Event: Microsoft Open House – part 2

For those that missed the first part of Microsoft’s Open House breakdown, the show kicked off tin full swing, covering Foxtel for 360, Halo Reach and Fable III. Now with all of the tech and games out of the way, Microsoft decided to stop procrastinating and show all their guests what they were there to see, the new “revolutionary” (Wii pun intended) technology, Kinect.

The presentation started with the same family friendly trailer we all saw at E3 and the skeptic in me immediately groaned. It shows an over enthusiastic family playing games together. That, in itself is hard to digest, coupled with the fact that none of the footage is either interesting or impressive, left very little impression. Thankfully after this we moved into an explanation of the technology itself and this is where the real magic lies. The unit itself uses two cameras, both for distance judging and also to map an image in 3D. Not impressed? Well let me break that down.

The camera is not only mapping an image that it can see in 3D and has the Xbox360 follow accordingly, but by doing this it can also judge the distance from your hand to your arm or your hip to your thigh. What this means is it can know and replicate your exact movements with reasonable precision, and at the same time know who is playing the console. Sounds neat, right? But that’s not all, the software can also distinguish between you and other items in the room and peripherals.

With the demonstration over it was time for some hands on (though in this case that statement seems a little odd) and I’ll admit as a mostly “couch based” gamer, the initial run of games seem a little simple for my tastes. Games like Kinect Sports or Kinect Adventures are really nothing more than slightly prettier Wii games and though it gives you the same level of fun they carry very little depth. The counter-argument is the unit is mostly aimed at the casual gamer and from what we saw, the games will entertain these people to no end.

There were, however, two break out titles. The first, Dance Central was a slick looking title from Rock Band makers, Harmonix. Who already have a reputation for music games and Dance Central managed to capture the essence and style of dance. Even a flatfooted geek like me enjoyed making an idiot out of myself with this one. The system was easy and intuitive and the game was really smooth. This will be great addition to any social gamer’s party collection.

Where the technology did come through strong was Ubisoft’s new fitness tool ‘Your Shape’. This is a great example of what Kinect was built for. It really makes Wii Fit look like a thing of the past. No pads, no controllers, just you and the program and from the moment you step up, the unit recognizes who you are and then loads your profile. The menu of just floats around you, easily accessible by simply raising a hand and touching what you want to do. While only one mode was shown, after 2 minutes of punching and kicking imaginary blocks with solid accuracy, I was sweating like the out of shape gamer I am.

After revitalizing myself with some carbonated drinks I had a quick look at Kinectimals before heading off for the day.

Simply put, Kinect will not be for everyone. It’s a long way from replacing the controller for pro gamers and though it is early o,n the focus seems to lean strongly to the casual demographic. I will still dream of the days when I can zoom in on expansive battlefields using a swipe of my hand in a real time strategy or running down corridors in an FPS downing enemies using just a plastic peripheral and my wits. After seeing this new technology I can say, I do feel one step closer to that childhood dream.

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