.

Space requirements are not as strict as I had feared. You will need to be a distance from Kinect so that it can recognise you perfectly but I’m comfortably over six feet tall (getting on for two metres) and I can play comfortably standing only six feet away from the sensor (which is approximately four feet off the floor). If you want more than one player then you’re going to need a bit more room but a couple more feet should do it. My space constraints mean that I can only take one step in any direction (and it’s really only half a step backwards) but it hasn’t posed any significant problems with any of the software I’ve tried so far.

I have to admit, I’ve been a huge Project Natal/Kinect sceptic ever since it was announced with that sham Milo walkthrough and an awful lot of hyperbole. I have been trying to keep an open mind but the various rumours that have circulated about space, lighting and multiplayer issues have been a cause for concern. The marketing decision that Microsoft took to put this in the hands of mainstream journalists and celebrities rather than anyone who actually has experience and expertise writing about gaming was extremely worrying.

I was preparing myself to take delivery of my Kinect sensor, spend a few hours with it and then brutally tear it apart for the website. That is simply not the case. Once I had set up the unit to respond to my face and voice it has controlled seamlessly. I imagine it will have some issues with particularly strong colloquial accents but my fairly standard English accent works perfectly and the gesture controls are smooth and as accurate as they need to be. My first impressions of the hardware (somewhat disappointingly, if I’m honest) have been extremely good.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how well Microsoft and their third party partners continue to support the system and, dare I hope, tie it in well with some of the games that I would usually enjoy playing.

So what about the launch software? Well, Kinect Adventures is the pack-in game and it is a perfect introduction to the Kinect system and what it does. You’re started playing River Rush, the rubber dinghy game that has been the target of much derision, but it does work and it is fun. There is no perceptible lag here and the leaning and jumping warms you up nicely for the progression to the other previously demonstrated classic with the bouncy balls: Rallyball. There was a tiny bit more lag in the translation from our own lightning-quick reactions to the more lethargic on-screen avatar (which is actually your avatar). Or maybe we’re just slow…

Next up, we tried Kinect Sports. This is the go-to genre for motion controlled game. On first impressions, Kinect Sports seems to be an accomplished, if a little over-simplified, collection of sporting games. The football is well implemented, presenting every encounter as a little set-piece in which you pick a direction to pass towards or step into the passing channel of your opponent to intercept the ball. Track and field events involve running and jumping on the spot as well as throwing gestures for javelin and discuss. The package also includes Beach Volleyball, the obligatory Bowling and a very simplistic Table Tennis. The final sport is the stand out though: Boxing is simple to grasp but tiring and hints at a subtle depth if you want to push the difficulty levels up a bit.

We then moved on to Kinectimals, the title which is supposedly utilising some of that Milo tech that was demonstrated at E3 in 2009. You’re presented with a number of different big-cat cubs and you must choose one to befriend and train while you explore the island. It works well and the cutesy presentation and simplistic controls will probably be a huge appeal to the younger audience at which it is pitched. There is a certain adorable charm to these cubs that you can’t help but melt a little when you see them and we even put our wishes for a monkey character to one side for a little while.

Finally, for today, we played Kinect Joy Ride. This was the avatar-featuring karting game which was originally intended as a pad-controlled Xbox Live Arcade title but got switched in development to bolster the Kinect launch line-up. Speed is controlled automatically with the player seemingly just in charge of steering, jumping and turbo boost. Its controls are simplified hugely, necessarily, but the gameplay seems to be enjoyable enough in the brief time we spent with it. The controls certainly work and the avatars sit well in the stylised cartoon landscape. We were particularly pleased with being able to paint our car by holding up any colour to the camera but we’ll reserve proper judgement for after a longer play test.

Tomorrow we’ll be spending even more time with the Kinect first party launch titles and also possibly taking a closer look at Dance Central.

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37 Comments

  1. Great article, I want one…. badly

    • I would like on but I am worried about future support for the kinect. Will MS have its own niche games just for kinect or will we see hardcore games accepting it like we see with Move and Killzone 3, Resident Evil 5 etc. Also driving games are a worry, i dont want to just turn the wheel, can the kinect recognise a foot making a pedal motion to apply accleration. Only after all these are answered will I consider spending that much on a peripheral.

      • I remember reading once that Burnout was demoed and pressing your foot down did the accelerator. I have no idea if it was true though.

      • I think that was a section of Burnout Paradise with no other traffic and the accelerator was activated by moving your whole leg down like it was on a pedal. Without resistance there’s no feedback though, it would be unnatural.
        Now, a wheel and pedals set up that also uses Kinect to track your head for point-of-view could be good. It’s all about how well devs use the tech that’s now available.

      • Games which use pad & Kinect are in development, so it will find a way out of casual games, also other devs are getting in on the act, so we’ll have to see what they come up with

        But its probably fair to say that the launch batch of games probably had a 9-12m dev cycle, the next wave of games will have been in development a bit longer and won’t have to crunch & sacrifice to make launch day.

        Yes Kinect recognises moving your foot to accelerate & break, I’m sure devs will be able to develop that into full games rather than have auto-accelerating like in Joyride & Forza Kinect.

