It's been a year since TechBlog god Dwight Silverman and I strolled a few blocks from the Chronicle to see Microsoft types give us a preview of the new Kinect device. I knew the device had potential - the Oprah effect (her giving Xbox/Kinect bundles away on her show) would push soccer moms to buy the device for their young ones.
After the demo, I walked away impressed but concerned. If Microsoft puts some weight behind the device, it would change gaming forever. If they orphaned it, it would end up like my HD-DVD attachment (which I paid $199 for from Best Buy) and would go down in the list of flawed MS devices (Windows ME, the Microsoft Kin are a few).
A year later, I am happy to report the Kinect is doing better than expected, propelling sales of the 360 to unbelievable levels. Microsoft is making sure popular release support the device - a big plus - and even have special modes for the Kinect (Forza 4 has a special Kinect mode).
The Wii has suffered most from the Kinect's success. The once-dominating Nintendo console that was once impossible to find at retail can be had for $99 at a handful of places. The Sony PlayStation Move, which actually offers better tracking than the Kinect and even offers support for more mainstream/hardcore games (Resistance 3, KillZone 3 and SOCOM 4) than the Kinect, isn't burning up the sales charts like the Kinect is.
It sounds all good for the company that could out of Redmond, Washington, right? Not quite. As cool as the device is, it's not perfect.
Despite being a popular - and often cheaper alternative - to the Wii or the PS Move (you have to buy controllers for the Wii and Move), you have to retune the Kinect calibration software ever so often.
There are a lot of great points for the Kinect.
1. The device offers a revolutionary experience. I can't think of another gaming device where I can say "Play" and the console does what I asked it to do. That is definitely worth the price of admission. I can swipe menus with my hand from my vintage recliner, I can say "Xbox, play" and start watching movies and videos and even use the Video Kinect program to chat with relatives using Windows Live Messenger and a basic Web cam. Of course, the bad side is you have to pay an additional $60 a year for Xbox LIVE Gold membership to use most of those features (The membership can be had for just $30 if you know where to look).
2. The device puts children in the game. Playing Once upon a monster, Just Dance 3, Disneyland Adventures with children is one awesome experience. The children don't have to hold a wand (like the Move) to play. They just need to use their hands - which are both free to use - and can hop/jump/wiggle and twist. Plus, they can even use their own voice in some of the Kinect games. They can see their avatar, which can be crafted to look similar to them, mimicking their actions on-screen. You can see the joy on their faces when they tell loved ones about their experience with the Kinect.
3. Load of potential. The Kinect isn't that sophisticated. It has a 1.3 megapixel camera, a mic and doesn't work well in low light. However, developers and modders have really showed off what the Kinect is capable of. From flying an unmanned air vehicle - UAV - around a room - to mods where people play Super Mario Brothers with various body motions and gestures - the potential is truly limitless.
But ... despite the praise heaped on the device, it's far from perfect.
1. Better tracking, por favor. This is one of the biggest frustrations. The device has a tough time figuring out who's, who's when multiple players are in the game. It can't really distinguish between a foot/elbow/kneecap/fist. It can't tell the difference between a child, a person above 4 feet and below 5 feet, and an NBA center. If you accidentally hold your foot out too long, you could reset the game. Not cool.
2. More games needed to lure hardcore gamers. Where are the Halo, Gears of War and other first-person shooters that made the 360 the console to own if you want to get your killshots on? Aside from Forza 4's fun but limited Kinect mode, where's the onslaught of gaming goodness? Hardcores made the 360 a success. The Kinect is helping but to get more gamers, Microsoft needs to release games for the Kinect that will engage the hardcore gamers. An RPG where I can swing my katana - or nunchucks - or aim my Barrett .50 sniper rifle is essential.
3. Make it wireless. And smaller. The Sony Move offers a much smaller camera - with a built-in mic for a much cheaper price. The Kinect takes up serious real estate. Go smaller when the device makes a profit. Really, it's not hard. The cables can be cumbersome - make it wireless. And seriously consider a camera upgrade. 1.3 megapixels for a camera is a joke today. In 2004, not so much.
Overall, it's been an awesome device to use. I really enjoy it so very much. However, Microsoft needs to work on improving the device. It has so much potential, but to be fully embraced, Microsoft has to lead the way. Give hardcore gamers a reason to get on board the Kinect. Get shooters and RPGs using the Kinect. Don't give me special modes - make Kinect versions of the game.