When Microsoft first announced the ambitious Project Natal at E3 2009, it was
hard to find an Xbox owner who wasn't giddy with excitement. The idea of
playing a video game without the need for a controller seemed fresh and intuitive,
and the possibilities seemed virtually limitless.
But then E3 2010 came around, and gamers were unfortunately brought back
down to Earth.
It's our own fault, really. Microsoft was so intentionally vague in their initial
unveiling of Kinect back in 2009, everyone simply thought of the device's
incredible potential, and nothing else. Especially when compared to Sony's then-
unnamed Move, which looked like nothing more than a too-late Wii rip-off. But
this year, we were able to get our hands on the device, and get a much more
realistic view of the supposed next step in game control.
Now don't get me wrong - the technology behind Kinect is impressive. Its
camera is capable of advanced facial and gesture recognition, and the built-in
microphone can recognize several different voices. In fact, when you first step
in front of Kinect, the camera will analyze your body and remember what you
look like, so that when you turn on your Xbox, it will automatically sign into the
profile of whomever the device recognizes. The camera can simultaneously track
up to four people, and is thankfully able to distinguish between people and pets
(nothing would lower a Dance Central score quicker than a dog jumping in front
of your TV!).
Browsing through menus with Kinect is a breeze, and is probably the closest we
are going to get to Minority Report in the next couple of decades. You simply
wave your hand to go from one screen to the next, and hold your hand over an
icon for a second to select it. While watching movies, you can use these types
of hand gestures to do things like fast forward and rewind, and even use them in
combination with voice commands ("Xbox pause!"). The system is easy to use
and feels natural, and is virtually lag free.
Of course, not a lot of people will be spending $150 on Kinect simply for the
purpose of navigating their menu screens (as cool as it is). The lineup of Kinect
games at E3 was lackluster, and especially for hardcore gamers, probably hurt
the device more than they helped it. Games like Kinectimals and Kinect Sports
are obviously aimed at the younger/more casual audience that the Wii has
catered so well towards. There were also a handful of workout and dance games
that were unveiled, and although they were probably the best of the bunch, they
still have somewhat of a limited audience.
Perhaps the most intriguing title for the hardcore crowd was a short glimpse at
an untitled Star Wars game. But even then, little else was revealed other than
the game's existence. Will Kinect be able to provide deep, compelling game
experiences for the audience that has supported the Xbox brand for nine years
now? Or will it only appeal to the emerging casual market that is somehow
just now starting to discover video games? With the device set for release on
November 4th, it looks like we'll find out soon enough.