Kinect: First Impressions

Someone beheaded Johnny 5. Ish.

First, this purchase was for research purposes only. Honest. After talking one of my best mates out of buying one on launch, it was rather hypocritical of me to tweet a picture of my lovely Kinect equipment on launch day. Worry ye not though, I was suitably admonished for this injustice and he’ll probably never listen to a word of advice I ever give him again, especially anything gaming hardware related!

So what do I think? Well that is a tough one to sum in one paragraph, so I’ll walk you through my experiences from unwrapping the box through to collapsing naked into my bath with blistered feet and achy arms. It’s okay, I’ll keep that last bit free of naked analogies and skimp on the descriptive details.

The dawn of a new gaming world, the first controllerless commands, a new era in the way we play games! Quite a lot to live up to, especially as the Eye Toy arguably actually did the wavy hands thing first, but we’ll conveniently ignore that as I never actually played with the Sony creation. Microsoft has put its all into the launch of Kinect and, although the target market is blatantly the causal/family/party market initially, I think lurking in the background is an experiment that may only come into the light fully when the second iteration of this hardware is launched, most likely with the next gen of consoles. But that is the future and pure conjecture on my part, let’s focus back on the now.

As with any Microsoft hardware I’ve purchased to date, even the mice, the packaging was solid and I was impressed by the amount of foam padding holding the Kinect sensor in place. As I don’t own one of the new Xbox Slims I was very pleased to see an extension cord for any original Xbox 360 owners with a wireless network card (Kinect must be plugged into the rear USB slot on the original, according to the instructions) so that they wouldn’t have to choose between being online wirelessly or using Kinect. I’m sure people will still moan and bitch in comments and in forums, but I thought it was a decent solution, and free which is always a bonus.

Getting Kinect set up was easy enough – plug it into the mains socket, then the USB port and it was good to go. After a calibration run through (which is fairly lengthy), I was able to start it to navigate around the ‘Kinect hub’. Rather than integrate all of the traditional dashboard into the Kinect experience, Microsoft have added a sister-dashboard where you can sign in, view achievements, play with your avatar settings, etc. It isn’t as fully featured as the traditional dashboard and, as such, won’t be replacing it any time soon, but it is fun to play about with and hopefully over time it will get everything added or merge with the main dashboard into a single entity.

I toyed with the voice control although, admittedly, I didn’t go through the full Kinect tutorial so could only make it go to the dashboard (I’m a typical man when it comes to manuals!), but all other commands I could think of didn’t seem to get recognised and there was no documentation in paper or on the Kinect Hub that I could see. Initially though, it seemed to quite happily recognise my voice from six feet away, which I was quite surprised at considering my old style Xbox does have loud fans and there’s ambient game noise from the TV speakers not six inches away from the Kinect device. Once in a game, however, the dashboard commands seemed to cease functioning, which kind of makes sense as a cruel brother could potentially eject the game as you are about to get the highest ever score, thus ruining your shot at a Guinness World Record.

So after about 15-20 mins of setting the hardware up, downloading the updates (typical that Microsoft releases something that needs an immediate patch before use!) and calibrating the system, I was ready to roll. Currently I only have the Kinect Adventures and, whilst the game looked like awful shovelware, I thought it’d be a good game to just get a feel for the technology and control.

The proof of the pudding
Two and a half hours later, I sat panting for breath on the sofa with sweat streaming out of every pore. I hadn’t expected it to be that much fun. At first I felt a bit silly, just like when I had my first Konami dance mat, but after a couple of games I got the feel of moving around in 3D space. One thing I was a little surprised at is the amount of space that Kinect needs. Clearly designed with large American family homes in mind, my poor little two-bed terrace living room could only just edge into the beginning of the ‘best’ space range. I’d already moved the coffee table to one side and, to avoid destroying my light fittings, I was literally playing against my sofa. Although not a huge problem for most of the Kinect Adventures mini-games, it was painfully obvious that I lacked room on the ‘plug the hole’ and ‘space bubble’ games where you need to move both forwards and backwards, also the more energetic games that have you stretching to the sides caused issue when my washing horse obfuscated the camera’s view of my hand.

