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Gaming: Kinect and me

I’m actually quite excited about Kinect, even though I know a lot of gamers aren’t. The launch line-up is a predictably basic collection of mini-game collections and dancing or fitness games so I’m not in any hurry to buy the thing, but I think there’s real potential in the second or third wave of titles that should come after the basics have been established. Microsoft have put out a video detailing the optimal way to use Kinect:

The problem with that is that my gaming space does not match the optimal requirements at all, it doesn’t even come close. Breaking it down:

Kinect should be directly at the top or bottom of your TV, in the centre. This is mostly fine. I have the Wii sensor bar on top of my TV and the speaker at the bottom (which is no good), but I could probably figure something out.

You should stand six feet away from the TV.  The video even suggests eight feet might be just as good or better, that the “ideal play space” starts at six. My computer room is maybe seven feet long total, the TV sticks out about a foot and the sofa on the opposite wall takes up about three, meaning I have maybe three feet of functional floor space directly in front of the TV.

You should have three or four feet of empty space either side of you. I guess I could sort of manage this. Standing directly in front of the sofa would possibly give me that much space either side, although the wall to my right would make it three feet at best. Immediately behind me would be the sofa, so if that three or four feet is supposed to extend all the way around you then that would be no good. They do mention in the video that it’s mostly because some games require a lot of moving from side to side so I think it’s okay.

The floor should be free of clutter. This is a pretty reasonable demand, you’re using a camera that detects the floor and your location within the room, so the more objects that interfere with it the less effective it will be. Looking at the floor in front of my TV at the moment it’s not strewn with rubbish or anything, but there are lots of wired controllers (hooked up to the PS2 and Wii), some charge cables for PS3 and 360, a bin and an extension lead. That will probably be fine, and rearranging things is no hardship.

The light level should be even. Generally mine isn’t. The TV is right beside a window so during the day it’s fine, but at night I use a fairly dim lamp behind my PC desk that’s at the opposite end of the room to the TV, so it’s mostly quite gloomy at the TV end (creating the exact scenario they mention is not ideal in the demo). I do have bright ceiling lights I can turn on but I generally don’t because, well, they’re too bright. They could be replaced with dimmer bulbs, but is it reasonable to have to change your bulbs to use a console accessory? Again I suppose it’s no great hardship.

It should be away from direct audio sources. This is because of the microphones built into Kinect, so putting it on or in front of an audio source would provide a lot of interference. As I said above that just means I can’t put it in front of my TV because of its bottom speaker, so I don’t see it being too much of a problem.

I suppose the key quote in the video is “how would you set Kinect up in your living room?” This isn’t my living room, it’s my computer room. Other than shifting a table out of the way it would fit perfectly in my living room, but that’s not my “play space”. I play games for quite a few hours a day and it doesn’t make sense to occupy the primary social and TV room for that, and the Xbox isn’t exactly the kind of hardware you want to be lugging back and forth every time you want to use it.

It does make me wonder just how many people meet these optimal conditions. If you game in a computer room or study area then you probably don’t meet them. If you have the consoles rigged up to a TV at your PC desk then you don’t meet them. If you live with parents and game in your bedroom then you probably don’t meet them. If you live in a small apartment then you probably don’t meet them. If you’re staying at university/college then you room might not meet them.

If you’re part of a couple or roomates with people who don’t mind the main TV being used for games? Fine. Live in a big house or apartment? Fine. If you don’t actually play games much and the Xbox is only something you fire up for social Kinect games? Fine. But how many people does that really cover? I really would love to know because I don’t think Microsoft are stupid enough to release an accessory that a significant portion of their audience couldn’t actually use.

These are just the optimal conditions though rather than the minimum, so it’s possible Kinect will still be usable in this room. I’m not keen to spend £130 on it (more than the price of three brand new games) only to find certain functions just aren’t usable, so even if the launch line-up excited me it would still be something to wait on. If Kinect launches and the web is filled with horror stories as the camera fails to detect people in sub-optimal conditions then I think that would be a pretty big indicator that the camera’s not for me yet.

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  1. November 30, 2010 at 21:38

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