Monday, August 30, 2010

Thoughts from the Xbox Kinect Sneak Peek in Denver

When I was working on the Brasstacks project for the Kappa Alpha Order, I got the chance to sit in a focus group of teenage boys discussing morals, college and media usage. We were running low-budget, so when I say "sit in," I don't mean I was behind one-way glass. I mean Dennis and I were moderating the group.

Me: So I know you guys text each other all day at school. But when you're at home and you want to have a conversation, do you use you cell phones or your landlines?

Boys: [Stunned silence]

Me: Oh, come on. You must have conversations sometimes.

Alpha Boy: Yeah, over our video game systems.

Me: You can talk over a video game system?

Boys: You are very old, extremely feeble and hopelessly out of touch. Yes, we use our video game systems to talk to one another. Geezer.

A few days later I dragged my ancient ass into Best Buy and demanded that someone school me on how the game systems worked. After 30 minutes of trying, the salesperson gave up. I half-considered buying a system so I could play Weapons of Fate. But the last thing I need is another hobby.

Fast forward to 2010. Someone from Xbox's public relations company found my blog and decided I was one of a couple dozen people who deserved an invite to a VIP sneak preview of Kinect for Xbox 360. I agreed with him. More people play video games than watch movies. It is my job to understand people. Yes, I absolutely had to go to this party.

So I did. It was last Thursday night at Fat Tail Gallery. Xbox had six big flat screens set up, each playing a different Kinect game. I made my way around, playing each one in turn. I trained a lion cub and drove a car. I scored not one, but two soccer goals. All without a controller. Kinect uses a Minority report interface. Your body - hands, feet, legs - becomes the controller. And while I felt a bit silly, it was hard to play anything without smiling.

Here's what I think about the system.

For kids, Kinect pretty much kicks Wii's ass: Young kids have problems moving the Wii controller while manipulating its buttons. Kinect fixes that, because there is no controller. You just run around like crazy and wave your arms.

For adults, Kinect is a bit better than Wii: If you play Wii for any length of time, you'll figure out that moving your body along with the controller is just for giggles. You can sit on the couch, flick the controller back and forth, and get the same effect. But you can't cheat Kinect. You actually have to get your knees kicking and in some cases dive for the floor. I have to assume that'll make Kinect a winner over PlayStation Move, too.

For gamers, Kinect is only fun after the fourth or fifth beer: I can't imagine Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Kinect. Maybe they'll figure it out. But all the games they had set up for us Thursday were totally games for kids 'n parties, and they were all designed specifically for Kinect. On the other hand, if I was a dad planning to buy a gaming station, I may choose Xbox with the Kinect add-on instead of Playstation. Then I could justify it to my wife by saying I got it for the kids. Just sayin'.

Xbox says that Kinect is a revolution "not just for your games, but for all of your entertainment." I am not sure that the ability to scroll through films or music using hand gestures justifies that claim. But Kinect is pretty damn fun.

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