I have been in the extremely fortunate position of having Natal, sorry, Kinect for the better part of a week now. During that time I’ve been merrily dancing around my living room in varying states of frivolity, but rather than give you a write-up of how wonderful I think it is and risk the cries of the ever-present “Conflict of Interest”, I thought I’d step aside and let my wife tell you of her experience instead.
James – So, dearest, how would you describe yourself when it comes to gaming?
Ali – I’m very much a casual gamer. I used to game a lot more, and was a big Tomb Raider fan, but other hobbies now get in the way. At the moment I don’t tend to see a game and feel the need to play it, I just tend to play more of whatever you play.
James – So you haven’t gone out and bought many 360 titles, then?
Ali – Not 360, the last one I got really excited about was Professor Layton on the DS. That’s the kind of game I go out of my way to get.
James – You’ve had a couple of evenings with Kinect, what are your initial impressions?
Ali – Yeah, it’s fun. At the moment it feels quite a bit like Wii, in that respect very much a party game platform. I’ve only played Kinect Sports and Dance Central, and I’ve seen you play Kinectimals, which looked kind of cute.
James – You’ve also been messing around with it in the Dashboard, giving the general navigation a try and shouting “Xbox!” across the room. How was that? Did it find it worked well for you?
Ali – Yeah, we should probably try and use it with our normal voice as I doubt our neighbour is too impressed with us yelling “Xbox! Xbox!” through the walls. I do like the idea, but it doesn’t seem to have enough take in enough options; we were trying to turn it off but couldn’t find the right command. Currently it seems a little cut down and so I’d be looking for it to have the full functionality of the normal Dashboard, until then you can’t dispense with your controller because every now and again you’ll find you need your controller to go do something.
What’s there is good, though; really easy to use.
James – But it does recognise you when you walk in front of it.
Ali – I’m really, really impressed by that. I remember when you had to teach a computer voice recognition for each individual person. It’ll be interesting to try someone with a very strong accent.
James – Although novel, the dash is just an interesting use of the tech, the meat and potatoes are the games so describe to us a little about Kinect Sports. What did you play on that?
Ali – We started off playing bowling, table tennis and the athletics, just the main games in two-player battles. And I have to say that it’s absolutely hilarious, I don’t think we’ve laughed so much in ages. They’re just really fun mini party games, and what makes it is that funny video afterwards of your highlights (it records you sporadically throughout the game, and usually at inopportune moments) that has you both jumping round – especially when you don’t know it’s going to happen. The first time you see it it’s just “wow”. I’m looking forward to getting a few people round, having some drinks and wetting myself with laughter, not only doing the games but with the video afterwards.
James – How natural did you find the games to play? Were the easy to get into?
Ali – With sports, yes. Although we just played boxing and I didn’t feel in complete control there, it didn’t seem as responsive as Wii boxing, but bowling and table tennis were wonderful. Oh, and the athletics was funny, with the long jump. Each one just took the movements you’d expect to make in real life and so made them really easy to play.
I enjoyed the 100m sprint, as I won. I had a few issues with jumping on the long jump, though you seemed to have no trouble. I think it’s just the kind of game you need to play a few times to get good at.
James – It may be accessible, but what do you consider its long term appeal?
Ali – At the moment [Kinect] Sports seems very much like a party game that you’ll get out when other people are around, but Dance Central seems like you could ditch your Davina McCall workout video and switch to that. I felt like I got a bit of an exercise just by doing that.
James – You know it’s from the makers of Rock Band, which you also play. Could you see any similarities?
Ali – They’re very different. I think the thing with Rock Band is that there are only five variables, only so many buttons, whereas with Dance Central each song has lots of moves. Although you could just dance and move on, if you played it regularly you could be rewarded by just being able to pull off a good dance routine. You won’t look like a professional dancer, it just picks up the shapes you’re making… just as well given the faces we’ve been pulling whilst dancing. It looks like we’re gurning as we were concentrating so hard on the moves.
It got easier as we played it, and it could definitely work as a different kind of workout. Even on Easy [where Rock Band doesn’t give you too much to do], it still keeps you moving all the time, which is good as that in itself is rewarding from the start.
