What would make Kinect (almost) great?
Cast your cynical eye back to 2009, the year that the new Star Trek movie was released. It was incidentally the same year that Microsoft unveiled ‘Project Natal’, now known as Kinect, to the world. I say ‘incidentally’ because in those initial videos, Microsoft seemed to be promising us Star Trek style technology – voice commands, 3D sensors, full immersion into our videogames. Now, just a couple of years later Kinect is regarded by most gamers as a waste of time. The interesting thing is that this view has not formed because the technology is deficient, or that a visual sensor fundamentally cannot enhance the console experience. So what could Microsoft do to make Kinect attractive to us all?
Full Media Control
Picture this scene: you’re watching your favourite movie, when the doorbell rings. The pizza guy is here. Now, imagine that rather than digging through the sofa to find the remote, you simply say “Xbox, Pause.” You grab your pizza, another beer, and sit back down to the movie. “Xbox, play!”. I know what you’re thinking… well not quite.
Kinect should make this vision a reality. No more pizza grease on your controller; you’re living in the future now! But while Kinect will allow you to control Zune, Sky, and other built-in video playback, it will not let you control DVD or music playback. This is a big missing feature; for Kinect to be fully accepted by the console user its functionality has to become ubiquitous – it needs to be everywhere. Otherwise, the gamer will just stop using it.
The other issue is that sometimes Kinect picks up noises from the movie you’re watching and misinterprets it as an order. This means that suddenly you’ll be randomly rewinding the movie. Thankfully this is rare, and seems to get better with each update Microsoft releases.
Full Console Control
As with the media controls, Microsoft have selected only certain aspects of the console to be controlled by Kinect. With the recent dashboard update, the array of Kinect-controllable menu items has greatly increased. However, there are still many aspects of the interface where kinect takes a back seat.
For example, you cannot use your voice to search in any of the ‘apps’ other than Bing. So things like YouTube, Netflix, and LoveFilm require you to manually spell-out the name of the thing you are searching for. This may seem picky, however Kinect is so close to being the Star Trek interface we all wanted, that it’d be a shame for it to not go this final extra mile. Especially in a world where applications like iOS Siri are catching up fast.
There are some things that arguably you don’t want Kinect to be able to do, for example- turn the console off. But there are a lot of things that it should do that it doesn’t right now.
There are some pieces of missing functionality that are frankly baffling. One example is the fact that you cannot send picture messages using Kinect. You have to plug in an Xbox Vision Camera, and unplug Kinect before you can send a photo to a friend! Madness!
More Game Augmentation
A lot of gamers will say that they expect to see more high-quality games released for Kinect. But in order to entice developers to make such games, more of the core Xbox audience would need to own one. How could that be encouraged? If more core titles were augmented with useful Kinect functionality.
The key word there is ‘useful’. In Forza 4, for example, the head tracking was genuinely useful. The rest of the functionality was easily forgettable, but the ability to check your mirrors and look into corners using your head was integrated really well. Now, imagine a world where virtually all big titles carried that purple “Better with Kinect” banner, and all of them had one or two genuinely useful features.
Imagine a world where FIFA used Kinect to mirror your goal celebrations in the game, or where the ‘lean’ cover system in Medal of Honor actually gave you the option to ‘lean’ in your chair! In such a world, you could see gamers more readily adopting the system.
The three things mentioned here are not unachievable. With a few updates and more incentives for developers we could live in that Star Trek style console world. So if you’re on the fence about Kinect, or even if you have no intention of getting it, just stay tuned for any upcoming dashboard updates and see if the features offered take your fancy. Star Trek may not be so far away!