Microsoft Kinect: Redefining what a controller is.

By: Shawn Printy. Published: March 14, 2011.

Xbox 360   Kinect SensorThe Microsoft Kinect is Microsoft’s way of bringing video gaming to the masses. The Kinect is a motion sensor controller for the Xbox 360. It is essentially an array of webcams, infrared projectors, and microphones which provides 3D motion capture, as well as facial and voice recognition.

This opens up an array of different methods of gameplay, much like Sony’s EyeToy in 2003, (which was a very similar, but less advanced version of the Kinect). Games can be specially designed to work with the Kinect, and take advantage of it’s motion sensing and tracking abilities to provide new and interesting ways of interfacing with these games. Motion controls can be more intuitive and natural than traditional ‘joystick and button’ controllers. Many games also utilize the face and voice recognition for things like video or voice chat, as well as for automatically identifying users.

Some of the games that have been made exclusively with the Kinect include: Kinectimals, a virtual pet game that uses the Kinect’s motion sensors to allow the player to interact with the animals, Dance Central, a dancing game produced by the developers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, a futuristic mecha combat game which pitches the United states against the Chinese. These games seek to use the Kinect as the primary means of controlling the game, eschewing the use of a controller.

Recently, Microsoft has released the development kit for the Kinect for free for non-commercial uses. This has lead to a slew of inventive and novel uses for the Kinect from the developers and hackers who went to work writing programs for the motion controller. Examples include movement controlled instruments, DJ tools, synthesizers, aiding the possibilities for making music in new and interesting ways.

As wonderful as the Kinect sounds, though, there are some issues with it that can make the accessory less appealing. For the motion-tracking camera itself, it costs $149.99, which is 75% of the cost of a brand new entry level Xbox. Also, the motion controls, as advanced as they are have a high learning curve, and can be unresponsive or sluggish at times. Unfortunately, the selection of games that are designed for the Kinect are mostly lackluster so far.

The technology has come a long way since the days of the Eyetoy, and the Kinect certainly makes some vast improvements. More and more research is being done into motion capture and it’s applications for everything from video gaming to computing. Microsoft’s Windows 8 is rumored to make extensive use of motion capture technologies to control the user interface. The technology will be even more advanced in just 5-10 years, and controllers may disappear from the gaming scene forever. Mice and keyboards too may too become a thing of the past. This is certainly a technology to look out for.

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