James – Given your self-confessed casual approach to gaming, do you think the removal of the controller or other input device was a good thing?
Ali – Yeah, it seemed very natural. I didn’t miss having a controller, which you think you might do when playing something like Table Tennis where you usually have something in your hand. But it felt great just waving your arm and hitting the ball back, even if you do look a little ridiculous.
James – Yes, the waving arms weren’t just ridiculous. Some particularly over-enthusiastic bowling gestures put furniture and pets at risk. Do you think room space will be a widespread issue?
Ali – We’re quite lucky as our living room is a reasonable size, and we’re able to push the sofa back and create some space. It’ll be interesting to see when there are more than two people in the room. Thinking about our old house, we would have probably struggled there with where the telly was, it’s something to think about if you’re going to buy it. You can’t have too much stuff, or rabbits, sitting in the way.
James – One aspect that keep cropping up at work are the way that people navigate through games and menus with Kinect. Did you find it easy to get about?
Ali – Dance Central’s menus seemed the most intuitive, especially for going back and forth through the menus. In Sports you could go forward very easy but bit of a pain going back. There was something satisfying about just quickly swishing your way through Dance Central [with just a wave of the arm]. It was very easy. It’s one thing to hold your hand in place [as you do in Sports to activate a button], but Dance Central’s swishing is the way to go for me.
James – You mentioned earlier that it seemed like a party platform…
Ali – For me there’s no real long term substance or engagement, not a long term adventure like you can find in Tomb Raider, say.
James – So what would it take to become more than a party platform?
Ali – I don’t know what’s coming up, or really what its capabilities are. I’d want something a bit more involving, a one-player game. I mean, how would they convert Tomb Raider to it? I can’t see you having to be super coordinated and keep running away from things, but it would be amazing if you were more involved, closer, with exploring the tombs. I suppose more involved games, I mean how many hours did you play Fable for last week?
James – I’d rather not say.
Ali – Can you see yourself standing and trooping round your living room for hours on end?
James – So you’re more looking for the future generations of games where you’ll be able to sit down and still play Kinect games?
Ali – Is that possible?
James – Definitely.
Ali – Well when it can do that it will be a total revolution in gaming, wouldn’t it, not having the controller but still playing those sorts of games. But right now, right this second, it stills seems like it could be a gimmick, although there is obviously huge potential. I’ll be interested to see how quickly they can develop that as it could go quite deep.
I remember ten years ago for my brother’s A-level computer project he had a very primitive version of motion sensing where you had to move your arm up and down to fill a jug, and event then I thought that was really cool. That was ten years ago and it’s taken this long to get it into people’s homes, but it seems to have been worth the wait.
After a bit you sort of forget how cool it is. How cool it is to see yourself on telly, seeing yourself in the videos and then being able to upload them.
James – So you liked seeing your Avatar in Kinect Sports being puppeteered by your actions?
Ali – Yes, but that won’t work with everything. With Dance Central you needed the character to mask your movements because although you had the dance cue cards you needed to see what you were really supposed to be doing, especially with the more complex moves as you have no idea of what they look like. You need that dance instructor to be there. It would have been nice
to see a mode where you could see what you were actually doing, though.
James – Has your initial experience been enough for you to recommend Kinect?
Ali -I think they’d be ifs and buts for recommending it. It’s a combination of having enough dosh and having enough youthful exuberance to enjoy that entertainment.
James – You can’t see the older generations jumping on board, then?
Ali – Maybe. I’d love to see my work colleagues play. Maybe we should get them round. I bet their children would love it, and I bet they’d be jealous we’ve got one. It’ll be interesting to ask them see if they are interested. I think my colleagues might be a little grumpy to try it, though.
I can’t see many people much older than us wanting one, like from our parents’ generation, as I just can’t see them getting in to it. Although I can see a lot of kids pestering their parents this Christmas as it is very cool.
I definitely recommend it for teens and twentie-somethings, or anyone who can get a lot of people round. It might be a bit of a outlay but a few nights in with this and some friends and it’ll pay for itself. It’s much funnier than a lot of nights out I’ve had, and, as I said, we haven’t laughed so much in ages.
Many thanks to Ali for taking part.