Kinect has Lots of Potential

You know that scene from Minority Report when Tom Cruise is manipulating images using an interface where he just waves his hands around?

That’s what Kinect feels like.

Microsoft’s new motion-sensing Xbox add-on goes a step beyond the Wii and Playstation Move motion-sensing remotes by acting like  a video camera, translating movements to actions on screen – I played a round of Kinect Sports in the Xbox Lounge at the San Diego International Comic Con 2010, in which an avatar followed my motions as I picked up an invisible bowling ball and hurled it down the lane.

While it took some getting used to, Kinect handed translating my motions extremely well. When I stepped to the right, the avatar stepped over to the ball return. I stuck out my right hand, the avatar picked up a ball. I winged my arm forward, and the avatar deposited the ball directly in the gutter: just like reality.

What struck me was the game‘s versatility. Kinect kept up with me when I made the motion to throw the ball overhand, sending it whipping through the air to land with a dent into the lane before bouncing down to the end. I drew the ball back and hucked it forward like a shot-putter, and so did my avatar. Even leaning down and rolling the ball from between the legs wasn’t too much for Kinect.

But Kinect can feel gimmicky. Next came a bout of running a hurdle race against a friend. Running the race went exactly as it used to when playing Track and Field on the NES with the Family Fun Fitness mat. Remember that thing? It was a big pad with spots where you put your feet, much like the mats that go with Dance Dance Revolution.

On Kinect, to run, you run in place. To jump, you jump. But you’re not actually running, and you’re not actually jumping. You look stupid. You feel stupid. Nothing about the track game feels like a track, and winning or losing feels less like a question of skill and more of a question of flailing.

The biggest take-away from a few minutes with Kinect was that it feels like it has potential. The motion-sensing technology, while hard to grow accustomed to at first, is really responsive. Like creepy responsive.

Where Kinect will soar or fail is in the games offered and how they make use of the technology. Jumping around playing games can be fun – see any party where a Wii is present – but the games will need to improve on the successful Wii model and create situations where the motion technology becomes more than just waving your arms. Creativity like what went into the bowling sim is needed in spades.

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