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Kinectimals

Microsoft’s Kinect Line-Up Hands On – No Animals Were Harmed In The Writing Of This Preview

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What does it say about my sick, sadistic personality that the first thing I wanted to know when we checked out Microsoft’s Kinect line-up at their “Christmas Showcase” this week, was whether the Kinectimals were open to abuse from their owners? The answer is “No!” if you must know... and the answer is also “No!” as to whether I’m into bondage or erotic asphyxiation, thank you very much! I was just curious, that’s all.

Our focus at E3 was vastly different to Microsoft’s this year. Our aim was to get in and out with as much content on the core games as possible. Microsoft’s? To push their new technology on a much larger scale, while their core games were left to fend for themselves – although Fable, Gears and Halo don’t tend to need much pushing these days.

Venturing into London this week, it was time to see what all the fuss was about with Kinect and whether Microsoft’s technology and its software really had the reach and impact that they were intending. On show from a Kinect perspective at the showcase – fresh with Christmas trees, Christmas cake and Christmas hats... yes, in July! – was Kinectimals, Kinect Adventures, Joy Ride, Kinect Sports and Dance Central, and while the intended audience of the software for the most part won’t be reading this here preview, it did give us a chance to see how responsive the technology is. Yes, I do realise that’s all I ever seem to bang on about, because to me, that’s what will make or break the technology... oh, and the software.
 

First up, Kinectimals; a product for young children, obviously, but one they’ll no doubt love; I know my niece would. The Kinectimals themselves are so damn cute, what with them licking the screen, sneezing – both of which you can swipe off the screen – and hopping around the screen looking for some love and attention. Hats off to Microsoft here, their marketing of said product is extremely shrewd. Sure, you can train your pet – different breeds of cat: tigers, panthers, lions, cheetahs, etc – to respond to your voice, actually name them with the voice tech, but you’ll also be able to buy cuddly toys with tags on them and scan them into your game. Yes ladies and gents, that’s a pretty innovative idea if you ask me. With different environments, mini-games, Frisbees, jump-ropes, and much more, it’s the perfect gateway into video games for the younger generation.

The most enlightening part of the Kinectimals first look though was being able to see the calibration menus in the back-end, where we were able to point the camera manually and actually get a glimpse of what the camera sees from a technology standpoint – what it picks up, where it focuses, all of the participant’s 48 points that it tracks on their body, etc. Oh yeah, that 2 metre thing we mentioned in the Your Shape preview, guess what? It looks like it depends on the game and what the camera needs to pick up for that particular piece of software. I would say that height comes into play there as well, especially when it needs to pick you all up on camera for the product to work, a la Your Shape.

As far as Kinect Adventures (and its 20 plus mini-games) and Joy Ride go, we didn’t really see anything new or awe-inspiring there that could change our mind that these games will appeal to anyone except families. Joy Ride was a puzzling one for me though and while the controls were responsive enough – you pretend to hold a steering wheel out front of you and then move your hands like you would steer a car – the game itself seems like it had been slowed down to the point where it was no longer fun. Is this because the technology might not cope under such intense speeds? Or is it again, because of its intended audience: families? I’d hazard a guess at the latter, but maybe I’m missing the point entirely.

In fact, even Kinect Sports suffered from the same, almost distant and disconnected feeling of slowness – note: not responsiveness, but the actual slow pace of the action. Take the hurdles for instance; the objective is simple: run on the spot and when the approaching hurdle’s outline turns green, you jump. You don’t jump when you should be if you were doing hurdles, instead you have a 3 second – or thereabouts – window to jump on the spot to clear the obstacle. Whether that’s Rare’s intention to make it more accessible for families, I don’t know. Maybe it is and maybe I’m coming at this from too much of a subjective viewpoint, a la, what I would want and expect from a hurdles mini-game. Also, Kinect Sports’ bowling game? Give me Wii Sports any day of the week. Sorry Microsoft, it’s true. Yes, the potential for breaking your TV with a controller diminishes with Kinect, but you might just throw your shoulder out in the process. Therein lies the problem if you ask me; pretending to throw nothing down a lane just doesn’t feel that natural. I think for my body to accept Kinect as a valid new controller, I need to recondition my body. Again, that’s probably me over-thinking things, and for a party game for the family, I’m fairly sure that the lack of a controller would be an advantage, making it more accessible. As I said before though, I’m not their intended audience for this product... well, at least I hope not!

Last, but definitely not least, Harmonix’s Dance Central was to take centre stage. Literally. It first dismissed the myth that you were only allowed two people on screen at a time (although two were in a back up capacity and we weren't entirely sure of their impact on the experience), and then proved that games can teach you valuable skills... like how to dance – there are 600 choreographed moves in the game. Pro-tip: if you do buy it, don’t use the moves at your local club, as fellow gamers will be able to spot you a mile off – what a shambles that could be, it could even turn into one big line dance! The premise of Dance Central is simple though: dance along with the on-screen character, following the prompts on the right of the screen and amass the biggest score you can. If you’re out of sync, the character’s limbs will glow with a red outline, but dance in time and correctly, and eventually the walls of the construction yard in the background will fall away and you’re suddenly thrust into a club venue – essentially the game’s “Star Power.” If there’s a launch title for Kinect that might appeal to the core gamers out there, this would be it.
 

An interesting aside, according to the Microsoft rep on hand, to get into the Kinect hub that Microsoft showed off at E3, it’s a quick wave when on the dashboard. Minority Report, eat your heart out. I wonder whether I can use the voice control technology to finish this preview. “Xbox. Conclusion”... No? Oh well, back to the old fashioned word processing and imagination for that then.

From a personal standpoint, the software on show obviously wasn’t targeted at me, but I can appreciate that its intended audience – families and the younger generation – may appreciate what Microsoft’s Kinect would offer. From a tech perspective though, being able to see the calibration menu was an eye-opener and the experience alone allowed me to take away a few key things. I may have mentioned that Your Shape required that you be around 2 metres away, but after seeing a few titles in motion and watching participants get closer than that, it’s obvious that it’s dependent on the software rather than the technology. Watching people constantly walk behind those getting hands-on time and not affecting the experience on-screen was a bit of a relief, and that rumour about only having two active participants on screen at once, well, tell that to Dance Central who had three on-screen at once – one lead dancer and two back-up, although we're not entirely sure how involved the back-up dancers were.

I will say the software at the moment – seeing as it’s targeted at families – does seem to be very forgiving, offering fairly slow-paced action on the whole, so we’re intrigued to see what happens when a piece of software really puts the response rate to the test. I do truly believe that there is plenty of potential in the device though, and for families, Kinect at launch could be quite the device – albeit an expensive one.  For everyone else, your time will come no doubt, probably not in 2010 though.

Kinect is scheduled for a November 4th release in North America. Everywhere else will have to wait for a release date for now.




 
 

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US November 04, 2010

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