I found the system pretty responsive; it has its moments where it struggles, but there are a number of environmental factors that could have been interfering (low light as I only had a lamp on, the clothes horse, etc). I’ll leave the Kinect Adventures experience as a game out of this as it really deserves a proper write up. For the purposes of this piece lets just say it was fun, addictive and certainly energetic, plus the Kinect implementation was impressive in my opinion – it used the (presumably Microsoft imposed) standard methods for controlling the ‘cursor’, was responsive to movement, and even fast jerks of the body were measured well. The only criticism I had with the system from my two hours of play is that hip movements are not picked up at all well, and not just because I was desperate for my avatar to join me in my victory thrusts after each successive round!

I didn’t notice anything in the way of input lag on anything but the one game where you are deflecting balls in a breakout style game, yeah the one from all the tech demos, and that was most likely due to me and my poor reactionary skills in moving actual limbs rather than a just a thumb. I’m not a sprightly youth anymore!!

I also grabbed my brother for a quick test and, on a couple of occasions, we did clash body parts so I’d only recommend multiplayer if you have at least eight feet of clearance between you and the Kinect sensor, if not you are too tightly squeezed in next to each other. This also gave me the opportunity to test the recognition functionality and, sure enough, if I stand in front of Kinect after walking away or signing out, it will recognise me and sign me in. It may not be HAL 3000 but the fact that just one of my electronic devices knows me by sight has my inner geek doing victory laps and urging my brain to keep leaving and entering just to witness the spectacle again. It’s awesome to finally have technology that isn’t a far cry from what science fiction has envisaged in years past; in fact, I’m almost willing to forgive Tomorrow’s World and other future technology heralds for all the lies about hover cars and the like. Almost.

Final thought
Scoff all you like at the cutesy avatars, the family oriented marketing and the raft of Wii-like shovelware that seems to dominate the launch line up. If you join the commentard bandwagon of naysaying and turning a blind eye to what is a very interesting piece of tech just because you believe the mouse or joypad is the gaming controller God himself has chosen to use, then you are likely to miss out on something a little special. Of course Kinect, Move or anything like this will not replace the joypad for FPS games on the console or, at least, not in any foreseeable manner but to decry the control system just because its something different is a little short-sighted and, frankly, rather idiotic. I welcome anything that brings new gamers into the fold, casual or not. It’s all extra money going to developers and the more people that get to experience computer games then the less sway the panic mongering press will have and that, in turn, will mean gaming, and gamers, will not be so terribly maligned as I feel they tend to be at times.

Kinect may not be the herald of a whole new world, but it has taken the seeds planted by Sony’s Eye Toy and Nintendo’s Wii and moved a step forward in the evolutionary chain. I can’t wait to get playing some of the other Kinect titles and, coming from someone who wasted too many days playing Gears of War 2 horde mode to get their level 100 wings, I hope it shows that just because it has a casual focus it doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed. Provided the games catalogue is varied, doesn’t descend into a multitude of mini games, and actively tries to explore the implications of this control method on more traditional game archetypes then I don’t think my Kinect will end up collecting dust.

Initially, at least, you can colour me highly impressed. I’d recommend finding a friend with Kinect and giving it a go, you might just like it!

Last five articles by Stu



  1. Edward Edward says:

    I think this is a very good writeup and a great first effort from you :D
    I also find its weird how Kinect is managing to grab so many people who consider themselves hardcore gamers, even those who claimed to be burnt by the Wii. Granted, it may not be the best tech ever and it might come into some horrible problems later on due to its lack of buttons, but it’s giving everyone something we sometimes forget videogames are all about: a load of fun.

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I find myself in an odd position right now. I AM one of those naysayers, and always will be… but your article made me change my mind about WHY I’m one of the naysayers! I believe it comes down to personal preference, and I work too many hours to be able to game at “reasonable times” so it tends to be around midnight that I start to game, after 15 hours of being a slave to the grind, so I want to sink in to my sofa (or beanbag, as is the case these days) and have my controller rest on my lap as I amble around doing what I do. I wouldn’t have the energy to commit myself to anything beyond that, no matter how damn good the game was.

    I also think that my hatred, and there’s a lot of hatred, for motion control stems from the Wii and how shit the whole thing is where they’re pretty much forcing you to use motion control over regular controllers. We have a Wii, so I AM speaking from personal experience, and every game we have expects you to try and control it in that ridiculous wand waving fashion. It’s annoying. It’s not a choice, it’s a requirement.

    What you’re saying about Kinect though, I get it. If you want to play Call of Duty then you’ll still be able to use a controller… same goes for driving games, presumably, but if you want to dive in to a more energetic game then you can. One thing that really turned my head though, and this is a pretty pitiful admission really, is you saying that it appeals to your inner geek when it recognises that you are YOU… I adore that, and I was always sceptical of the reports of how it would know who you are… I call that the Molyneux Factor… but the fact that it DOES know it’s you and not your flatmate… damn that’s impressive.

