Objection! Has Kinect Done Enough?

Welcome to Objection! Where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. In this week’s Objection, take stock of Kinect - how has it gone so far? Has it done enough? And is it really a gaming device to begin with?

Joining us is Darren Wells, Editor of the Official Xbox Magazine. The new issue of OXM can be found on shelves this Friday, and you can follow Darren on twitter here.

MARK: Alright Darren – let’s talk Kinect. It’s been almost seven months since we ‘accidentally’ engaged in Kinect chat in our underwear, are you still messing around with Kinect on a daily basis? Is it gathering dust? What are your thoughts on Kinect so far?

DARREN: Firstly, Superman duds are so you. Secondly, and without hyperbole, I’m glad that Kinect exists – glad and amazed. All those Hollywood visions of similar tech, from Disclosure to Minority Report, have culminated in something that actually exists in real life. This is the future, right here, today! Kinect has offered a fundamental shift in the way we engage and interact with games, a shift that I simply couldn’t have imagined twenty years ago. The thing is, like any new technology, it’s taking a while for developers to explore and implement the full range of possibilities.

Some games nailed it right out of the gate. Dance Central quickly emerged as Kinect’s showcase title, sporting a concept that was easily conveyed and fun to partake in. Others are still finding ways to couple Kinect’s abilities with today’s genres, some more successfully than others. Child of Eden is obviously a shooter – it’s Rez 2.0, more or less – but has incorporated Kinect in a way that makes its offerings feel genuinely new, different. Its creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, has for years longed to bridge the gap between player and game, experimenting with various ways to make the former part of the latter. (Remember the Trance Vibrator?) Kinect’s use in Child of Eden is arguably less tactile, but for my money it’s far more successful – by linking our movements to the rhythm of the music, we’re invited to immerse ourselves in the soundscape in a physical way. It’s amazing.

But such games are, at the moment, a drop in the ocean. We need more examples, more attempts. More outward thinking. Coupling Kinect with the types of games people are currently comfortable with is a logical first step, but it’s not a sustainable one. It needs to be utilised in ways that fully harness the unique abilities of the tech, and it might be that developers are still coming to terms with those abilities, or that research is still being done on how to get more potential out of them. Give us finger tracking and voice control, and let’s see what new genres can be invented.

MARK: I spoke to Mark Pesce, panellist on New Inventors and top notch Futurist – he seemed to firmly believe that Kinect was the starting point in a control revolution. The kind of thing we’d be using to control all of our media in the future.

I remember thinking to myself... yeah, that’s all well and good – but what about the games?

And sitting here now, reflecting, that’s still my position. As good as Dance Central is, that game could most likely have worked using the PlayStation Eye – it’s a game that does a great job of actually disguising just how primitive it actually is. I’d hazard a guess that Child of Eden could also run on the same tech.

In fact – I think playing Child of Eden with two PlayStation Move controllers may actually be a more fun, precise experience – and more tactile.

That leaves us with... some decent exercise games!?

I guess my point is – Kinect is not really for games. Not really. It’s more of an interface – a way for us to communicate with our technology in a seamless, intuitive way. It’s a next generation remote control, not a game pad.

DARREN: But doesn’t this new way of communication, by extension, open the door to a whole world of possibilities that future games can harness? Sure, you can boil down Dance Central and Child of Eden into “primitive” games – into the sorts of feats that can be accomplished via other existing means – but keep in mind these are but two examples from a technology that’s still only months old. It goes back to my earlier statement about the first throw of games being tethered to genres we know and are familiar with – it gives developers a handle on how to broach this new tech, and consumers an easy entry point into the unknown.

I have every faith that bold, new steps are already in the works. I have no doubt they’re on their way. The months that follow a product’s launch are inevitably filled with developers scrambling to make use of it, to understand it, but that time investment can mean a delay in the release of future showcase products. I don’t need to engage with Kinect on a daily basis in order to appreciate what it means for gaming, but I can understand the yearning for more must-have titles to justify that $200 purchase.

That’s the battle in today’s market, I feel. A new product needs to prove its worth almost immediately in order to win over punters, but that’s made somewhat difficult when so much progress is still on the drawing board. That Kinect has already sold over ten million units worldwide suggests it’s off to a great start, but the fact that you and I are having this discussion at all says that progress still needs to be made. And I agree – it does. It always does. Complacency has no role in game development. It’s the responsibility of designers and programmers to make us realise that tech such as Kinect need not be limited to fitness games – it can be used to create entirely new experiences. It might sound like these forward-looking arguments are excusing the here-and-now issues, but given everything that Kinect can do – and has the potential to do – I think it’s important to keep exchanges such as these in a similar perspective.

