Thunderbolt logo

Dis-Kinect

Microsoft

During this year’s E3, Sony and Microsoft unveiled their take on the motion-control idea Nintendo capitalized on with the Wii. Unfortunately, neither company had a calendar on hand. If they had, they would’ve seen it’s 2010 and not 2006 when the concept was a novelty. Chiming in on Move would be redundant, so the focus for the remainder will be on Microsoft’s silly-sounding Kinect, formerly known as the equally silly-sounding Project Natal.

screenshot

In an E3 that was by most accounts underwhelming, Kinect easily ranks as the most embarrassing moment for a multitude of reasons. Priced at $150, Microsoft stands to lose a lot more than just revenue, but credibility as well. The gamble on Kinect is especially dicey considering that instead of merely copying the Wii, they’ve decided to jettison the entire concept of a controller altogether.

I wouldn’t make much of a big deal over Kinect if I was assured it was just a little pet project without much marketing muscle, but it is. The E3 unveiling of the newly-christened Kinect was Microsoft’s centerpiece, a loud and celebratory declaration for what they believe to be the future of gaming. Look, they’ve even brought out the Cirque du Soleil troop to help introduce it to the public! Gamers love avant-garde circus performers, right?

screenshot

Such diametrically-opposing viewpoints of what constitutes the modern gaming experience brings up an unpleasant question—is Microsoft becoming disconnected from gamers? In their bid to steal Nintendo’s thunder, Microsoft may find they’ve alienated their core market and embraced an audience who in all likelihood will not purchase an Xbox 360, let alone look in its general direction.

It also seems that motion-controls just aren’t cool anymore, or depending on your point of view even less cool than before. Sales of the Wii have slowed, and even Nintendo distanced themselves from motion-controls. Instead they opted to unveil sequels, re-quels, and re-imaginings of their classic franchises to the collective shock and surprise of absolutely no one. And Nintendo is regarded as having the best showing out of the three.

screenshot

A more important thought to consider is how will Kinect be any more intuitive than the Wiimote? The motions of the player, to the Wiimote, to the onscreen action was always an awkward process—with some movements having barely any resemblance to what’s happening on the screen. All the Wii is really detecting is how you flick your wrist, the remote’s position and how soft/hard your motions are. Consider that Kinect will have to register every facet of your body: the movement of your hips, the position of your feet, and the manic flailing of your hands.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If the system already has difficulty analyzing movements while players are sitting, what about a pet frolicking on the couch or someone moving near you? More importantly, if the Wii caused the premature deaths of many a TV from players hurling the remote at it, what’s going to prevent you from slamming into it during a vigorous game of make-believe tennis?

screenshot

The voice-recognition angle also reeks of desperately cramming in an unwanted gimmick in package stuffed with unwanted gimmicks. Voice-rec is already known as something of a boondoggle and the opportunities for miscommunication are endless. But regardless, assuming you find it too difficult to navigate your DVD with the Xbox controller, you can always lay down the cash for a remote—a much cheaper solution.

However, it’s software that will ultimately determine success. Great titles were, are, and forever will be how we remember a system and if the quality is—oh, forget it. The Kinect titles that were unveiled were so painfully unoriginal they made the Wii versions look like the cutting edge of gaming. Sports, dancing and exercise? This is nothing short of turning the valve that will unleash a torrent of brown, steaming shovelware onto the hardcore crowd Microsoft built the Xbox brand off of.

screenshot

There’s the mentality that anything that might eventually lead to developing something akin to Star Trek’s holo-deck is a direction we should race towards. In the spirit of unfounded doom-saying, I’d like to state that’s an unfeasible goal and motion controls are not going to be the building blocks for it.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

Gentle persuasion

You should like us on Facebook.