    I can see Kinect evolving into something more than it is currently, and being more about fluidity of control and immersive interaction rather than JUST motion control. I’m championing the tech now, rather than hating it, but only as long as it’s still a choice… and only as long as they develop it beyond simply motion control for games. If they make it so that you HAVE to have it, and that you HAVE to control games that way, then I’ll be back to hating it.

    Great first article, welcome!!

  3. Stu says:

    Thanks for the compliments Edward!

    Unlike the Wii which was a venture into a whole new world (and a very well executed product launch with promise of being able to control swordfights, etc to get the mainstream gamers onboard) that generally gamers are a lot more jaded about the actual value that something like Kinect will add.

    I’ll be honest, right now it is definitely a family orientated piece of equipment but I think the future possibilities are very interesting. I totally get the point of view from MarkuzR about just wanting to relax and play a game but then Kinect isn’t currently trying to replace that aspect. Instead it has given me the option that, if I should feel like it, I can get a little bit energetic in my living room and not have to subjugate myself to the winter weather or a jog or the public humiliation of being a fat bloke in the gym (with the side effect of having my wallet bled dry). I’ll probably never get a six pack, but at the same time if I just do an hour or two a week it’ll be more than I do now and in no way could that possibly be a bad thing.

    Kinect is a powerful technology and considering the facial recognition, voice control and such it could be a powerful tool in bridging the gap for people with accessibility issues, even of not implemented for the purposes of gaming on the Xbox.

    Ultimately though I do consider myself a gamer and I did find it great fun. The mini-games may not have the shelflife of any AAA title nor the replayability of an RPG or multiplayer FPS, but with DLC and games like Dance Central, it will become a mini obsession for some! :)

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Craig Moore and Etherfiend, GamingLives. GamingLives said: Stu gives us his first impressions on Kinect today on gaminglives [...]

  5. Ste says:

    Hi Stu, great first article, I enjoyed it. It has also given me a slightly different view on the Kinect too. I still probably wouldnt buy it at this point however I will definately now keep my eye on it and given the opportunity I’d even have a bash on it… maybe!

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    I very much enjoyed your first article Stu and, to be honest, you make some compelling arguments for giving Kinect a chance. I have been one of the naysayers for various reasons, eyeing the thing like a shotgun-toting farmer who has just spotted a group of hitchikers wandering through his wheat field. I am also in the ‘I want to relax camp’, not to mention loathing the thought of games giving you zero choice, as many Wii titles do (Animal Crossing – you broke my damn heart)…however, with that said, you do make some valid points. You are right – it won’t likely replace regular controls any time soon, so in terms of having some knackering fun once in a while, it may be worth giving it a second glance. Dammit.

    I think part of the problem is that we have all been jaded by the Wii, so dismiss it as just another one of those things that Ant and Dec play in a pristine white living room. While it will likely never grab me fully , I find the thought that it could be a huge benefit to those who are disabled or who have trouble using regular controls a very sobering one; one which perhaps gets forgotten or overlooked in all the fuss. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this sort of application of the tech in the coming months.

    I’m not keen on the Skynet functions – don’t want it signing me into the world when I drag my cellulite into the lounge early in the morning, but part of me thinks it is intruiging and I can see folk playing more with this feature and the interactive menus than some of the games. As for the games, to me they appear ‘meh’ and childish thus far (which was to be expected) but seeing the screen shots of the river rafting thing have made me linger when I otherwise didn’t expect to. I love the thought of flinging myself down a raging river on a lilo without having to get wrapped around a crocodile or David Hasslehoff or some other aquatic horror.

    Gutted about the overall lack of hip thrust recognition though…I guess Kinect interactive porn is out for the forseeable future. Bugger.

  7. Adam Adam says:

    As with everyone else in the comments, I’m more on the other side of the fence than Microsoft would like and as with everyone else in the comments, it’s because I’m not that into the idea behind Motion Controls. I do love that it’s going to bring more into the fold and I’m glad we’re of like mind that this is a good thing regardless of any preconceptions about the casual market. The more people signing into Xbox Live, the more exposure they get to gaming as a subculture, the more money goes into producing great new content for Live, the more developers we see step up to the plate, the better the innovation.

