Revolutionary. Overpromising. Misunderstood.
These are just a few words I would use to describe the first iteration of the humble Kinect peripheral. Yet as we are rolling up to its tenth anniversary, we are offering a look back at the divisive camera accessory.
We’re starting back in June 2009, when Kinect was first shown to the world as ‘Project Natal’ in what, in time, became an infamous E3 press conference for Microsoft.
Definitely down to my naivety, but I thought this looked the dog’s bollocks when first announced. Then we got a look at Milo from Lionhead Studios, and collectively the gaming world lost its’ mind.
We know now that Peter Molyneux is a big liar but at the time it was hard to be impressed by the technology. So much so that when it released it sold over 10 million units in just a few months. The numbers were impressive.
When Kinect launched on 4th November 2010 in the US, there were 17 launch titles, which was a generous offeringproviding. Titles such as Kinect Adventures, Kinectimals and Kinect Sports all carried the branding of the hardware but offered something different by being able to be controlled entirely with your body. The Kinect was designed in response to the success of the Nintendo Wii, but it went one step further by removing the controller altogether.
However, the launch titles weren’t perfect. In amongst them wereas also about half a dozen fitness titles such as Zumba Fitness, The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout and EA Sports Active 2. By no means a bad idea to have fitness titles on a piece of hardware that used your body and motion, but where were the actual games people asked? The response: Fighters Uncaged.
The problem with Fighters Uncaged wasn’t necessarily the concept; in fact, a fighting game using the Kinect was a novel concept; one that ultimately . Fighters Uncaged failed because the Kinect hardware was unable to register player movement as well as had been shown in pre-release info. It wasn’t alone in this criticism though; look to many of the other launch titles and they all suffered. Sonic Free Riders, Kinect Joy Ride and MotionSports were all labelled with the same negatives.
But Kinect wasn’t just about motion detection, or lack of. It also featured voice recognition and with this it fared a lot better. And it was a function that existing releases could integrate into their games. Mass Effect 3 had you barking orders at the crew of the Normandy using Kinect, you could perform the Dragon Shouts in Skyrim, throw grenades or reload weapons in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. You could , even use it as a GPS in Forza Horizon. These gameplay elements were fun, but not necessary. The Kinect always felt like it was missing its killer app.
It could be argued then that with these minor additions rather than fully-fledged titles quickly made the Kinect a novel accessory rather than an essential purchase.
One of the best uses I had personally for Kinect voice though was on the Xbox One Kinect 2.0 and FIFA 14. After a particularly bad decision went against me, I wasn’t happy and vocalised my frustration, not expecting to be heard. Wrong. The Kinect picked up my expletives and I received an in-game mail warning me to watch my language in the dug outs. It’s the best thing EA Sports have implemented in FIFA in years.
I mention this because as someone who picked up an Xbox One at launch, I received a second Kinect accessory! Much was said before launch about the decision made to bundle a new Kinect in with all consoles and not offer an alternative, but as we all know the decision-making at Microsoft regarding the Xbox wasn’t the greatest before Phil Spencer took over. When it was removed from retail units – and along with the Xbox One S launching without a dedicated Kinect port – the writing was on the wall for the accessory.
This second-generation Kinect sat underneath my TV but once again was purely for voice recognition, and even that stopped happening as often over time. It wasn’t for games though – , it was almost used as a virtual assistant to record video clips, launch apps and not much else. After an Xbox weekend at a friend’s house it was simply easier to just not plug it back in, and it was moved to the cupboard to sit alongside other forgotten consoles and accessories.
As a piece of hardware, it has always been cool to rip on the Kinect, but in all honesty, I enjoyed both iterations of it. Fans were right to criticise it for not working anywhere near as well as it was made out to, but it worked for me more times than it didn’t. I used it to workout using Nike+ Kinect Training and Kinect Adventures, with Kinectimals it felt like I had a Tamagotchi I could interact with and I shouted many a draugr down in Skyrim with it. My absolute favourite Kinect game though was the one that eventually came out of Lionhead Studios: Fable: The Journey.
Fable: The Journey was an on-rails shooter and one of the few Kinect games that required players to sit down. Set in the existing Fable universe, much of the action takes place whilst riding a horse, hence the need to sit down. Gabriel was the name of the hero this time and took players through various Fable locations and up against a variety of classic Fable enemies. The humour was decidedly Fable, and the conclusion would have had massive ramifications for the future of the Fable franchise.
Spoiler alert for an eight-year-old game incoming…
Theresa is once again guiding the Hero through the adventure, but it turns out she has been putting this new hero through a series of trials. In the end, Gabriel’s final task is to sacrifice Theresa herself. Theresa has been a major character in all mainline Fable games and is a Seer; blind of sight but with the ability to see the future. She is always seen wearing a blindfold but – in the last moments of Fable: The Journey – we see Gabriel putting on the blindfold, thus becoming the next Seer.
Aside from the fact this was a very poignant moment in gaming, this would have changed the entire Fable landscape should the series have continued at Lionhead. We know that there is a new Fable game in development, but this is now in the hands of Playground Games; whether their interpretation will be a follow-up to the series, or a reimagining is unknown at this point in time.
On the cusp of a new console generation, it looks like Kinect has been left behind for now. There hasn’t been any whisper of a new Kinect being designed for consoles, so for the time being it looks like the peripheral has run its course. If a new one was to be released, it would require a serious overhaul to avoid the pitfalls such as not registering player movement for a third time. It could maybe take a leaf out of the PlayStation VR Camera that works so well. This uses lights on the controllers and headset to recognise movement of the player; perhaps attaching wristbands with lights on would increase the tracking of a third generation Kinect. Microsoft, come talk to me.
To go back to my original statement, let’s finish by explaining my keywords to describe the Kinect. Revolutionary: Of course it was, allowing players to play games by using their body as the controller. Perhaps this was relegated a bit too often to fitness-based games, but it was without doubt an original concept. Overpromising: The initial announcements make it out to register even the tiniest movement. Even as someone who never encountered that many issues with it, it was far from perfect. And to this day we never managed to scan a piece of paper and it instantly appear in the game. Thanks for dreaming though, Peter. And finally, misunderstood: I think Kinect quickly became a niche product, whether that be because of the games developed for it, or due to existing games only utilising a small part of it. But misunderstood because it was quickly dismissed by gamers that may have only had a quick go round at a friend’s house. It took time to get used to it and learn to understand how it works and its nuances. Crack that though, and the Kinect was an extremely fun piece of hardware.
Did you own a Kinect? Did you buy the original one or pick one up with an Xbox One? Was it ever plugged in? Let us know your memories in the comments below!