We're still not quite recovered from the crippling bout of Wii Elbow we sustained way back in 2006, when Nintendo's motion-sensing console changed the face of gaming forever. Now our creaky old bones have just suffered another crushing blow, because we've given Kinect -- the controller-less motion controller for the Xbox 360, formerly known as Natal -- the hands-on treatment. Read on to discover what we thought of it.
We had the privilege of testing Kinect at an Ubisoft event in London. As such the hardware was demo'd with the publisher's Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, one of these 'make-you-healthy' games, which checks your movement using Kinect to ensure you're performing your exercises with the requisite degree of accuracy.
You need a fair bit of space to make Kinect work, but once it's captured your image you'll be represented on screen in mirror-image. This particular game uses a photo image of your own body, though other games we've seen use avatars instead.
The camera technology really is impressive -- despite the event taking place in low light, Kinect did an amazing job of figuring out which bits of its visual field were human and which parts were background.
We were particularly impressed when we picked up this scarf -- Kinect identified it as something we were holding, and even found the edges of the scarf itself. We waved it around in a manner we'd describe as 'fancy-free' and Kinect kept up admirably. We didn't have to enter any special information or tell the console we were holding something either -- it figured it out all by itself.
Although that (admittedly lovely) scarf didn't really help much with our workout, we can definitely see the potential for wielding a virtual sword or spear in the living room to defeat your virtual foe. Just move that Ming-dynasty vase out of the way first.
If you want to change players, just step out the way of the motion sensor. When someone else steps in, Kinect will pick up the new player. We tried our hardest to break this or make it glitch, but without success -- it really did work impressively well.
This isn't actually us playing, but another eager punter. Kinect measures the angle of your various limbs, and this game will penalise you if your exercising form is anything other than perfect.
The one thing we struggled to get used to is that if your 'avatar' is facing towards you on-screen, you're basically a mirror image. This means to kick out your left leg on-screen, you'll have to kick with the left in reality too. That sounds easy, but we found that looking at a mirror-image of ourselves caused our brains to over-compensate -- we kept kicking with our right leg when we wanted to kick to the left on-screen. We adapted eventually though, and we suspect this isn't something that will affect most games.
During E3 we heard rumours that the Kinect hardware led to laggy performance in-game. We suspect these rumours may have been caused by iffy software, because we didn't notice any lag at all during our short playtest. We don't know for certain if the hardware we were using is final, but with launch only a few months away it can't be too different.
All in all, this hardware is looking very promising. We do worry that not everyone is going to have the space required to really go leaping around their living rooms, but spatial concerns aside, we can't wait to test the hardware out properly, and see its application in the new games themselves.