    I’m sure that given the opportunity to get some play time with it (preferably sub-terrain, alone), I’d fall in love with it. I’m also fairly certain that after a day, I’d never play with it again having got tired of the limited use of the tech so far and probably having found tricks to make the games easier without making lots of effort like snap-flicking a Wiimote to win.

    I honestly look forward to seeing the big games incorporate Kinect into their product without harming gameplay. I dont ever expect to see myself standing in the center of a room, playing on the joypad and waiting to do something for the camera and I also dont see how games will manage to incorporate me if I’m slouched on the couch with my feet up and my head on my shoulder. But they’ll find a way, they always do.

    Great first write up Stu, honest and fair, lots of <3

  8. FC360 says:

    Nice article, I have always been interested in Kinect however I can’t afford it for awhile. Unfortunately my room is full of stuff so I don’t really have enough room to move around, actually my xbox 360 and TV are about 30cm away from my bed so I would have to sit on my bed to play which wouldn’t really work with kinect as standing up it would just see my stomach. This article makes me want to buy it more, I could play the active games that require quite a bit of space by putting it in my dining room for a couple of hours to play. I’ve always wondered what kinect is like at picking up people laying down on a sofa or bed as I always sit or lay on my bed to play any games.

  9. Splicer261 says:

    I can see the potential of kinect but what i fear are the consequences.

    My gaming stems from N64 and the playstation era, where jrpgs and hardcore action/adventures were the norm. Playstation 2 dominated last generation and its influence led to wonderful action/adventures, fighting games and jrpgs i could immerse and escape to.

    Now, this generation…xbox 360 dominated the hardcore market, the result is the countless FPS and online multiplayer, or open world rpgs dominating the hardcore scene. My choice for an action/adventure game has limited, i have to wait once a year for a great one. However, if i want to play an online multiplayer game, the choice is now, i have to accept this as the norm.

    Another example of this is Xbox live arcade..i have a next generation console with me, i want more games similar to last gen released as next generation games, but can enjoy those games as live arcade now. In a strange, it is backward compatibility and you are paying for it.

    True, this is giving gamers choices, but still..i have a bloody next generation console at hand!

    It comes down to the market. Xbox arcade has proven to be popular, so it exists and i have to adhere to it, accept it again as the norm.

    And this is what i fear with Kinect. If Kinect proves to be incredibly successful like the Wii, it will change the gaming scene..there is no doubt about it, as a hardcore gamer i will have to accept it.

    Hardcore gaming isn’t also just about killing and shooting, the games are epic complete a chapter, you are shown a great cutscene, it moves you, it immerses you and you move onto the next chapter, wanting to see the next cutscene or more about the tale.

    That’s what i love and what my gaming life has always been all about. The countless hours i put in trying to see everyone’s endings in tekken or ploughing through an rpg, getting the ultimate weapons, trading and completing an epic quest.

    Will Kinect offer alot of games like that? i doubt the games are built with that in mind. Kinect is an experience, it’s arcade fun you can enjoy with quick pick and play interface.

    Sure, Kinect might release an epic action/adventures or rpg that you have to play with no buttons, but i like sitting on the couch and escaping..The option might be there to play with your controller, but wouldn’t that defeat the point of having Kinect?

    I can definitely see Kinect bringing new casual gamers from your grandparents, cousins to even your video game opposing gf, and it will be fun, but deep down, i will miss the golden age of hardcore gaming.

    We’ll just have to wait and see is always a waiting game.

  10. Rook says:

    Kinect isn’t the first foray in motion controlled gaming for the Xbox 360; back in 2006 TotemBall was released through XBLA and had you guiding a ball through different levels using your hands and the Xbox Live Vision Camera. I can’t think of any other games on the 360 that used the camera for motion controls while other gamess did incorporate the camera purely as a camera.

    I do lik the idea around motion controls but having the Wii that never gets used I won’t be rushing out to get Kinect and it’s a bit too expensive to buy just to try it out. Like others have mentioned, I like to sit back and relax when playing my games too, plus I wouldn’t have the requisite space for Kinect gaming.

    The option of Kinect gaming currently coms down to the motion controlled inspired games released for it but it will be interesting to see a game that can be played both as motion controlled or with a standard controller and see how they can integrate each aspect.

    And if Kinect ID can recognise and sign you in I wonder how long it will be for a game to play this up and pretend it is scanning you for access to locked rooms, its version of a retina scan.

    Good first article Stu and welcome to the team.

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