Reconnecting with Kinect

I have a confession: I’m really excited about Kinect. Now only a few weeks away, I can’t wait to put friends and family through their paces and watch as we all flail around in the name of entertainment! However, this level of excitement was nearly killed altogether by that most evil of forces: lag!

For those less tech-savvy, lag is the delay between a player’s input (e.g. pressing a button on a control pad) and seeing the resulting action occur on-screen (e.g. Mario jumps). Ideally in games, and especially if you’ve ever played Ready Up’s Walter at Street Fighter IV, lag should be non-existent or at least shouldn’t impact significantly on a player’s experience.

Between now and Project Natal’s initial jaw-dropping reveal at E3 2009 (more so Peter Molyneux’s “This is a landmark in computer entertainment.”, less so Kudo Tsunoda’s “Bam! There it is!”), I’ve seen in many people a slow, steady dip in anticipation, starting with edge-of-your-seat wonder and eventually languishing into ‘meh’ as the launch line-up was announced and the little black bar was renamed Kinect. While still full of potential and hinting at what new experiences may be on the horizon, the general feeling generated by the announced line-up was underwhelming, unsurprising and, overall, safe.

Commence worldwide dropping of jaws!

The only Kinect game I had played up until recently was back in August, when I sampled Kinect Adventures at the temporary Kinect Galleries just off Covent Garden. As this was to be the pack-in game launching with every Kinect sensor sold, I was expecting something as ground-breaking and flag-bearing as that first eye-opening go on the Tennis section of Wii Sports all those years ago, but sure enough one issue nearly ruined the Kinect experience for me: lag. Years of gaming had conditioned me to wait until my avatar was lined up with a ledge from which to jump before doing so; unfortunately in my brief time with Kinect Adventures such actions occurred on screen a second later, consistently missing each jump by quite a margin. Unable to have a second try and see if I could adjust to jumping significantly before my avatar needed me to, it was to be another knock to my path of expectation. Curse you lag!

(Admittedly this was not a final build of the game and may have since been fixed!)

Chancing upon the Kinect Galleries, I met my new nemesis: lag!

Fast forward to the very recent past, specifically Saturday 16th October 2010, and at silly o’clock in the morning I found myself on a train from Brighton to Nuneaton hoping to have my initial lust for Kinect reignited via a hands on day with Rare’s launch offering: Kinect Sports (and, in a bout of shameless plugging, you can read mine and John’s report elsewhere on the good ship Ready Up by pointing your browser in this direction).

The game that rekindled my anticipation for Kinect: Kinect Sports

From a gamer’s perspective, one thing really highlighted during my extended time with Kinect Sports is how Rare chose to deal with the lag issue: by simply telling the player when to perform key actions. It seems like such an obvious short-term solution that you can’t help but wonder why it hadn’t been implemented in Kinect Adventures (in fact, between August and now there’s every chance the game might have found other solutions to the lag issue).

For example, in Beach Volleyball, if you perform actions when it looks like you need to (such as jumping to deliver a spike when the ball looks to be at its sweet-spot) you will miss your opportunity as the lag spoils your timing. However, if you react as soon as you are prompted your avatar accurately performs the required action and you get to see the efforts of your exertion. Initially it’s a strange disconnect, but much more successful and far easier to adjust to than conditioning yourself to jump before it looks like you need to.

This also presented itself during our time with the Track & Field games, specifically the Hurdles event. Again, if you jump when your avatar reaches the hurdles, you’ll be too late and run straight through the hurdle, hurting your chances of winning in the process. However, if you jump when prompted to, you’ll sail over the hurdle and carry on, ever closer to that finish line.

From my point of view, Kinect Sports should be the game Microsoft use to introduce everyone to their new device – as a showcase for the sort of fun you can have with the device and transcending any initial limitations to do with lag, I am yet to try a better showcase for Kinect and really can’t wait to see what Rare can pull out of the hat for the second or third waves of Kinect titles.

Good work Rare!






2 responses to “Reconnecting with Kinect”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I haven’t tried Kinect yet but the react when you are told to doesn’t sound that appealing to me. With that premise you could put any game in front of you, it sounds more like a reaction game than getting absorbed in the game world. Maybe it’ll make more sense to me if and when I try it for myself but as I hardly play the Wii I’m thinking Kinect will not be for me.

    Had I known you were going to Rare Studios I would have asked you to smuggle out one of those figures for me, surely no one would have noticed.

  2. Dean avatar

    I tried table tennis at Eurogamer and was amazed at how unresponsive it was. Neither of us seemed to have any control over the direction the ball went in and my opponent ended up winning by simply holding his hand straight out in front of him! There are a few more interesting games on the way for Kinect now, but until i see proof that the system works as well as it should i’m saving up my pennies for Move instead.

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