I am a little bit worried about Kinect.
I’ve just spent 10 minutes being scanned into Kinect Sports Rivals. I’m not sure if it’s working correctly. The only feedback I am being given is from a Microsoft rep to my right. He’s politely giving me instructions when the Kinect (for some reason) stops the scan.
“Take a step forward.”
“Take a step back.”
“Maybe just tilt your head a little bit left.”
After this laborious effort (which I’m assured will be streamlined before the game’s release) Kinect Sports Rivals goes through the process of translating the information into a virtual representation of me. As it does its calculations I ask myself, ‘if this is difficult with a Microsoft representative guiding me step by step, how difficult will it be for a ten year old in the comfort of his or her own home, or parents who’ve never used a console before?’
Then my avatar pops up. It looks vaguely like me. Vaguely. That’s being generous. The 3DS did a similar job of creating my Mii with a single low-resolution photograph. Was it really worth all that effort?
Now to play Kinect Sports Rivals itself. The rep sets up a two player game. Rock climbing. As someone obsessed with rock climbing (I climb three times a week) I’m super excited. I stand side by side with the Microsoft rep. Immediately I notice there is something wrong. My avatar’s limbs are contorted like some screwed up Lovecraftian marionette, my arms twitch incessantly, clearly not responding to any of my movements.
I think we have a problem here.
Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time with the Xbox One’s new Kinect, and it seemed like a significant chunk of that time was spent trying to get things to work when (two months from the launch of Xbox One) they should simply work.
We were supposed to be forgiving, and we were. After two player Rock Climbing on Kinect Sports Rivals clearly wasn’t working, I was happy to simply try out the single player, despite Microsoft making a big fuss of the fact Kinect allows multiple players on-screen simultaneously. Single player climbing worked more fluidly but, regardless, I never really felt like I was in control of my actions. My movements weren’t being replicated accurately. I felt as though I was fumbling my way to the top with no real in-game feedback; no real sense that Kinect was working as advertised.
‘The lag has been reduced massively’: that’s what we’re constantly being told in conferences, in communications with Microsoft, in interviews, in previews. I have no doubt there are figures to back those statements up, but the disconnect between my movements in real life as replicated on screen is obvious. I feel it, instantly, and it makes playing any game with Kinect a frustrating experience. The next game I play is Wakeboarding, it feels a little better than climbing, but it’s nowhere near responsive enough. The delay is obvious to anyone who plays it, to the point where I can’t imagine anyone investing in it to any great extent.
I find myself asking another question: three years after the release of Kinect, how many video games have really worked well with Kinect? I come up with two names. Two. Dance Central and Child of Eden. In three years. Is it possible that Kinect just isn’t suited for video games?
I’m worried about Kinect. Mere months from launch it feels imprecise, temperamental and clumsy. On more than one occasion its voice recognition, being demonstrated by a Microsoft rep from the US with an American accent, needed three or four repeats of ‘Xbox Home’ to do what a single button press could have done in half a second. If Microsoft reps who have been briefed and have lived with the Xbox One for months are struggling to make everything work seamlessly, what chance does the average punter have?
And make no mistake, a device like Kinect — the device Microsoft is hellbent on shoehorning into our living space — must be seamless if the Xbox One is to capture the mainstream audience Microsoft is lusting after. In short: I have very little confidence in Kinect’s ability to respond quickly, efficiently or consistently and that’s an issue.
But the major issue is this: if you want to purchase an Xbox One, Kinect is being forced upon you. You are paying extra for a device that, two months from launch, feels like a rough, unfinished product. You don’t have a choice and that’s problematic.
When Kinect was first announced — as Project Natal — it felt monumental, as if Microsoft had captured a rare bolt of technological lightning. Don Mattrick looked and talked like a strange time traveller, with a device he had somehow stolen from a distant, brilliant future. Our minds were alive with possibility. Since that day those possibilities have faded and declined, yet Microsoft still seems driven by that squandered potential — by the future that Project Natal promised but couldn’t deliver upon. Stop trying to make fetch happen, it isn’t going to happen.
I want to be positive about Kinect, but it’s difficult. Some aspects work well: facial recognition, although slow, is a great idea. I love that it recognises who is holding which controller and responds accordingly. This is a useful, future facing feature and it’s the result of great innovative thinking. Easier than switching controllers? Maybe not, but it has benefits, particularly in tandem with Xbox One’s customisable homepage. Watching the console adjust preferences on the fly based on who was holding which controller was quite breathtaking. ‘This is what Kinect should be used for,’ I thought.
But that was the 10%. During the remaining 90%, Kinect felt like it was a hindrance, forcing users to swim against the giant leaps Microsoft made with Xbox One’s user friendly UI, which looks fantastic. Sure, I can turn Kinect off — that’s my choice. But I still have to pay for it. I don’t have a choice there.
So, yes. I think there are issues there — not with the Xbox One, with Kinect specifically. Forza Motorsport looks incredible, Ryse seems to have made strides in the combat department and I walked away genuinely blown away by the scale and ambition of Dead Rising 3.
But Kinect? I’m a little bit worried about Kinect.