Kinect 2.0: Time to get excited—for realsies

The Xbox Kinect sucks. At least, that’s the general sentiment I gather from friends, family, and the random passerby at Bestbuy. So why then, is Microsoft bundling a new version of the motion controller with the Xbox One?

There’s a bit of a love and hate relationship with the original Kinect; the device is backed by stellar motion sensing technology and voice recognition and millions have bought into it, but a lot of people bemoaned it a gimmick—and rightfully so.

Despite garnering huge sales and much recognition, I don’t think most people considered it to be a serious device. One Kinect title after another trumpeted the notion of using your body as the ultimate controller, but they seldom went beyond the simple gestures such as swinging your arm like a bat or jumping to dodge obstacles, save for Dance Central which required you to perform choreographed dance moves. Sometimes Kinect would offer optional functionality to other games like shouting spells in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim instead of hitting a button. These are neat experiences for sure, but they don’t exactly leave a lasting impression.

Perhaps the boldest experience for the Kinect was Lionhead Studios’ Project Milo. The project would have an AI companion that could hold a conversation with you, that played with you, and adapted to your behavior—it was exciting.

Project Milo never became anything more than a tech demo. So, the masses were left to their wild arm gestures in their living rooms.

I liken the Kinect brand of motion control for video gaming to that of 3D in movies: the interest lies in the potential and the hate stems from its poor or underutilization. More often than not, 3D is used to make you go "Wow! That baseball really flew out of the screen!" It’s cheap. But when, 3D is used for something like world building in the movie Life of Pi, it’s awesome.

There are people that will tell you that the Kinect was cut down to meet costs and had previously been more powerful with the ability to detect wrist and even finger motions. This could be true, but the original Kinect lacked imagination, not bite.

Flash forward to May 2013, Microsoft just announced the Xbox One alongside the Kinect 2.0 which is now a required accessory to use the next-gen console. "Ugh, Kinect?" a friend moaned. "We’ll probably see more of the same gimmicky games." Yes, there will be more of those gimmicky games, but now there’s absolutely no excuse for not tapping into the Kinect’s potential and pushing the envelope. The new Kinect is amazingly responsive. It recognizes faces, detects subtle wrist and shoulder movements, and can even monitor your pulse among other things. Adoption of Kinect 2.0 will be 100% with the Xbox One, so there’s no playing the "but the Kinect demographic is too small" card. The only thing stopping this train is our creativity.

Imagine yourself making your way down a dark corridor in a game like Dead Space on Xbox One. You, sitting there on the couch, are freaked. Pulse elevated and your serious face is on. The Kinect 2.0 sees that and seamlessly manipulates the game and tunnel visions your screen and pumps the sound of a heartbeat through the speakers. It’s subtle and seamless.

That’s just for starters. There are so many possibilities waiting to be tapped into by a developer, and I can’t wait to see it. Not to mention, the Kinect goes beyond just games and into the other multimedia features of the Xbox One. The Kinect is still immature, but is now ready to really go places. I'm excited to see just where.