Xbox Kinect: Be the Interface

Out looking for a birthday gift on Princes Street today Jules and I went through the HMV to see if they had some good bargains on DVDs. Yes, they had some good movies to an affordable price, but more importantly they had a demo which I for a long time have longed to try out. Since I left Norway I have not been able to indulge myself in any computer game or its TV based equivalents so in mere curiosity I wanted to see what new games were out, and on my little stroll down the staircase, to the games section in the basement, I was hoping to see something spectacular, or at least something slightly cool. I was happy to discover that not only both of these criterion were about to be fulfilled, but that I also was able to try out a pre-release test of a technology I think will have an interesting impact on human computer interaction (HCI): The Xbox Kinect.

First I want to elaborate why I got so enthusiastic. It is not because of the Xbox 360 or the Kinect extension, neither  that I could throw a javelin or play virtual bowling – after all that has been possible since long before Nintendo rediscovered it with Wii Sports – It was because I could try it out myself and check out some of me prejudices against this technology.

So what is the Kinect? The Kinect is a technology which makes it possible for the user to control his or her avatar (in the case of Wii Sport and the games I tried today: the awkwardly shaped lump of geometrical forms resembling You on the screen) by moving. This is enabled through two cameras working in stereoscopic mode to make a 3D understanding of the happenings in front of the the screen. It is also equipped with a RGB camera for recording video footage, taking pictures etc. and directional microphones to understand where things are located in the means of audio. This may sound very technical but just jump around and move your hands as you are being told in the game and you will do good.

After trying three different games, all created to show off this technology I have to admit that I am impressed. The last time I tried a camera interface was the iToy for Playstation 2, and unless you lived in a very lit house, it never worked very well. This seems to be something completely different. The games I tried today had a high show-off value, and like most “new” technologies trying to show their potential this can be a bit annoying – how many ladders have fallen towards you since 3D cinema got popular again. Nevertheless there is interesting how new technology can remove the earlier highly abstract interfaces where the WSAD key combination is used for moving the avatar and the SPACE key represents a jump. However I believe that a new interface nurtures new types of games, and new philosophic questions. Is violent games worse if the player in movement replicate the act pictured on the screen compared to if she just pushed a combination of keys? Is new innovative interfaces mostly found in family and party games, while the mainstream blockbusters are built on conservative means of control? Do this technology take us a step closer to virtual reality, and do we want that? Many question could be asked, but at this moment all I want to do is to test the new technology and see what it is able to do.

This video shows a preview of Milo, an interactive boy, and some nice words by Lionhead guru and CEO Peter Molyneux. I loved his games “Black and White” and I am curious about this new project.

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