20 minutes with the Kinect demo unit W/Video.

A buddy of mine recently got some hands on experience with Microsoft’s new motion sensing technology, Kinect, at the Macy’s store in downtown Chicago and wanted to share his thoughts. After reading his review, this is pretty much what I was expecting from this device/technology. So check it out below and if you’ve had a chance to try it out let us know what you thought in the comments.

Personal background:

I’ve been playing video games since the late 80’s. I’d like to think of myself as a gaming everyman. I’ve owned the NES, Gameboy Color, Sega Genesis, 32X (not proud of that), Game Gear, SNES, Playstation 1 & 2, Dreamcast, PSP, iPod Touch, various PC setups, and the Xbox360. No Playstation 3 or Wii. I didn’t realize how much of a gaming dork I was until I just re-read how many systems I’ve owned. Anyways, I’ve just about tried them all out so I’m fairly well versed in video game controls (from controllers to super scopes to DDR dance pads). The video games currently making their rotation in the Xbox are Read Dead Redemption, MW2, Forza 3, Mega Man 10, and Trials HD. I’ve got plenty of other games of various genres, but these are the ones I’m playing at this time. Most of my multiplayer gaming is done via Xbox Live or Steam. I haven’t done much local multiplayer since Halo (1-3). I’m a 26 years old mechanical engineer who makes my money by designing and construction rail road signal, traction power, and communication systems for a large Midwest specialty electrical contractor. Now you have a baseline to compare yourself to.

Judging a book by its cover:

I will admit that prior to trying the Kinect that I thought it was pretty stupid looking from the games that were demoed to the wacky wavy-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man like motions that players had to do. The games didn’t really cater to my personal gaming style. I will never buy a game where I stroke the air to pet a virtual animal. Everything else just seemed to be mini-games rather than complete story driven games. When I saw the alleged $150 price tag for the unit and $60 for the games I pretty much decided then and there that this was not for me unless this was something really special.

Macy’s Chicago 7/17/10

I was back in Chicago for a company charity event (recently moved to NJ for a multi-year project). This trip also coincided with a 21st birthday party my sister was having down town. After the charity event, I made my way home, cleaned up, met with my brother (Kevin [not much of a gamer, keep in mind for later]) and headed to the party. Bought my sister a drink that she couldn’t finish (Irish Car Bomb), had a couple of my own then took off so the kids could play. Kevin and I wandered the streets a bit to check out some of the Transformers 3 cars and props that were littering the Chicago streets. Knowing that MS had their demo unit up at Macy’s, I convinced Kevin that we should make the pilgrimage to the store since we were in the vicinity. When we made it there I went up to a cashier to see if they could point me in the direction of the Kinect since there were no signs or indications that it was anywhere in the building. They had no idea what I was talking about so they sent me down to customer service. Luckily customer service was aware of it and sent me in the right direction which just so happened to be in the vicinity of the first guy whom I asked where it was. On display was the Kinect and the new Xbox, a 52” (estimated) Samsung LCD TV, a couch for spectators and a big purple MS Kinect rug. The Kinect looked larger in person that I thought it would be. Like the pics show, it is the same glossy black plastic that the new Xbox sports. It has the two cameras to the center and to the left is another sensor the same size as the cameras. It puts off a faint series of red lights that reminded me of the scanners at retail checkouts. It wasn’t distracting while playing, but when looking directly at the unit, you can’t help but notice it. When I walked up some guy was playing the track and field game. He was having a difficult time jumping over the hurdles in the race and came in last place three tries in a row. After a few minutes he walked away with a fairly indifferent look on his face. Since there was no one else waiting to try, I jumped right in.

Impressions of each of the games after the jump.

Kinect Adventures: River Rush

I took my place on the big purple carpet and convinced Kevin to join me. The rep loaded up the “River Rush” game and after the load screen and some instructions, two avatars appeared in the raft. The rep gave us a quick spiel about how it worked then told us to jump. We jumped and were on our way. The premise of the game is as simple as it gets: steer the raft between certain markers and collect coins on the way. The rep said you actually had to move your whole body to the left or right to steer the raft. We were able to steer it by leaning, so I think the rep may have been exaggerating about the movement. Was there lag? A little, but everything was so frantic that it was hard to notice. I had to tell Kevin which way to lean so we could coordinate movement. It felt awkward. The rep yelled jump when it was time to jump and which way to lean at certain sections. Since I had seen many of the Kinect videos online I pretty much knew what to expect. This was Kevin’s first experience with the unit so I’m guessing the verbal commands were more beneficial to him. We made it through the whole course and the MS rep claimed that we set the high score. Kevin promptly got off the carpet and took to spectating. He didn’t appear to enjoy it. As for me, it is not something I wouldn’t care to play more than once or twice. The game just had no lasting appeal to me personally.

Verdict- Worth trying once, but nothing the Wii couldn’t do with the pressure pad and nunchucks.