        Like I say, the better stuff just takes longer – look at launch lineups for consoles its rare that any of them are great and the fact the most people who have played Kinect in their home are positive towards it, despite it receiving a hammering pre-release gives me hope for its future.

    • Be careful, you may be severely disappointed, although I’m sure you’ve read the reviews and are aware of its shortcomings by now.

      • Don’t count on it, cc is forever the Kinect optimist. Each to their own, but I feel my early scepticism at what Natal was ‘supposed’ to offer and what Kinect eventually _has_ offered is well and truly vindicated at this point.

        I agree it’s a nice article, although it does reconfirm everything I know to be true about Kinect. Absolutely not for me.

  2. Totally agree, I had mine set up in 10 mins and was away. Dance Central is fantastic. Makes me wonder why MS has been so reluctant to let journos have one.

  3. Sounds like it works well but I worry about the amount of times you mention “Simplified” controls. If Kinect is to be worth it to me I need it to be accurate, so that complex games can be played. I don’t want to just make waving and sweeping gestures as I feel it will wear thin over time.

    I still can’t see a full game being made out of it, that has any significant replay value. A shooter for example, is it accurate enough to recognise the user pulling a trigger?

    • no, it doesn’t see your fingers. It would see the outline of a rifle though and sense you walking, running, jumping on the spot and crouching, ducking, etc. Combine that with the Xbox 360’s controller buttons and you have the potential for quite an immersive, peripheral-based experience. It’s not going to be perfect for “hardcore” gaming until it’s implemented in an imaginative way though.

    • Complicated stuff, like you’re thinking of would probably take a longer dev cycle than the more casual affairs in the launch line-up.

  4. Can you quantify how big of a step up it is from the PSEYE tech?

    • Massive. Perhaps not in practical terms (yet) but the tech behind what Kinect does is probably a good few years ahead of its time and will filter down over the next 5-10 years to feature in a lot of other consumer electronics. It’s an evolution of what Sony tried with the EyeToy but the number of tracking calculations and probabilistic equations it does were considered simply impossible a couple of years ago. Whether that translates to enjoyable and complex gaming experiences remains to be seen.

  5. Nice article.

    For me however there are still too many questions about the accuracy and the ability to control different types of games. Questions that I don’t think are answered by any of the launch software. If games like Joy Ride – a racing game that offers no control over speed or breaking – are the examples so far, then I’m happy to wait to see where the tech goes from here, rather than “jump in” now.

    Articles about Kinect will become more interesting weeks and months down the line, when mini game compilations, tech demos, fitness games and dance sims might not be enough to keep people playing. I understand that right now Kinect simply isn’t for me, but it would be nice to feel included in the tech somewhere down the line, and it would be nice if Microsoft showed their hand soon.

  6. It must just be me but i’m sorry,—all i see is a newer and slightly better hd version of the ps2’s eyetoy. unless microsoft release some sort of move/wiimote type of controller to go with it then the games for it will be very limited….how do you shoot in a shooter such as cod—how do you accelerate a car in a racer—how do you move a game character around the playing field in the game……without buttons of some sort, its dance, sports and hit red ball games only i’m affraid….look at the ps2’s eyetoy games.

    • it is a huge evolution from what the EyeToy was doing but it is still in the same family. I think that it has huge potential if it’s used in clever ways by the developers and combined with controllers or peripherals.

    • Games are in development which require pad+Kinect

      The games types you’re thinking of require 2 or 3 years in development, so I’d imagine next year’s lineup to look very different to this one, and even more different the year after.

      • Bu bu but, you ARE the controller? ;-)

  7. You left out the part where Joyride was promised as a free game over XBL, and yet no explanation as to where the free game that was promised is seems forthcoming from Microsoft. Hmm.

    As to the launch games, Metacritic told me all I needed to know on that score, and I’ve heard all I need to about the hardware from people who bought one.

    • I didn’t leave it out in error, it would be stupid to include that as it bears no relevence to what this article is intended to cover. Joy Ride’s proposed (I don’t remember promises) micro-payment economy was a separate issue from months ago but it still seems to be playing on your mind a bit so perhaps you should ask some questions over at Xbox.com and maybe someone there will be able to help you with that issue.

  8. Is the power supply included for the old xbox systems or do we need to buy it extra as some other sites mentioned?

    • In the box is a power supply that plugs directly into the new xbox slim, and also included is a USB adaptor to fit the power supply into older xbox models. Mine is one of the 60GB models.

  9. I like the design of Kinect, it’s much sleeker than the PS-Eye, of which I think Sony should release a new and better one. I saw a video where a guy filmed kinect in action trough a pair of MW2 nigthvision goggles. There where an endless amount of infrared dots all over his livingroom, which looked scary at first, but quite awesome. (link: http://youtu.be/r7nRKU0nFxA)

  10. It does sound like a fun way to play but i’m on my feet all day at work and i don’t have the energy for it. I can play a Move sports game in the evening for half hour at most and then i just want to sit down and relax.
    All the same, i can see this being great for kids, families and people who obviously have far more energy than me! :D
    Nice article, looking forward to reading the more in depth articles tmorrow.

    • it’s very “family friendly” just now but there is some potential in there. I just hope they start to meet that potential and don’t /only/ leave us with party games and minigames.

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