We've been looking forward to getting our hands on with Kinect for a while now, and finally got our chance at Microsoft's Christmas in July Event held at the Satchi Gallery. After a fairly solid playlets with the some of the new games: Kinect Adventures, Kinect Joyride and Kinect Sports we're in a good position to offer the first real hands-on test of the Kinect.
We also saw a live demonstration of Dance Central, a game made by HTV Harmonix (the people behind Rock Band) that matches your body movements to onscreen characters.
Kinect attaches motion sensing technology to the Xbox 360 console to observe body movements, and also uses microphone technology to listen to users. It's capable of identifying different people in a room, and can track the movement and speech of multiple people at once.
Think Wii without the controller and you're pretty much on track.
That, however, does Kinect something of a disservice. While it's easy to see how Nintendo spearheaded the games industry into motion control, it's also easy to see how Kinect offers a pretty substantial leap forward not just for the games industry, but for interaction with technology devices in general.
Nowhere is this more clear in navigating the menus for the games. Before you even play the game itself you can navigate the screens by holding up your hand (palm facing towards the screen) to access menu controls. A large white dot moves around the screen to show your position and holding down over a menu item activates it.
There's something massively satisfying about moving your hand in front of the TV to select controls. Before you even start a game you recognise that this might be the start of something completely new.
Mind you, this somewhat falls away when you play the actual games. The games themselves can comfortably be summed-up as "family friendly" with all that that entails. First up was Kinect Sports that involves running on the spot, jumping over hurdles, and a spot of crowd control with you waving your arms and the crowed following suit.
We tested out the 100 meter hurdles first and was pleasantly surprised to see quite a close representation of our own body movements on the character on screen. Raising hands does the same, stance and foot movements are all matched. Running on the spot for sixty seconds saw our character pop on down the track, jumping up and down on the spot hopped over a hurdle.
One slight niggle is that you have to be stood at a certain point, not too close or too far away. Move around too much and you get onscreen messages to move forward or back. Difficult to do when you're hopping on the spot.
After 30 seconds we tired of running on the spot and stopped, at which point our character came to a halt. All well and good but how to quit out of the game sprang to mind. Waving our arms didn't work, making back gestures failed, crossing our hands in a 'enough's enough' manner likewise failed. Although we were pleased to spot the on screen character making the same gestures. Instead, one of the assistants had to plug in a controller to quit out of the game.
Bowling was a similar experience. Although we liked reaching to the side to pick up the ball, and rolling it was fun, even if you have to stand on the spot. We were rather expecting to be able to take a genuine bowling-style run up.
One stand out game seemed to be Dance Central, which had by far the most accurate on screen rendition of body movements.