Letting-the-dust-gather:-Kinect-for-Xbox-360 Letting the dust gather: Kinect for Xbox 360

   18/04/2011 at 07:32       Phil May       11 COMMENTS.
 - Microsoft Kinect, Xbox 360, Room 101, Made of Fail, Bowel Movement

Joe Bennet's excellent series of retrospectives on this very site made me think. With everyone else now jumping on the retrospectives bandwagon, isn't it right and proper to flip the whole idea on its head and consign a few white elephant projects to the dreary cobweb-filled interiors of Room 101? For those of you unfamiliar with George Orwell's '1984' (which is a book that probably should've been burned long before it gave the world the ironic and iconic phrase "Big Brother is watching you"), Room 101 is the dumping ground for mankind's worst fears and bugbears. In our case we'll twist it a little and make it the place where you'd love to see certain games, peripherals and daft ideas hastily stored away lest they offend the weak and feeble.

First up for dumping: Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360

There are many reasons for my ire when it comes to Kinect. Front and centre is the fact that the thing just...doesn't...work...very...well in the majority of cases. It's twitchy, it seems to need constant mollycoddling, calibration and farting around with to get the laggy piece of shit actually doing what its supposed to do - recognising your body movements and interpreting them into some sort of gameplay.

There have been a few high points with the thing. Kinectimals - a game where you control virtual animals - has proved that the technology does work after a fashion if the developers writing for the thing actually get a proper handle on the SDK and second-guess random human movements and turn them into something smooth and predictable. Wrapped around a gorgeous graphics engine, Kinectimals is still very much a showcase title for Kinect.

See also Kinect Sports - again, an extremely good example of what can be done with the technology if the developers give a flying fig about improving the gameplay experience and making something fun and playable that doesn't require a lot of fannying around in order to get everyone joining in and playing.

Lastly on the positive side of things there's Dance Central, a game that is as close to a killer app for Kinect as you're going to get, and a game that sneakily disguises your spasmodic movements as something approaching gameplay. The main reason Dance Central works so well is that the developers thought out the user interface and made it slick, thought out the gameplay elements and made them smooth, and strapped the whole thing around some exquisitely cool dance moves and music.

So now we've dealt with the three reasons to keep Kinect out of Room 101 let's look at the myriad reasons for kicking the thing into the corner of that echoey chamber for good.

First up, Kinect doesn't work as advertised. How could it possibly ever work as advertised? It's far too slow for starters, and even the three games mentioned above are sneaky with the way they mask the terrible lag between what you do and what Kinect interprets you as doing on screen.

Simply put, Kinect just can't watch you, figure out what you're doing, then relay that information back to the Xbox 360 for processing as quickly as a physical controller or button press can. No way, no day - and because of that the device instantly becomes eminently unsuitable for a whole brace of game interactions we take for granted when using a joypad or when using some of the more accurate motion-sensing controllers on the market on other platforms.

Next, there's Kinect's strange minotaur-like lack of processing depth perception. Although the device can tell how close / far you're standing from it, it can't do this quickly enough on the fly to detect an accurate arm swing, foot kick or thrown object without a heck of a lot of smoke and mirror stuff wrapped around your movements. Kinect Sports does an extremely good job of coming up with an approximation of kicks for footie, and arm movements for bowling but very few other games seem to be able to pull off this trick sufficiently well enough to fool you into believing what you just did in the real world is what your on-screen character just did in the game.

Moving on there's the lack of a physical 'action' or 'fire' button. This manifests itself in the simplest possible way when you have to interact with any game menus on kinect titles. You can't click on anything, so you are forced to adopt the old Eyetoy trick of hovering over a menu item to select it.

Now consider if you will a game where firing at a target is the main focus of the gameplay. Gears of War 3 is apparently 'gearing up' for Kinect, and it's nigh on impossible to imagine how they're going to do anything except stream a constant dribble of fire from your machine gun and let you wave your arms around to direct it in some on-rails shooter type effort. Kinect can't do any better. You cannot point at the screen and click your fingers like a virtual gun, and see waves of enemies fall instantly. If Microsoft went back on their promise of making Kinect the controller-free motion sensing solution it currently is, and produced some sort of a wireless 'side arm' for the thing, it could be improved tenfold. 

And so to the last reason why Kinect deserves to be toe-punted into Room 101 at the behest of the Ministry of Game Love - the stubborn bloody-mindedness of Microsoft to force developers to use Kinect THEIR way. Think for a second about the way you play games. Slumped in a comfy chair, beer at your side, tutting girlfriend or wife mumbling about your lack of gaming prowess under her breath while dutifully watching your hapless machinations. You're in a dimly lit (and probably impossibly cluttered) games room with just enough space to swing a joypad. This is not the clean almost sterile sun-lit environment filled with smiling elder relatives and hyperactive toothy children you see in Kinect adverts. This is the reality of gaming. No Kinect game currently caters for gamers who would love to see the device used as a secondary system for, say, detecting arm movements or head tracking. Perhaps even something used as a method to produce user-generated content in games. So far we've been promised much, and have actually seen very little from MS other than a few assurances that 'the best is yet to come' and 'Cambridge science bods have improved Kinect's tracking ability tenfold' without actually seeing anything backing up those claims.

Meanwhile the device is slowly being turned into a dumping ground for a metric ton of fuckawful fitness titles or minigame collections. Sound familiar?

With that I'll carefully package my dust-covered Kinect sensor up in its box, put it on the conveyor belt and press the button to damn it for eternity to Room 101.

Got something game-related you loathe? Write to us, and we'll see if it's ripe for inclusion in this series of ubercynical articles.


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