Stretch out those muscles and rearrange your living room - The Microsoft Kinect hit shelves today. Microsoft's play into the lucrative motion gaming market is both a unique and exciting technology, but is it going to revolutionise the way you play games? Mark Serrels from Kotaku and I debate the issue here - feel free to continue the discussion below.
MARK: So, have you busted out your Kinect yet? After setting the thing up, and getting thoroughly creeped out by the HALesque red light emanating from one of the cameras, I chucked in Dance Central and had a blast.
I must admit, I had some serious doubts about the viability of Kinect - as a piece of tech and as a gaming device – but having gone hands-on in my own home, I’m quite excited by the possibilities.
NICK: I was weirdly excited by the thought of unboxing the Kinect. I'd seen the demos and reviews from the US and a part of me was desperate to tear it from the cardboard packaging, strap on the fluoro sweat bands and dance like I've never danced before with Dance Central. So that's what I did. Minus the fluoro, of course…
I spent about two and a half hours playing around with Dance Central and Kinect Adventures with my wife. We had heaps of fun, but there was an element of deja vu to the experience. It was the same type of fun I had playing Wii Sports when that came out, and now Nintendo's box sits dusty and unloved in a cabinet below my TV, the unloved stepchild of a passionate gaming parent. I fear the Kinect could suffer the same fate…
MARK: Totally agree. Unboxing the thing and, curiously, setting the whole thing up, had that ‘ooh, I’m doing something new’ feeling, but that sense of elation was instantly deflated when I looked at the pile of games beside the box. Dance Central was a given, since I’m such a huge Harmonix fanboy, but besides that I was looking at Wii Sports (Kinect Sports), Wii Play (Kinect Adventures), Nintendogs (Kinectimals) and Wii Fit (Your Shape). The potential of the tech is being hampered by Microsoft’s need to have an alternative to every top selling Nintendo series on the market.
The major reason the Wii sold so rapidly in the beginning was through strong word of mouth, so I find it strange that Microsoft don’t have an in-house developed title that really shows off the Kinect’s point of difference. There’s literally nothing we haven’t seen before.
Ironically, I reckon that it’s a third party title that may just work as Microsoft’s Trojan Horse. Dance Central does more than all the other games combined of being a) awesome, b) tactile, and c) appealing to a non-gamer demographic. I got caught in the Dance Central act by my wife and her friend and, quite frankly, they lost their freaking’ minds over Dance Central. My wife’s friend, who had never played a game in her life, left the house sold on the Kinect concept and that’s the kind of tight knit marketing it needs to succeed.
NICK: Definitely! The guys at Harmonix are "The Beatles" of game development – they keep reinventing genres and bringing out products on a whole new level. Growing up, my wife used to be a bit of a dancer, and she absolutely loved tearing up the virtual dancefloor in our loungeroom to an inanimate object with an evil red eye. Despite not being a gamer, she was humiliating me with her high scores, too.
But I actually don't think something like Dance Central will be enough for Microsoft. The Xbox is not the Wii, regardless of the Kinect's launch lineup. Trying to sell the Kinect to the fans whose consoles may as well be labelled HaloBox is a tough ask. Microsoft need to spend a lot of energy (and cash) creating gaming experiences that take advantage of the Kinect's amazing technology for more engaging experiences. Social party games are not going to move large amounts of units, especially now that pretty much everybody already owns a Wii and knows how good it is at gathering dust.
MARK: Yeah – maybe that $500 dollars they spent on advertising will ease the burden a bit!
I think another thing Microsoft have to make a big deal of is just the social nature of Kinect and how it allows you to interact with others. Case in point – I was playing Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood last night and a little message pops up inviting me to a Kinect chat. I accepted and, after a niggly amount of updating and downloading, I was transposed into a video chat with Darren Wells, editor of the Official Xbox Magazine, who is on my Xbox friends list. So far so pedestrian I thought, but then I moved my head – and the camera panned to follow my head.
Instantly I freaked out a bit, so I started moving around. I discovered that the camera was actually tracking my movements, basically following me around the room! Darren had never seen my apartment before, so gave him a quick tour by basically walking around and having the camera follow me. It was a simultaneously liberating yet terrifying experience.
In this respect I think Microsoft are really onto something. All of my family live overseas, and I would really love to use Kinect to keep in touch with my family – actually see them instead of just talking on the phone. Kinect has added functionality over Skype, and the ease of use, using a television in the living room space, makes this sort of communication feel less clinical than, say, Skype.
I was actually quite blown away.
NICK: There's no doubt that the technology inside the Kinect is amazing. And the really exciting thing is that it's the kind of tech that can drive forward computing in general, not just video games. We've both seen some of the amazing ways people are hacking the device for Minority Report like UIs, and the rumours are already flying around about the next version of Windows using Kinect technology to allow users to control their PCs by pointing and waving. Given technology's history of making things smaller, Kinected PCs (see what I did there?) could be a real possibility in a few years time.
That said, the road of history is littered with examples of technology that promised much and delivered little. It's still too early to say whether Kinect is going to follow that path, but I hope it doesn't. So long as Microsoft put enough time and effort into creating experiences that everyone can enjoy, not just trying to copy Nintendo's approach with the Wii, I think they can succeed.
MARK: Personally, for me, it has to be about the games and new experiences - and so far I’m not really seeing it. I sat in a presentation at the Tokyo Game Show listening to Hideo Kojima rattle on about all the insane stuff he wanted to try with the technology. I remember looking at the Microsoft guys and chuckling as they adjusted their collars nervously – but I think Kinect really needs a visionary creator to grab this tech by the balls and do something unique. That sort of software will get Kinect over the line for me.