To Kinect…

After the recent move by Microsoft to create an Xbox One purchase option that does not include Kinect, it seems the gaming community has been divided in their opinions. The same is true of Ready Up Live, and so we will be presenting the arguments behind both sides of the disagreement in this two-part series of posts. Firstly, I will present the points that underpin my view, that it was a wrong move to offer this new option, in this post, then Chewy will delve into the other side of this debate soon after.

Without further ado…. here’s why I think Kinect should have continued to be bundles with every Xbox One console.

Let’s take a stroll back down memory lane – November 2010 to be precise. Xbox 360 was given a new motion control peripheral called Kinect. This device had a relatively high price, but offered some really helpful navigation options, and was the first “dip” into motion and voice control on an Xbox system. Whilst all this was nice and all, it was flawed. Lighting could be an issue, the camera didn’t always pick you up, and the uses were somewhat… limited. Navigation, whilst convenient compared to a controller, was disjointed in the sense that there weren’t that many navigation options, and in-game use was limited by the responsiveness of the sensor, and the speed at which that could be translated into an action in-game. Take Dead Space 3, for example. The use of Kinect for voice controls was well publicised, and was a neat concept, but when actually implemented, the response was slow. It was impractical to shout “Stasis” as it would take a good couple seconds for it to actually fire a Stasis blast – if it actually recognised what you said. In a game where split-second reactions are paramount to survival, where a Stasis blast is the difference between you dissecting your enemies and your enemies dissecting you, this use of Kinect simply did not work.

Dead-Space-3-Better-with-Kinect-Trailer_3
Dead Space 3… Better With Kinect? I think not.

It’s possible that the use of Kinect both in-game, and generally as an aide to navigation, could have been improved in terms of how it was implemented for the Xbox 360, however, there was a small problem – it was an optional device released late into the console’s lifespan. There was no guarantee for developers that the time and resources they put into Kinect features would actually pay off. That is, there was no certainty as to what proportion of the game’s players would own and/or use a Kinect sensor. As a result, games were released with Kinect features that were simply not that exciting, or didn’t work, because the developers would allocate too few resources to the features and too little time to make something new, innovative and functional, in an attempt to minimise any risk that players would just ignore the features.

Cue Xbox One, and it’s vastly improved Kinect companion. This new sensor has a much better camera and microphone, being so powerful that it could allegedly measure a person’s heart rate from the detected fluctuations in blood flow to the head. This new and improved device can recognise a person in an instant, thanks to the higher-resolution camera and the new array of sensors that allow the Kinect to see people perfectly in the pitch black. The microphone was also far better, and could pick out words far more clearly. Not only was the hardware solid, but the implementation of it into the Xbox One itself was far better than that of the Xbox 360. Hands are recognised almost immediately and so navigating the menus is now actually worth it, now you don’t have to wait an age before it recognises your hands. The sensor can recognise different people and sign them in just by seeing them. Features like these would have, if they were possible, made the Xbox 360 Kinect far more useful and worthwhile, not to mention the increased sales it would have caused. Voice commands were also vastly improved, being able to turn on the console and navigate it without having to touch a controller at all remains to this day my favourite feature of the Kinect.

Kinect Was Marketed as an Integral Part of the System
Kinect Was Marketed as an Integral Part of the System

Meanwhile, games haven’t really taken Kinect on board for Xbox One so far. We’ve seen the odd thing here and there, and where it’s been used, it’s been far better than on Xbox 360. Ryse’s voice commands were quick and responsive and so were actually more viable than using the equivalent controller input. It’s been said that there’s no point forcing Kinect because no games have heavily used Kinect so far, but I think that is down to the fact that developers are just getting to grips with the system itself right now. It’s been stated by many developers that it’s taking time to adapt to developing for the new consoles, and I think that once they’re used to simply making games on these platforms, they will begin to experiment – come up with new, innovative ways to spice up their games and make them stand out. Kinect could be a huge part of that.

Many say that they’re not interested in Kinect, and whilst I am absolutely not trying to tell them they are wrong, I personally think some of those opinions are formed from the fact that all we have seen so far is the gimmicky, weak use of Kinect in games, due to the limitations of the hardware. Now that we have the highly advanced Kinect on Xbox One, developers can finally start to make good use of what it has to offer.

Imagine playing a co-op stealth mission in your FPS of choice, on Xbox 360, with randoms. Communication would be key for this kind of thing, but that can be difficult to make happen in online play. Now, imagine it on Xbox One, where you’re playing this mission, and the developers have had a chance to start thinking of ideas. You’re sneaking into a complex when you spot a couple of patrols coming past, you need everyone to stop. You turn around using the controller, then raise your right arm and make a stop signal with your hand – seeing that hand come out in front of you in-game, matching your motion to a tee. You then turn around, peek round the corner, perhaps take down a riskily placed guard before raising your hand and waving in a “follow” type motion, perhaps indicating other players to take a different route. Whilst this kind of thing seems a tad “trivial” and silly, it’s just a simple scenario I quickly whipped up which, to me at least, would be super-awesome to have in a game. If I can think of something like this in 5 minutes, just imagine the kinds of things a professional game development team could come up with in the years they have to produce their games.

So what’s my point? All that I have just explained is my point. The fact that Xbox One had a Kinect bundled with every system gave developers the guarantee they’ve been looking for since Xbox 360 introduced the device. They could now go away and develop amazing features for their games, without worrying about how many of their players would have a Kinect, because everyone would. With the new release of Xbox One minus a Kinect sensor, that guarantee has now been removed, and with it I fear they have removed a lot of the potential Kinect had for awesome implementation. I think the fear of making use of Kinect in case it doesn’t pay off will now begin to surface once again.

Imagine Halo With Dynamic Hand Gestures
Imagine Halo With Dynamic Hand Gestures!

I also fear that, while Microsoft has stated that Kinect remains an important part of the Xbox One system, this is part of a bigger move to gradually slow the momentum of Kinect focus within Xbox One. One thing I just recently came across that began to build on this concern is a report that the 10% of GPU power currently reserved for the use of Kinect in all experiences, and other features such as “Snap” mode may be opened up to developers to give them that extra power that may be needed to make their games that much better. Whilst this is a good thing for gaming, allowing Xbox One to potentially reach the marginally greater graphical power PS4 currently offers, there are fears that it could have a negative effect on the functionality and responsiveness of Kinect. Only time will tell, on that side of things.

Overall, I think that I feel somewhat alienated by this decision. I was looking forward to the possibilities this new and improved Kinect would offer, the device being one of the key reasons I bought an Xbox One, and now I fear that they will never come about anywhere as much as they could have done. I’m not saying we will never get amazing features, but I do think we will never have the level of in-game and system use of Kinect that we could have had. To me, this event hearkens back to the reversal Microsoft did with it’s DRM policies. I was looking forward to those features that the DRM, whilst restrictive, enabled, just as I was looking forward to the future of Kinect. But now, not one, but two of the main reasons I was excited for Xbox One, for the next generation of Xbox gaming have been removed, and I can’t help but feel that a lot of the promise this next generation was showing has now withered away.

Either way, I remain positive and hopeful that the future of Xbox One is a bright one, and who knows? I could be wrong about all this – we will just have to wait and see!

What do you think about all of this? Do you completely disagree with me? Regardless of how you feel we’d love to hear your take on things in the comments. If you have a lot to say, and feel like going a step further, feel free to submit your own editorial below and we may publish it!