Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The top item on Eli 10.4s Christmas list this year was Kinect.

The only place we could put Kinect, though, was in the exercise room, which was so crowded and cluttered that it was an exercise in despair to even enter. When Eli got strep throat last week, though, plus the broken nose, I realized he might be out of hockey for quite a while (I was wrong, fortunately), and in lieu of hockey, Kinect would at least be something he could have fun with.

Three days and quite a few hours later, the exercise room had been made habitable (more or less), and we had room for Kinect.

We also needed a television, and I was fortunate to see this: a well-rated 37" JVC LCD with 1080P resolution for $349 at Costco. It was a terrific deal, and I have been very impressed with the quality of both the video and the sound. And they're still selling them, so if you need an extra television somewhere in your house, I highly recommend it.

Alright, back to Kinect. We've played it fairly extensively for the last four days--oh yeah, I should've mentioned that we totally suck when it comes to waiting for Christmas--and I have some impressions to share with you.

First off, I totally understand why kids love this thing. Eli loves using his entire body to play a game, and the Kinect Sports series is right up his alley. And it is tremendously cool to be in front of a device that can read your full body position so accurately. So there's definitely a "WOW" moment when you first start using Kinect.

Having said that, everything we've played has been limited and somewhat insubstantial (although we haven't tried Dance Central yet--that's actually off limits until Christmas). The games we've tried are fun, but not in any long-term kind of way. We played Wii Sports every day for months, and there's no way Kinect Sports (either version) will be like that.

In terms of functionality, Kinect is exponentially more powerful than the Wii controller. However, and I think this is a big however, it must be incredibly, mind-blowingly intimidating to design a game for Kinect. It really is disruptive technology, and it forces paradigm shifts in design.

Think about it: design a game without using a conventional controller in anyway. No buttons. Every action in the game, every menu item, must be controllable with the user's body. That must be incredibly difficult, and I think it explains why the vast majority of Kinect games are mini-game collections.

I've also noticed that connect is quite good when it comes to "goal motion" detection. In other words, a game wants you to perform a single specific action, or a series of actions that are defined for you. Almost every game we've tried takes this approach. What must be much more difficult, from a hardware perspective, is allowing unlimited actions, essentially, and detecting which one you've made.

That would be necessary if you wanted to use Kinect in an RPG, at least if you wanted a reasonable amount of freedom. On the 360 controller, it's possible to press in a combination of 14 different buttons/directions, and that's not even including the two analog sticks. There is no way that Kinect can allow that many possible inputs at the same time.

Does that mean it isn't cool? No--it's very, very cool. But developers are going to have a hell of a time using it in "real" games.

There is one category of game however, that seems tailor-made for use with Kinect: fitness games. I picked up Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2012, and it's a blast. It's so much fun to see exercise connected with a game-type outcome, and with the sensor able to detect your body position, it greatly increases what a fitness program can do in terms of interaction with you.

As an exercise device, I'd give Kinect an "A". As a gaming device, not so much, although it's a fantastic piece of hardware. Actually, the hardware is an "A", but the games aren't. I do think that eventually will see some groundbreaking titles, but it will take someone who is an absolute badass to produce them.

Please note, however, that Eli gives it an "A+".

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