A recent review of the Xbox 360 Kinect, which comes out today, caught my eye this morning.
The review walks you through the set up of Kinect: making room for it, getting the lighting right, priming the audio, etc. Overall, they liked its spunk and moxie, but it has a lot of refining to do. Voice commands work pretty well, but the system demands specific lighting conditions that are difficult to ascertain, making physical motion sometimes inaccurately detected.
I haven’t been very excited about Kinect. This is in strong contrast to my moderate fanboyishness about Nintendo’s Wii when it was first announced. You’d think I’d be really into the idea of ditching the controller and living in Star Trek land. Maybe my disinterest is because they were the first game company to really put forth an effort to change the way we interact with our consoles, diminishing Microsoft’s effort. The first shot had already been made, and it was already pretty good.
We bought a Wii right when it came out and had a lot of fun with it…for the first few months. Much like the Kinect, using the Wii often requires precise movements and specific lighting conditions to function well, something I didn’t always want to deal with. In time, the novelty kind of wore off, my arms were a little sore, and I got interested in playing Rock Band. The Wii’s lack of hard drive and HD visuals made it somewhat pointless to continue investing in it. A 360 was bought and most further purchases were for its camp, leaving the Wii as an expensive paperweight. I miss using the main Wii OS software, however, as its soothing sounds and visuals were a joy to just sit and listen to. The 360 has the beefy specs and games I want to play, so…thus.
Back to the Kinect. While the Wii’s motion controller was pretty revolutionary, the Kinect aims to just remove the controller altogether. In theory, this sounds really awesome. In practice, it’s still tough to pull off (the Wii’s controller ain’t perfect either). In both cases, though, the input method compared to the regular controller is just less efficient. It may be more intuitive and less abstract, but to anyone who has played a lot of video games, they’re just needlessly complex for the kinds of games we want to play. My phone has had some form of voice command for years and I don’t use it. I don’t use mouse gestures. The unmistakable push of your finger on a screen or button has little to no noise associated with it, unlike a voice command or hand wave. Also, you can play games in any lighting condition in any size room and with no audio or video tracking. Kinect forces you not only to adjust your input mechanism, but your whole environment. I’m often not in the mood for barking commands at my 360 or dimming the lights for the right mood setting just so I can start up Netflix.
I don’t mean to come off like a curmudgeon. I like that companies are trying to revolutionize things. Eventually, something they make will really stick. Movements won’t need to be precise and we’ll have years of not pushing buttons or moving analog stick behind us. Maybe. Certain things in life just feel better having a physical object to interact with or get feedback from.
In the end, we have to put Kinect and Move and Wii in their correct context. They’re not very successful for playing the games we already have. They’re interesting experiments in interacting with our console in new ways. Whether you want to do that or not is largely going to be determined by how interested you are in changing your hard-worn habits. For now, I don’t really feel the need to spend money so I can play with a tiger, tell my Xbox to load up Fallout: New Vegas with my voice, or learn to (actually) dance (DDR is all I need).
That being said, my friend Josh is picking up Kinect today and I can’t wait to try it.