MARK: Most, if pressed I imagine, would be quick to compare Kinect to the WiiRemote - and in a lot of ways that comparison is legitimate. Kinect probably was a response to a new, simple, intuitive way of interacting with video games. But I think that, in a lot of ways, Kinect is more like a mouse or a trackpad – it’s a new way of interfacing that has been, for some reason, marketed and sold as a gaming device!

On a number of levels I think that’s strange. In some ways Kinect is the first original thought Microsoft has had in a decade and despite the fact it is a device that was created, marketed, and sold with incredible vigor, you still get the sense that Microsoft doesn’t really understand its capabilities itself, as a company.

Unlike Nintendo, for example - who typically launch new controllers with an application that somehow manages to teach consumers and potential developers what’s possible – simultaneously - Microsoft has somehow left this tech flying in the wind. We’ve seen more creative uses of the tech in the hacking scene that anything concrete from developers or Microsoft itself.

I would suggest they have a window – and that window is closing fast. A window of opportunity to convince consumers that Kinect is a device that can change video games. I saw nothing at E3 to convince me of that fact – and that’s quite alarming.

DARREN: I’m sure a lot of consumers have similar windows, defined and drawn according to some arbitrary rule set. But who among us can set a timetable for innovation? What’s the cut-off point for a must-have game? How does one sit down and write the playbook for a technology like Kinect when so much of what it can do has never been seen before?

Developers are learning as they go. They’re still experimenting in the confines of what we have – perhaps a little more reservedly than some would like, but maybe that’s the byproduct of developing within a mass-market medium. Remember, games need to make money – those within Kinect’s hacking scene are able to dive into their left-field applications, free from the shackles of projected profit margins or potential for sequels. In some cases, they’re the test benches for what games will or won’t adopt, in a similar way to how Hollywood’s sci-fi gadgets become sci-fact as soon as our real-world technology catches up to imagination.

With Kinect, I feel the reverse is true: imagination needs to catch up to technology. Kinect exists today. It’s in our homes. Now we need people to consider everything that it can do, and tailor an experience directly to it. Invent, rather than adapt. In its current state, a first-person shooter might not be the best fit for Kinect. Okay, so what are the alternatives? What can be made instead? How can we take those features and make a game that needs them – a game that couldn’t exist without them?

That’s the great thing about this entire medium. It can do anything, but only if we let it.


Comments

    I'll read the article properly when I have time, but from my experience, I've used my Kinect for about 3 hours total. It was fun to show my family Kinect Adventures and used it for a fitness program for about 2 days but found it boring. Real gym is much more fun.

    It's great for people who casually play games (note: NOT 'casual gamers') but for people who spend a lot more time playing FPS/RTS/RPG/racing/sport/platformer games, keep it away please.

    Probably better to judge (if you must)- after this holiday season - for me the integration with Forza 4 with UI navigation and head tracking is more than enough to justify my Kinect. Add the voice commands (far more elegant than a headset due to noise cancellation) with ME3 etc plus the fact that my wife is gagging to get her hands on Dance Central 2...
    You also have to remember that the dashboard UI update will now utilise the kinect seamlessly - no more scrambling in the dark for a remote when I want to pause a movie - bring it on.

    If they had've given us the voice control in Aus I would've gotten one when it came out. It's been too long now I don't even know if I'd bother once they do release it.

    It'd be quite convenient for me as I use my xbox for movies just as much (or more) than I do for gaming, but I'm still yet to imagine a game I'd ever get it for.

    For me it's still a very expensive remote control.

    I can see it's application in a home theatre unit but I really don't want to be yelling at my TV screen or jumping around like an idiot to play my games.

    Haven't bought one yet, I'm still waiting for a killer app. The tech is certainly interesting though.

    Going by what I've seen of E3, Kinect developers seem to think that people are happy just waving their arms in the air and jumping around when they play video games.

    People can do that without Kinect, and until developers realise this, Kinect is doomed to be a gimmick, and not an innovation. The same fate of the Wii.

    Hardly ever use mine, waiting for some decent games... and voice control would go a long way too

    Mine is making weird noises now too, the constant adjustment it does when you turn it on is starting to sound quite loud

    While I am certaily impressed by the tech, I'm not convinced this is the right medium to launch this device.

    It's interface tech, not gaming tech.