Kinect Sports: Bowling

The MS rep rebooted the Xbox since it was just going to be me playing. It went through what looked like a diagnostic screen where a silver outline of my body appeared on the screen. When I moved, the outline followed. The movement wasn’t instantaneous, but I assumed that was because it was still familiarizing itself with my body. After it calibrated itself to my body and it was time to go. The rep asked if I wanted to try the track and field game that the previous guy was playing and I somewhat reluctantly said “Sure.” After watching the last guy try and fail multiple times, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. When she loaded up the Kinect Sports demo it gave options to play four different games: track and field single player, T&F multiplater, Bowling, and something called Conduct the Crowd. When I saw that bowling was available I reached into the air in front of me to make a cursor appear on the screen and moved it towards bowling. The rep said “Track and field is to the left.” I told her that I knew that and wanted to try bowling. She didn’t seem to care so we proceeded. I was prompted with a screen that basically said” When ready grab the zipper and pull”. On screen was a zipper about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the screen. I didn’t realize that at first and the rep told me to hold out your hand and grab the zipper. I held out my right hand and a circular cursor appeared on the screen. I moved it towards the zipper and after two failed attempts finally got it to work. The whole screen was completely unnecessary. Finally after a couple more loading screens and instructions the actual game appeared. The lane appeared in front of me and there were ball returns to either side of me (to cater to left and right handed players). I leaded to the right to grab a ball and the avatar picked it up. The rep told me to limit my forward travel when throwing so that the Kinect could still pick up my movement. I lined up my shot, took one step and rolled. The ball went straight down the lane. It didn’t appear that there was any way to control spin. That is a big drawback to me since prefer to spin when I actually bowl. Over the course of 6 frames I racked up a 46, no strikes, no spares. The demo ended after the 6th frame and I was unimpressed. As someone who can typically bowl around 160-170 this kind of hurt my ego. The limited forward movement and lack of spin were deal breakers for me.

Verdict – If you must play a virtual bowling game, stick to Wii bowling. Nothing compares to the
real thing though.

Kinect Adventures: Obstacle Course

People kept on walking by the demo, but no one was stopping to play. That meant I had more time to dick around with the unit. The rep asked if I wanted to play the obstacle course next so I agreed. Again, the zipper screen showed up and I unzipped in one try. Loading screens, instructions, then it began. The avatar appeared on a platform with horizontal handles to either side. I was instructed to grab the handles and push myself forward, similar to how an ice luger gets their start. The rep told me to jump to increase the speed of the platform. I did so and immediately hit an obstacle I should have ducked under. When low obstacles appeared I jumped to avoid them and was then hit by the overhead obstacles again. This process repeated itself for 2 minutes. You duck to miss one obstacle, you hit another. You jump over an obstacle then are immediately hit with another. It didn’t help that this game seemed to have the glitchiest movement of them all. I would duck and the avatar would jump in some cases. I’d move one way and the avatar would do something completely different. You could attribute the poor performance to the fact that this was the first time I’ve tried it so it could have been me doing something wrong. I’d like to think that I’m well versed enough in gaming that I could just jump in and do it right the first time. Either way, something was off with this demo. Precision is not the Kinect’s strong suit.

Verdict – If the control was more accurate, it could have been fun. Because it seemed so flawed, it just felt like I was racing to make it to the finish so I could move on to something else.

Kinect Adventures: Whack a Ball (As seen in video)

Next up was the dodge ball like game where you have to hit the balls at squares for points and power ups. Menus, waiting etc. then the game started. I reached over my right shoulder and the ball appeared. I hit it forward to put things in motion and that’s when shit got crazy. This it the type of game where precision motion capture would be necessary. To the trained eye, the lag was noticeable. At around 39 seconds into the video I posted, you can see me lift my left arm then the avatar follows shortly there after. As someone who started playing Counter Strike on a 56K modem, I am quite familiar to lag. I never liked taking AWP shots with my crosshair on a guys head just to see him disappear from the screen as I click the mouse. While we’re not talking 56K modem lag with the Kinect, it is still enough to make you miss a ball or two in this particular game. Was the game fun? It was cool to try, but again had no lasting appeal to me.

Verdict – You definitely have to incorporate your whole body into this one. Fun for a little while, but just seems like a complete clusterfuck on screen.

Kinect Sports: Track and field (shudder…)

I decided I was pretty familiar with how the Kinect worked at this point. I figured why not give the track and field game a go to see if I could do better than the guy who was playing when I showed up. The rep loaded it up and I waited for the start shot to sound. As soon as I heard it I began crazily running in place. The avatar did not match my leg movement 1 for 1 as I was clearly hauling ass and the avatar was taking its time. The speakers started beeping to indicate that a hurdle was coming. The hurdle came around the corner glowing yellow and the beeping increased. When it was time to jump the beep became a steady sound and the hurdle became green. I jumped and cleared the hurdle. I have no idea what was making that so difficult for the other guy who couldn’t seem to clear one. I repeated running in place and jumping when necessary but couldn’t seem to find the proper technique to make the avatar gain speed. The other avatars surpassed me and then I crossed the finish line. That was enough for me.

Verdict – Track and Field for the NES had it right. Even then running in place barely let you win but you could always hit the pads with your hands rapidly to kick some ass.

Conclusion –

Microsoft, show me something more than mini games. If I wanted gimmicky motion controlled games I would have picked up a Wii ages ago. Given a choice between the Wii and the Kinect I would go with the Wii just for the fact that it has a large game library for me to choose from. I have yet to see a Kinect game that would warrant a day one purchase. I hope that Microsoft can work with developers to pump out something special and unique. From what I saw, the games are not worth $60. They should be priced comparably to Wii games or hopefully less. I hope the $150 price tag for the unit comes down significantly. If they insist on charging that much, at least have the decency to toss in one or two games with it. Doe the unit have potential? It will really depend on how much support third party developers give to it. There is definitely room to think outside the box with game development for this peripheral. I just can’t see myself flailing around the way I did for hours on end. That is the beauty of controllers. I can sit and play a game without completely tiring myself out or breaking something with my erratic movement. Hopefully as we get closer to November we will see some cool things start to emerge. If this thing was released today for $150 and they stuck to the $60 for games, I would avoid it like the plague.