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Reviewing Microsoft Kinect

The original version of this article was published in Spanish in VOANoticias under the name VOA prueba Microsoft Kinect, written by me.


Up until now most videogames have been played with either a controller or a touchscreen. From the very first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) until the recent Playstation Move. Now Microsoft proposes something different: playing games using all of our body with its Microsoft Kinect, the peripheral for Xbox 360 they unveiled in June 2010.

I had the chance to try it with a Microsoft Denmark representative, who showed prototypes of three of the games which will come out in November. Those are two game modes in Kinect Adventures and a volleyball game in Kinect Sports.

Microsoft Kinect consists of a small horizontal bar that you place under your TV. A complex system of cameras and microphones inside allow it to detect up to two players simultaneously. In contrast to previous technologies like Playstation’s EyeToy, which simply detected the silhouette of one player, Kinect is capable of detecting the entire skeleton.

This allows for some curious things like the following: in Kinect Adventures, a character appeared on screen to represent all of my movements. I tried to perform some dance moves and the character on screen repeated the exact same movement with arms and legs, even when I tried to do Michael Jackson’s famous “moonwalk”.

In fact the body detection works perfectly fine, even in the dark room we were in. Microsoft Denmark’s representative, Martin Essman, commented that the final version of those Kinect games will be able to recognize the player’s face so as to load his Xbox LIVE account and his avatar.

The first game I tried placed me in a raft on a river with several waterfalls. Another player got to my left and Kinect recognized him immediately, creating a new character in the raft, next to mine. To begin the course we both had to jump at the same time. Controlling the raft was easy: if we wanted to turn left we both had to lean to our left and vice versa to turn right. To jump, we just jumped at the same time. The objective was to collect the highest amount of coins placed along the course, and to get them we had to extend our arms towards the coin so that our avatar would do the same and grab them with his hand. Very easy and intuitive. One of the factors that made this game more challenging was the necessity of collaborating with the other player to jump and lean at the same time. It is easy to imagine how this game can be attractive to play for all the family.

Kinect_hands_on_300The next game had me playing on a mine-cart. This time to begin the game I had to grab two imaginary handles in front of me (represented on the screen) and pull them to get an impulse. From there on I could step left or right, crouch, jump and move my arms and legs to grab the coins along the ride. Both in this game and the previous one Kinect had been taking pictures of me at the moments when my moves were most exaggerated and then showed them to me after finishing the game. It’s definitely funny to see oneself jumping while extending one arm to get an imaginary coin. Besides that, the pictures had comments like “You know Kung-Fu!” or “Jumping non-stop!”.


The last game I tried, the volleyball one, was more simple: all the control I had over the avatar was to hit the ball. All the remaining moves were done automatically so as to avoid two players in the room hitting each other or running around the room like crazy. A small problem that happened from time to time was that if I moved out of Kinect’s viewing area the game, without stopping the play, would show me a message telling me to take one step left or right to re-locate me in a matter of seconds.

Of course the first batch of Kinect games are directed towards a more casual audience: those who are not used to playing videogames, just like Nintendo did in 2006 with the Wii. Microsoft assures that later on they will deliver more complex games directed to the hardcore gamer. Until then, the inclusion of Kinect Adventures (which has about 20 different games, the first two mentioned in this article among them) with the purchase of Kinect will provide several hours of fun, especially when played in group with friends and family.

Microsoft Kinect will come out on November 4th in the USA and Canada and on November 10th in Europe.