    Look at the analogue stick, little brother of the joystick, which was born in arcades and was all but killed by the mouse until nintendo adopted it with the N64.

    The joystick was always gaming tech but it only really thrived after its revival.

    Same with touch screens, accellerometers and pointers.

    They're old tech used in new and exciting ways.

    Yes, the kinect could be called a reimagination of webcam or eyetoy technnology, but it's far more.

    With the next generation of consoles on the distant horizon, as much as MS and Sony deny, hopefully the Kinect will mature before it arrives.

    Darren makes some excellent points. We're dealing with something that (yes it can be compared to the EyeToy but only in the crudest, most dumbed down way) is so new in what it can offer that it's going to take time.

    It's disappointing that we don't have the voice controls in Oz yet and it's disappointing that we don't have more titles that really show off the tech behind it but all in good time people, all in good time.

      I don't think "all in good time" is good enough at this point. It's 7 or 8 months since launch (November, wasn't it?) and not only has there been little (nothing?) worth getting excited about, there's not really anything on the horizon, either. Child of Eden is probably the closest it's got, but the fact you can play that just as well without Kinect means it's still not really pushing the case for Kinect. If it had just got off to a slow start but then the games were starting to come through now then you could say it just needed some time to get going. But if they didn't have the games to back it up then perhaps MS should have held off on the launch?

      But, of course, they sold heaps of them so they probably made a nice little pile of money out of it. That's the ultimate conclusion we come to from this motion control fad - the only winners were the shareholders. Well Nintendo and MS shareholders, anyway - they at least managed to sell their shitty motion controllers. Sony have had considerably less success with their shitty motion controller.

        Think about it mate, there is no way in hell that MS are going to leave this as an extension to the 360 alone. The Kinect will be carried over to the 720 without a doubt. No one invests that kinda money to just let something die in the arse (well, except for Sony perhaps but their fanboyz keep them in business). So taking into account that we're going to see this peripheral span two consoles I think we can cut it some slack on the "I WANT IT NOW" crap that so many modern gamers spout.

        Also I'll never understand the hate for the Wii. Oh noes it doesn't have "next-gen" graphics and huge titles on it but hell it sure gets a thrashing at my house. Then again I don't subscribe to the "it's gotta be the biggest and best" mentality. I just prefer my games to be fun which many Wii titles have in spades, not to mention you can often involve friends who aren't big gamers or gamers at all.

          If we have to wait for their next console to see anything worthwhile then why not just wait until the next console to release it? Maybe if they'd spent a few hundred million on making some actual games instead of on marketing then we wouldn't even be here asking these questions.

            Because now that it's out there by the time the new console comes around we won't have to wait for wonderful things to be done with it.

            Don't be so gorram impatient.

              I don't really care because I didn't buy it. But that's a bit of a slap in the face to people who actually bought the damn thing to then turn around and say "oh, now you just have a wait a few years and buy a new console (and the next generation Kinect that will probably come with it, making the current Kinect redundant) before you can actually have anything worth playing". It makes the current Kinect for 360 utterly pointless.

              Again, they might as well have not released it and spent their time figure out how to make some decent games for it (IF decent games can be made for it?) and then release it.

              Cool hacks, though.

    There is a lot of moaning from the *hardcore* that Kinect is not precise enough for *real* games. I'm frustrated how these new technologies are integrated as an either/or kind of input mechanism. I was playing Dirt 3, sitting up close to the screen, looking around a sweeping bend, my eyes focussed on a point near the edge of the screen. Imagine if head tracking that could give you that kind of peripheral view, swinging the camera to your focal point. The interaction needs to be invisible and implicit.

    When sixaxis was introduced Peter Moore talked about how people instinctively tilt the controller. Like teetering on one foot at the bowling alley, willing your ball out of the gutter. To my knowledge not one game has used this mechanic COMBINED WITH A TRADITIONAL CONTROL SCHEME to give you those few extra degrees of tilt.

    Kinect is the invisible controller, it needs to function invisibly. This is how I see it as distinct from what Nintendo are doing. Nintendo are trying to make the controller a thing that you notice, a thing that you have a very explicit (and hopefully fun) relationship with.
    Sony unfortunately are in the middle ground - The Dual Shock is invisible to those who have practised with it - It took me FOREVER to remember the position of the symbols on the buttons: not fun. And while the tactile aspect of Move is gooD Sony wasn't brave enough to make it a standard peripheral. Aside from the primary inputs its an ergonomic mess.

