You've got to admire Microsoft's tenacity when it comes to Kinect. For over a year, they've been driving their PR open-top buggy around the world, blasting out proclamations via loudspeaker that the motion-control system is a requirement for the Xbox One. Like Sim City's always-online requirement before it, not only would the console not operate without Kinect; even if it did, the experience would be so bad they'd disown it and send it to military school.
But now, hilariously and predictably, Microsoft have introduced a new model of Xbox One that omits the Kinect and runs at about a hundred bucks cheaper. You can pay 20% less and still receive 99% of what you would probably use in the first place.
The one downside to making Kinect optional (and it's a major issue for innovation) is that developers can no longer trust that Xbox One owners will have the peripheral connected to their console. For most gamers and games, that's not an issue - controllers dominate the input landscape. But without guaranteed Kinect ubiquity, developers can't take risks on motion control and develop truly new things knowing that players will exist for them. As Zumba Fitness developer Paul Mottram told Develop:
From a developer point of view it’s a shame, as it all but kills the chances of making an original Kinect title unless it is a major licensed Fitness or Dance product – and even those will suffer as it’s unlikely we’ll see Kinect 2 units even come close to the installed base of the original now. Even then it was a challenge.
I just feel sorry for those developers who had Kinect titles in development who’ve had the rug pulled from beneath them and may now stand little chance of seeing a return on their investment. I still hope to see a killer use for Kinect that will change the minds of the doubters and hopefully [email protected] program will help make this happen, as smaller developers may try something new with the peripheral that mainstream publishers would were not willing to gamble on.
It's a shame because the Kinect has the potential to be a truly groundbreaking system. It's hard to play Kinect Sports Rivals and see its (admittedly laggy and finicky) one-to-one movement tracking without seeing where the technology could go, even without David Tennant narrating. But more inspiring are the third-party developers who have hacked the Windows version of the device to do 3D scanning, motion capture, and more. These are far more complex and potentially revolutionary applications than moving your arm to swing a tennis racquet. Like virtual reality, the most impressive and useful Kinect apps may lie outside gaming.
To illustrate: UC Davis researcher Oliver Kreylos has impressed before with his hacked 3D video capture using one and two Kinects, but now he's gone up to three, combining them with the Oculus Rift to create a somewhat realistic human body (or out-of-body experience) simulator, as seen in the video above.
It's not perfect - the video is jaggy as hell, and there are visible seams where the three Kinects' video feeds join up - but this kitbashing of essentially off-the-shelf technology is incredible. Kreylos' commentary is fascinating also, as he muses on how the low latency helps his trippy digital body "circumnavigate the Uncanny Valley" to become accepted by the brain. What's more is that the Kinects creating Kreylos' avatar are first-generation, not the new Kinect 2.0
included with recommended for the Xbox One. Technology like this, like the Rift, can only get better and more refined, and there's bound to be a practical use for this research somewhere.
I hope Microsoft manages to keep developers innovating on the Kinect. Despite the current lack of compelling gameplay uses for it, I want it to succeed - the tech is too good to be squandered in dance franchises and awkwardly thrusting your arm forward to select menu items. But as is often the case, it may be hackers who demonstrate the true potential locked behind those three creepy, ever-watching digital eyes.