Kinect. It’s a word that strikes horror into the hearts and minds of many hardcore gamers. The Kryptonite for Xbox fans that keeps each Microsoft conference from being 100 per cent awesome in their eyes, with every mention. But, Microsoft is clearly making a new one. The question is, do we need one?
Well, there’s certainly a technological need for a next-generation Kinect. The original was full of promise - claiming that you could literally ‘be’ the character in a video game by simply getting up out of your seat and moving your body around. Much like Nintendo’s initial promotion for the Wii, concepts for core game implementation were showcased, and the world went nuts.
But, while both the Wii and Kinect failed to sustain an interest with the core gamer majority, they both did so in slightly different ways. The Wii fell flat because of overwhelming casual demand overriding a desire to play core games, which led the majority of third parties to focus development on simple party titles. But, some core games did make use of the Wii Remote, and the technology was (for the most part) sound, ambition be damned.
Kinect’s problem was that it was a good idea, but just a janky technology to begin with. While the Wii Remote had its calibration issues, Microsoft’s camera peripheral often had problems wondering where your entire arm was. Add to that different height sizes, living room spaces and light interference and you end up with a lot of variables to consider. Too many variables, it would seem, to consider when developing a hardcore title.
So a new Kinect - one that features much higher fidelity - would be most welcome, in order to fully realise the peripheral’s initial potential. And it seems that Microsoft will be upping the ante with its next-generation motion camera, if leaked details and rumours are anything to go by. Specifications point to a larger field of view (70 degrees horizontally and 60 degrees vertically), a 1920x1080 camera resolution streaming at 30fps and a depth resolution of 512x424. That’s a vast improvement.
But Microsoft has only one shot, realistically, at making a good ‘second impression’ with core gamers. It could pull it off, if rumoured games like Gears of War Tactics end up being true
as a showcase for next-generation Kinect titles. Games like these suggest a new approach to attracting core gamers to the device - less action-focused, more cerebral gameplay experiences.
Adding a Kinect to every new Xbox console will also allow developers to augment the technology to core titles by way of voice recognition and hand gestures - perhaps the best and most frequently-used implementation of the technology in today’s Xbox 360 consoles thanks to the Dashboard. Because of this ease of use and accessibility on current-generation consoles, Microsoft will likely stick with Kinect for the long-term, even for just entertainment use.
And that brings me to perhaps the biggest part of the equation when it comes to sticking with Kinect - the casual users. Microsoft would be fools to give up on Kinect, simply due to its penetration within the family and casual demographic. There’s a huge potential userbase to tap into. And, as much as core gamers like to complain about the peripheral, the fact remains that - somehow - Microsoft has managed to cater to both audiences irrespective of Kinect’s market success.
If Microsoft intends to push the next Xbox further towards the realm of entertainment, then it needs Kinect to succeed. Whether we, as gamers, need it or not is up to core implementation - but there’s a large number of mainstream users who couldn’t imagine an Xbox without motion and voice commands.