    Kinect is an amazing piece of technology - but as our input devices evolve so must our control schemes. Discarding complex controllers is not intuitive in and of itself. (Game) designers must work harder to make our interaction easier.

      I still struggle a little with this head tracking that everyone goes on about... If I turn my head and shift my view...that would now be centered and I have to focus my eyes elsewhere to where my head is pointing?...what happens when I turn my head back to center...??? Head tracking works if you have screens fixed to your head... (vr type glasses) not a fixed screen.

        I've thought about that too. Its the undelivered promise of the Wii. A peripheral that responds to your point of focus. And its why I've fallen in love with the (to continue my example) Dirt 3 cockpit view - which I saw at first as just playing on a smaller screen. When you race you don't actually look at the gravel whizzing past in front of you - you look ahead. Its not the TV screen you're focussing on, its a single point in gamespace. If you follow this point with your head, and the head tracking - with its soft lag - follows your head it should *combine with traditional controls* for a smooth and intuitive experience.

    I've spent about 10 hours actually playing mine in 5 months. It is awesome tech, I have an American account and have tried voice control and its very clever but I just wanna sit on my ass when I play games. I got Child of Eden the other day and have played it once, even tho I know its good and just because when I come home from a hard day at work, I don't want to jump around and when its the weekend I'm drunk and jumping around might result in an injury.

    I actually don't think that the tech was developed in response to the Wii. I remember Bill Gates talking about how they were working on video recognition stuff just after the Wii was first announced, and I'm fairly confident you'll find this had been percolating at Redmond for a long time. Probably the Wii was what triggered them to actually bring it to market with a game focus.

    Personally I think the tech is a stepping stone. I could see Kinect-style cameras being set up to track positions of players in Augmented Reality games and stuff in the future, rather than being a direct interface. The lack of tactile feedback is going to ultimately leave it very limited. That a designer at Mizuguchi's level could only make an experience that is 'as good' as playing with a controller really underlines the fact that ultimately it's not a quantum leap.

    Personally I think the next big thing we'll see is the return of the head-mounted displays and 'virtual reality' gloves and so on that were oh-so-futuristic back in the 90s. Imagine a lightweight set of transparent goggles that could wirelessly connect to say your phone or your portable gaming system and overlay call information directly into your field of view, or track your position and the orientation of your head and project information about what you're looking at, or automatically recognise faces and overlay their name. Ultimately this is where we arrive when considering 3D as well. The game implications for that sort of tech are far more interesting in my opinion, and it's probably not hugely far off. As I understand it most of the technology already exists in at least a primitve form, it's just not cheap enough to mass produce at acceptable quality levels.

    I do EA sports active 2.0 quite often, I don't think it actually tracking my movements is any kind of advantage though. Using it as a mouse is alright, I look forward to the new dashboard where you will be able to use it for everything, rather than its own little set menu. Also the voice control and its application in games like ME3.

    Gimme a good game for it that doesn't invlove me waving my arms around!! Pretty much all the game ideas they've had so far were done already by Sony with the EyeToy on PS2.

    I know what it can do, but by itself I'm not sure if what it can do translates into interesting and compelling gaming experiences over what older and inferior tech has already accomplished.

    Couple it with a hand-held analog stick/buttoned device (even one for each hand) that also have Wii-style pointing device functionality and then we'll see what it can do.

    If it can't provide more than arm waving gameplay mechanics then I'm afraid I think it's going to die a death....

    I couldn't give a toss about kinect. Jumping about when I'm playing games isn't what I want to do.

    I like it being a static pursuit, I get my exercise away from the TV. As long as traditional gamepads aren't abandoned I'll be happy.

    My thoughts on Kinect:

    The lag is definately annoying and in many cases game breaking for me.

    The lack of voice control in oz is absolutely ridiculous at this point, and they should be sued for false advertising (by someone with more spare time and cash than me).

    It could be good if they released some good games for it. Then again, you could say the same thing about any hardware. Jaguar anyone?

    I kept mine for Eden also, but that game alone won't stop me from trading it in towards a ps3 in a few months if there's still no darn voice control or decent games.

    Perhaps the problem with Kinect is the TV.
    Kinect is a 3D kind of interface but it is being used on a 2D projection so what you can do with it is limited to mimicking the controls we already have that work with a flat screen in front of you.
    If in the future we have true surround 3D, virtual reality kind of stuff where you can see and interact all around you, that's when Kinect technology will shine. That's what it seems to have been designed for, the rest of consumer technology just has not caught up yet.

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