Kinect, the new movement-based gaming system for Microsoft’s XBox 360, is certainly no embarrassment for the company.
Despite a limited selection of games and some technical glitches, it has still managed to sell 8 million units.
That’s because its combination of waving, hopping, dancing and talking as a means of controlling gameplay — as opposed to just fingering buttons on a controller — has opened new worlds to gamers, even if Kinect’s November release simply follows in the footsteps of Nintendo’s Wii or Sony’s Move.
More games have been promised for release this year, though actual releases have been thin on the ground.
But Stephan Scherfernberg of Stiftung Warentest, a German consumer reports agency, says that, after thoroughly testing Kinect, he sees it as more of a system for casual gamers.
“I’m not sure whether the controls are precise enough for more demanding players,” he said. Games targeting that group are thin on the ground.
“When this hardware first came out, the early games were exclusively collections of smaller games or music games,” says Markus Schwerdtel, chief editor of Gamepro, a German magazine that covers consoles.
Games that are truly fun to play include Dance Central and Kinectimals, in which players are challenged to care for and raise animals, he says. But he says there is nothing to draw in people who are already hardcore gamers.
But Schwerdtel says the lack of precision controls are little more than teething troubles that will soon pass.
“The first games alone showed that that was not a problem with the technology, but dependent on the skills of the programmers. There will be a learning curve in the coming months.” Sony has showed how to make a motion-control game that challenges more demanding gamers with its crime game Heavy Rain for the Move, says Schwerdtel. “Someday, there will be games like this for the Kinect.” For now, hardly any Kinect games have been promised. But that’s not so unusual for the industry. Until the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, a huge industry event, most design studios and publishers tend to keep their cards close to their chest.
But, some plans are beginning to trickle out. Kinect support is planned for the racing game Forza 4 from Microsoft Game Studios, set for an autumn release. Also planned, for the end of March, is Child of Eden from Ubisoft, the spiritual successor of the cult game Rez.
Other projects planned for 2011 include Project Draco from Microsoft Game Studios and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, from Capcom.
Project Draco focuses on raising a dragon so players might one day ride the skies on its back. Steel Battalion is a complex robot fighting game that will be controlled with a combination of the Kinect and the Gamepad.
On top of that, more dance and party collection games are planned, including Yogostar 2 at the end of March, which allows people to recreate famous scenes from movies like Casablanca or Terminator 2.
The Kinect’s camera records the players’ amateur performances and then combines them with the movie’s original background.
If that’s not to your taste, there’s also Michael Jackson: The Experience (Ubisoft, April 14), where players can relive the career of the King of Pop in dance.
Olaf Wolters, the head of the BIU German Trade Association of Interactive Entertainment Software, thinks that, despite the thin offerings, Kinect will be a success. “The market for movement games is apparently not sated.” Plus, in the long term, Kinect technology will not be limited to the XBox 360. That’s because, unlike the Move or Wii, players don’t have to hold any kind of controller in their hands. Instead, their actions are recorded by the Kinect’s camera, mounted on the TV or monitor.
Thanks to an unencrypted Microsoft server, developers were able to connect a Kinect with a PC shortly before the system went on sale.
Ever since, so-called home brew programmes have been running to show what can be done with the Kinect. It turns out quite a lot is possible from digital shadow games to full body controls in Street Fighter IV.