With Kinect Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo now all offer gaming without the use of a traditional joystick or gamepad
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Before Microsoft's latest Xbox 360 accessory was coined 'Kinect' it was codenamed 'Project Natal' and first made headlines on June 1st of 2009 at E3. The project sought to broaden the Xbox 360's audience beyond its typical gamer base and Microsoft now describes it as a 'controller-free gaming and entertainment experience'.
Kinect is compatible with every Xbox 360 console on the market so, even if you have a first generation console, all it takes is an update.
Kinect is a high tech camera that is able to interpret gestures, spoken commands or even presented objects and images. Before you can 'be the controller' however, you'll have to take time to setup Kinect. The process is broken up into three parts; sensor placement, speech recognition & chat and play space. When placing the sensor you have two choices, put it above your TV screen or directly in front of it. Next up, Kinect checks the background noise level in your room and lets you know whether it's acceptable or not before moving on to microphone calibration and, last but not least, play space.
After we setup Kinect in a variety of locations and rooms, it became obvious that space and lighting are critical to getting a proper experience. Standing just six feet away from the sensor we noticed that some of our hand movements went unseen. Kinect also struggled when lighting wasn't bright.
Once up and running we found Kinect a competent piece of kit. The sensor was able to simultaneously track six people and intelligently ignored furniture. Kinect is clever too, we found that unless we were actually standing up to play games, it simply ignored our movements. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will depend on a person's preference.
Kinect is very accurate in terms of interpreting exactly how much effort you're putting into your movements. This is in stark contrast to Nintendo's Wii controller where it's possible to fool the platform into seeing that you've put the maximum possible force into whatever you were doing. The best example of this can be seen when playing the boxing game, which is included as part of Kinect Sports. If you pull your shoulders back before throwing a punch, your on-screen character will actually throw a harder punch than he would if you just swung your arms. The controller also accurately interpreted punches aimed at our opponent's upper and lower body and tracked each and every quick and complex combination we threw at it.
Ultimately, the experience of gaming without a controller is unique and while existing gamers will find it odd initially, we think it will be a fairly easy adjustment. On the flipside, non gamers found Kinect 'quite natural'.