Kinect for Xbox 360, a link to future of gaming
The Nintendo Wii first brought motion based controllers to the masses, and the PlayStation Move is now seeking to improve on it, but it is the Kinect for Xbox 360 that may take gamers into the future.
The newly released Kinect gets rid of buttons altogether and relies instead on a gamer's voice commands and full body motions -- feet, head, hands, hips -- to control games and menus.
The $150 Kinect has a set of video cameras, motion sensors and microphones that sits near the television. The camera looks like an extra wide webcam and connects to the Xbox 360 - even older models - through a USB port.
This equipment is all you need to raft down rapids, run obstacle courses or to do your best Lady Gaga dance impression.
But the Kinect needs space. Microsoft says gamers need at least six feet between themselves and the television set. The good news is that Kinect can actually adapt to different room types and different player heights allowing full game play in just about any room.
The Kinect also allows live video chat, can reveal its console menus with a swipe of a hand, and plays movies through simple voice commands.
The Kinect automatically adjusts the game for two-player mode. Although it can calculate only the input of two people at a time (due to the Xbox's computing power), many games support up to eight players with users taking turns in front of the camera.
The Kinect's motion sensors and voice commands are responsive and accurate. There is very little lag between a player's movements and those of the on-screen counterpart. Jump and the character will jump just as fast and high; throw an imaginary javelin and the Kinect will determine how much force was used; high five a teammate and the virtual characters become buddies as well.
The peripheral equipment comes packaged with Kinect Adventures, which is a set of minigames that have you hitting balls at targets, riding a raft, plugging leaks and floating through space. The games are very simple, as are the graphics, meant for gaming with family and friends.
Most of the other games currently available for Kinect follow the same formula and appeal to social gaming. They include:
Kinect Sports: Essentially a Wii Sports clone, it offers bowling, volleyball, track and field, boxing, soccer, table tennis and boxing.
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved is an exercise game that can accurately create an on-screen avatar based on the user's own curves through its skeletal mapping technology.
Dance Central: This might prove to be one of the most popular games of the holiday season. Made by the Harmonix, the same folks behind Rock Band, the game can actually teach users how to dance. It allows for multiplayer dance battles and the track selection features current pop hits like Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" to hip-hop classics like Bel Biv Devoe's "Poison."
The Kinect attempts to bridge the gap between Xbox's loyal hard-core gamers and the casual gamers who have made the Nintendo Wii a success. Despite getting some pushback from Xbox purist there is no denying the Kinect's tech is futuristic and its potential is only limited by the imagination of today's game developers.
Either way, whether people choose to just become the bowling champ of their living rooms or the undisputed Halo of the world, the Kinect will probably have something to do with both.