Sunday, 5 September 2010

Treehouse Hands On (Off?) : Kinect

I was lucky enough, thanks to avid reader Puressence, to get a chance to take Kinect for a proper test drive in Microsoft’s central London lair, the Kinect galleries. At no doubt meteoric expense, they have hired out a labyrinthine exhibition space in Covent Garden as part of their UK tour, and filled it with screens and toys. The top level, the galleries themselves, comprise several looping video screens and installations, as well as a stage area where the bold and the small can try the games out for an extended period in full view of often baffled members of the public. Downstairs however, in the bowels of the building, lies the heart of the affair – 3 (only 3?) living room setups where you can finally try Kinect out properly. For the briefest of brief 30 minutes, I got hands on (we need new terminology, no hands required) with some of Kinect’s launch line up. Read on for the verdict.

Our guide asks us if we’re aware of Kinect? Yes we’re aware of Kinect sonny, stop wasting our precious 30 minutes and get the screen on! Kinect adventures is up first, and is a suitable title to get that precious first Kinect moment. As I stand in front of the screen, up pops my avatar, and the instinct to pull all kinds of shapes is natural and irresistible, so I do. To my squealing delight, the avatar mimics my moves perfectly, with no noticeable lag. Amaaazing. But, much as I just want to screw around with the avatar, there’s a game to play, and moments later, I’m flying off downstream in the raft adventure. Puressence leaps up to join in, and his avatar appears next to mine almost instantly, true drop-in drop out gameplay. Now we’re jostling down the river side by side, physically leaping to hit the jumps, timing between us to get double jump style airs, and swerving back and forth across the wild rapids. Motion sickness, palpable. But it’s hard to take in as I’m marvelling at how my avatar moves back and forth within the dinghy as I move towards and away from the camera, it hadn't occurred to me that 3d movement would allow this.

Next up, we’re no longer cooperating, time for a little mono a mono shape throwing, a la hole in the wall. As our avatars progress along an on-rails, well, rail, collectible tokens appear in groups ahead of us, and we must pull a shape to maximise our collection. Puressence proves more flexible, beating my score by a mere handful. This is war. And so onto bubble popping – this sees our avatars flying around a chamber like Charlie and grandpa on Fizzy lifting drinks. We flap our arms out here in the real world, and there onscreen, up float our little avatars. What follows is an orgy of looking extremely silly as we try to grab the most bubbles. I forget who won that one..ahem.

Next up, a sit down, I’m bleedin’ knackered! So we sit back to watch our lovely assistant, who lacking a suitable internet moniker, I shall dub “Nicky”, takes Kinectimals for a test drive. A fuzzy little tiger cub is selected and out it trots, to much cooing from all concerned. Voice control isn’t implemented yet, we’re told, and despite a rather self conscious trainer, we did witness the cat stand on one leg, get firmly stroked, play dead (most amusing) and lick the screen a bit (ew scrabbles!). A quick trot around the assault course looked rather dis-kinected as the cat charged through everything without attempting them, but our organiser assured us, much to our relief, that it was simply because Nicky was being rubbish.

So we kicked her off, and got Puressence back in charge, with a little Lady Gaga action on Dance Central. I tell you what, rather him than me, this looked shattering. I have my doubts that I’m going to be able to play this game, it looked very hard, although he did foolishly select “hard”. Now that’s ambitious. Anyway, the dancer’s limbs onscreen were almost permanently red, indicating that some degree of fail was occurring, and Puressence scraped a couple of stars, and narrowly missed a coronary. The report was in; fun! The game looked as slick and stylish as the videos suggest and is going to be a ton of fun in the privacy of your own home. Expect some very silly parties in the near future.

Next, a few minutes to squeeze in a quick “Sports”, the assistant selects 100m vs, much to Puressence’s horror, as I step up fresh from my rest and ready for action. Again, the moments between the games provide the most entertaining parts for me, as I limber up, my avatar does exactly the same onscreen, a small thing we will all get over pretty quickly I’m sure, but it’s hard to convey how odd it is to witness, and how cool it’s going to be. I mime adjusting my shorts, he’s up there doing it! Brilliant! But again, the moments passing and we’re here to race. Knees up is the key comes the word, so we’re off – knees up on the spot puffing to the finish, and I’m in by a nose, I cross the line my arms raised, whooping. It’s all happening out here, and in there. Round 2, another victory. I pull a few Hussein Bolt poses, but now our time is up.

Sooo, verdict? It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. I was very much a Kinect Adventure’s cynic, but it was probably the highlight of the session, although I would have liked to have had a bowl, and I still get the feeling sports would have been a wiser choice for the hardware bundle. Oh well. The responsiveness of the avatar was amazing, as in, like really quite impressively good, but it’s telling that the real highlight was the in between moments – I remain largely indifferent to the line up – these games are for mum, gran and the brats and will be wheeled out at Christmas never to be seen again. The technology itself though seems, in our brief moments together, to be a genuine leap forward. To have it mimic you so accurately, so smoothly was a little unnerving, and this is just with a cartoony avatar, the concepts being dreamed up by talented game designers, I simply can't imagine (that’s why im not a game designer). For this reason alone I hope Kinect gets embraced by gamers – the internet h8torade continues to flow freely most places you look, but the technology represents such a potential shift away from the status quo I can’t help but be excited. Combining play with the existing controller(s) and any number of as yet unannounced peripherals and functions, the possibilities are mind boggling. So if not a day one buy, pretty soon after. My biggest fear for the system, is that if gamers don’t embrace it, and it becomes the new wii, Puressence will have to toil through mountains of awful and potentially life-threatening shovelware to keep up with his gamerscore whoring. I guess that’s inevitable, and pretty funny.

Also quite funny, some grainy footage of us looking ridiculous. This thing is win.


French Bean & Coffee Bean said...

I haven't played games in a while, but this looks fun. ^.^

-French Bean

havethumbs said...

How do you think the Move will compete and how both will compete against the Wii? By the way new to blogger and we started a mainly PS3 and other tech page you have a very nice layout and great colors etc. Our page is

Please check it out if you have the time.

Munial said...

I havent had a chance to play with Move yet but I'm pretty excited for it - I think we'll finally get all the promises the wii failed to deliver - lightsabres please - that said, I think both Move and Kinect will struggle to recreate the wii's success with their higher price points and more "serious" image. The ps3 has a good portion of non gaming owners who just wanted a bluray player who may be tempted into games now.. no bad thing.

Bottom line, I cant wait to try it out and hope it and Kinect are both massive successes! ..

Thanks for reading and commenting, I'll keep an eye on your page which is looking v nice already!

Puressence said...

One thing that isn't clear from this video is how TIRING Kinect is. Both Munial and I were shattered at the end, and he's nowhere near as much of a gaming lard arse as me! Then again his gamerscore is criminally lower then mine as well (sorry fella!)

Castors said...

Next, a few minutes to squeeze in a quick “Sports”, the assistant selects 100m vs, much to Puressence’s horror, as I step up fresh from my rest and ready for action.