Kinecting people

I was one of the lucky geeks to wake up on Christmas morning and open my brand new Xbox Kinect. After 20 minutes of reorganising my games room (consisting of balancing the sofa precariously on it's end and pushing it around the room until it was away from flailing limbs), I was ready to go...

Let me just say that I've been meaning to get myself a Kinect since the day it came out... but (as always) I've been so busy with work that I've not even had the time to play the plethora of new games stacked on my console cabinet, let alone increasing my gaming responsibility by buying a Kinect. Suffice to say it was not a priority for the later part of 2010. It was inevitable I would get hands on one of these sooner rather than later, but Mrs Spikeh gladly obliged in my geeky Christmas box :)

So once it was plugged in, I went ahead with the calibration process, which turned out to be pretty easy; Step here, raise your arms, step there, pose like an antelope making love to an octopus etc. Calibration took about 5 minutes, after which I was launched in to the normal Xbox dashboard.

As an analytically minded guy, one of the things I enjoy doing is figuring out how new technology works. Having spent some time programming with voice recognition in the past, I was surprised to find out that you don't need to "train" your voice... it recognises your dulcet tones straight away. I'm not sure about strong accents, but it picked up Mrs Spikeh and I just swell. The Kinect dashboard voice commands are quite limited - "Open Tray", "Close Tray", "Next", "Previous", "Play Disc" etc, and there doesn't seem to be a command to close the console down, though I imagine the number of commands will be increased over time. I honestly don't think we're far off being able to have a fully coherent conversation with computers in our own home...

There's obviously very little point in using Kinect voice commands at the moment. There are a lot more features in the normal Xbox Dashboard, and it takes just as long to find them in Kinect as it does scrolling around with the controller, but it's fun and quite interesting, to say the least. On the positive side, it does show the potential of Kinect... imagine being able to vocally call in an air-strike whilst playing COD, or a Silent Hill game reacting to your girlfriend's screams when she's playing a horror game? Or am I the only one with a better half that enjoys scaring herself?

Once calibration is complete, you get a little video in the bottom right of the screen. It shows a infrared image of you and your surroundings. Kinect works by recognising human shapes and rendering them in to a 3D image (more information available in the links provided), which in turn no doubt provides some kind of API to the games developer exposing "points" on your body. As soon as you bring your hands in to the field of view of the camera, they light up on the image. Pretty damn clever, if you ask me.

Mrs Spikeh and I jumped straight in to Kinect: Adventures - the bundled game that came with the Kinect itself. Suffice to say, after the initial "ooooo" and "ahhhh" factor, the game is fairly standard... though it did prompt us both to change in to shorts, as neither of us are particularly fit, and jumping around in jeans is not ideal. I particularly enjoyed jumping and ducking about on the platform level, and thought that the face recognition jump-in, jump-out feature was exceptional... if you wanted a break, or just wanted a drink, step out of the play area and your avatar disappears. Of course, it reappears when you're ready to jump in again.

Kinect: Adventures repeats the same 6 or so types of game with increasing levels of difficulty - it's fairly forgiving (we played some levels pretty terribly and still passed the stage) and we only managed one round until we became bored of the games. I have Kinect: Sports on order, and I have my eyes on EA Sport's Active 2, which may even act as a replacement for the gym. I missed out on the whole Wii Fit thing.

So... my verdict on touchless technology? I'm impressed. There's minimum fuss, not a lot of effort and no 1950's throwback 3D glasses encumbering your vision. All I now need is a larger house with more room to play Kinect! :)

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/11/tonights-release-xbox-kinect-how-does-it-work/
http://www.joystiq.com/2010/06/19/kinect-how-it-works-from-the-company-behind-the-tech/

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