Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 (formerly known as Project Natal) came out on Thursday, November 4th. I was undecided with Kinect leading up to its release. I’ve always thought of Kinect as neat technology, but still to this day ponder if Sony’s Playstation Move is a better solution for motion control. The idea that I could talk to my system and play without a controller is neat, but I wonder if the execution and Xbox’s approach to selling Kinect to the Wii-type gamers is one that I could find enjoyment in.

I’m gonna opt to put my closing thoughts at the start of this article. If you’re interested enough in Kinect, please read further.
Kinect is interesting technology, but the games and Microsoft’s marketing focus isn’t on hardcore gaming and that particular audience. MGS Rising is a game that’s rumored to have Kinect functionality, but assuming how things would work, can you really enjoy slicing up soldiers without holding anything? The Kinect works great, it senses movement quite good and what games are out there now are fun (but not long-lasting) things to play while the Kinect is new, but it hasn’t really kept me coming back in the 2 weeks I’ve had it. Playstation’s Move is selling pretty well now and seems primed for success in 2011, so Microsoft will have to up the ante. Right now, I wouldn’t recommend Kinect and it’s tough to really tell when I can change my tune on that. It’s interesting, but nothing about it at the moment is exciting.

You Got The Room For Kinect?
The most important thing with Kinect is having space. Kinect suggests a minimum of 6 feet for “Good/1-Player” experience and 8 feet being a great distance for 2-player gaming. I had to completely reorganize the room my Xbox is in to make it Kinect-friendly, or else the Kinect would’ve been maybe 4-5 feet away from myself  sitting on the couch. One of the more common things I’ve seen with other players is the need to move their coffee table to a side of the room to make extra moving space. I’m fortunate to be able to reorganize my room to play Kinect (and also not have a traditional coffee table in that room), but if you can’t make up 6-7 feet of space in your room, then the only feature of Kinect you can enjoy is the voice, and that’d be a waste of $150.

How my room is setup for Kinect. The red dot is a spot to normally stand at.

Also of note, I’ve chosen to set my Kinect below my TV. Kinect will automatically adjust the camera to the best position for you when getting ready to play Adventures or such, so either above or below the TV should work out for you.

“Xbox, Kinect”
Kinect is setup through a process of standing in certain on-screen squares and making the matching poses. This will help set the sensor up better, recognize your face and associate it with your gamertag/avatar. The 360 dashboard has a little video screen at the bottom right corner showing you in front of Kinect. Once Kinect recognizes your hands and glows white, wave your hand to activate movement on Kinect. In my experience, Kinect won’t just instantly recognize my hand regardless of distance or if I’m laying down instead of sitting upright. While it’s definitely promoting better posture, this is where the gaming community gets divided. More bum-like players want to lay down, eat Lays chip and finish off their Mountain Dew; getting up to play is a whole new world for these kinds of gamers.

Kinect doesn’t apply to the entire 360 dashboard; that would take additional coding in order to get every aspect of the 360 dashboard to function with Kinect. There is a Kinect Hub with featured material and such. In the middle section is featured content, swipe to your right to see your friends list, achievements, etc., and swipe to the left to see the Zune Marketplace and Video Kinect. Hold your hand over something for a couple of seconds, and the content will come up. It has a pretty neat design as your (virtual) hand navigates the menus and it gives you a little sense of how John Anderton might’ve felt using the Minority Report computer. There’s a slight bit of lag time with hand movement, but it’ll be only somewhat noticable to the common gamer.

Talking To Your Xbox
The voice commands are pretty much spot on in terms of recognizing voice. I really haven’t had to repeat anything, and it also helps that just saying “Xbox” brings up a menu of other things you can tell Kinect to do. I was sick recently and really couldn’t speak clearly, but Kinect still recognized my requests. You can’t turn on and off your system by talking to Kinect, but it’s neat to tell a machine to pause a video or play the disc that’s in the tray. I will say that, “Xbox, Play Disc” should be integrated into the primary 360 dashboard menu.

Kinect’s big sell right now is controller-free gaming and movement, but they can get something really special out of more use of voice commands in-game. Think about all of these games with conversation trees or think of what Heavy Rain would be like with full Kinect functionality. With a well-told story and good use of motion and voice commands, Kinect has the ability to immerse you into a game like never before. When people looked at sports on HDTV several years ago and said, “It’s almost like you’re there!”, Kinect can bring that phrase one step further.

Kinect will recognize your face, but not your voice. In a report, a Kinect representative mentioned that they didn’t put in voice recognition so that anyone could get in on the Kinect action, which is a good call on their part. Having that many more people experience and get the word out about how cool Kinect is is what can help Microsoft reach this 5 million units shipped mark they are gunning for.

Dance Central is as good a Kinect title as you'll find.

Will I Look Like An Idiot Playing This?
Yeah. But it’s kinda the point, isn’t it? You don’t look any less dumb laying on the couch reaching for your cheetos, do ya?

The two games I have at Kinect launch are Kinect Adventures and Dance Central. I’ll start off with the Kinect Adventures game, included with the device. This is your run-of-the-mill launch title showcasing Kinect’s abilities via mini-games. The games are pretty fun and work nice with Kinect; I specifically like the 20,000 Leaks game, which has you in a glass tank, plugging leaks caused by angry fishies. Kinect Adventures may lack some of the charm Wii Sports have, but Adventures could do for Kinect what Wii Sports did for the Wii; get the whole family interested, and then Oprah, and then world domination. I think Aaron Greenberg is an idiot and that his 5 million unit estimation is quite high, but I can see Kinct Adventures moving units based off of word-of-mouth and in-store demos.

Next is Dance Central. I’m a big Harmonix guy, so even considering I’m not the dance type, Dance Central is a game I’ve been interested in. It is definitely Kinect’s best game at launch as its coreographed dancing style shows off how much Kinect can catch, and in cases, how precisely you have to match your body movement to what’s shown on the screen. DDR is about hitting buttons with your feet, but Kinect is a much better indicator of actual dancing skill. In addition to coreographed movements, there are freestyle moments in songs where you can break it down, and then uncomfortably see what you were doing as soon as the freestyle finishes. The song selection is your typical club mix, ranging from Lady Gaga to Salt ‘n Pepa, but Harmonix put together a good dance mix and continues to accel in making music rhythm games.

And I’ve played the demo for Kinect Joy Ride. Tactile feedback has been an issue when people discuss Kinect, and while the controls are generally alright in Joy Ride, they aren’t great and without faults. While we’ve all played Mario Kart and done that thing where we move our arms thinking it’s necessary to make that sharp turn, I’m not so sure it’s fun to do when you actually have to do it.