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Overview

Microsoft's Kinect

Kinect (formerly known as Project Natal) is a new peripheral created by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 that allows users to interact with games using their whole bodies rather than a controller. The system uses an approximately nine inch wide horizontal bar that captures the motion of a players body and is also capable of detecting different voices and other real world objects (such as a piece of paper). Kinect was first announced with the code name Project Natal on June 1st during the Microsoft Press Conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Some of Microsoft's biggest first party developers are already working with Kinect including Rare and Lionhead. Ubisoft is also behind the device with Your Shape Fitness Evolved, a game similar to Wii Fit.

It was also announced at the Tokyo Game Show '09 that the majority of third party developers are currently working with Kinect including Activision Blizzard, Bethesda Softworks, Capcom, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Konami, MTV Games, Namco Bandai, Sega, Square Enix, THQ, and Ubisoft. Project head, Kudo Tsunoda stated to Destructoid that it is unlikely we will see many older games being compatible with Kinect. For any completed title to be compatible would require significant recoding and wouldn't work by a simple title update. It released on November 4, 2010 in the US with 15 launch titles including Kinect Adventures, Kinectimals, Dance Central, and Kinect Joy Ride.

Microsoft priced Kinect at $149.99, bundled with Kinect Adventures. It was also bundled on day one with a 4GB Xbox 360 S for $300 or bundled with a 250GB XBox 360 S for $400.

Pre-orders of the device came with exclusive levels in Adventures, which is available in a Arcade Bundle and an Elite bundle. Kinect is set up differently according to the type of Xbox you have. If you have the new slim Xbox, a special port on the back of the console lets you plug Kinect in and play (which is why the commercials say the new Xbox is "Kinect enabled"). If you have an old Xbox, then you'll plug the device into a USB port while at the same time you'll also have to plug it into the wall.

Applications

Ricochet

During the E3 2009 Microsoft Press Conference, a trailer was shown, as well as three live demos. In the demos, the player played a game called Ricochet where they use their body to hit balls in order to smash a brick wall. The next demo was Paint Party, where the player uses hand motions to paint a picture on a large piece of canvas.

Milo demo from E3 2009

Finally, the last demo involved Milo, an artificial intelligence that players can fully interact with on the television screen. It was created by Lionhead Studios and was presented by Peter Molyneux. As well as creating completely new, controller-less experiences for players, Microsoft has talked about using Kinect along with a traditional controller to enhance the experience of games like first-person shooters or RPGs.

Kinect will also use the Facial Recognition technology with the Xbox 360's parental controls to help parents monitor what games their children are playing.

At Microsoft's E3 2010 press conference, they unveiled new applications, each followed with a live demo.

Kinect lets you control the entire Xbox dashboard. You sign in by waving your hand. You are then brought to a special KInect version of the dashboard. Here, you can select different applications by using your voice and your hands. A hand cursor floats around the screen, this cursor tells you where and at what you're pointing at. By staying a couple seconds on an application, you select it.

Kinect can control many of the Xbox 360's applications. At E3 2010, Microsoft announced that it'd be partnering with ESPN to bring hundreds of games to Xbox Live gold subscribers for free. Kinect lets you scroll through games, root for teams and you can ask to see a replay by just saying it. The device also works with Netflix, letting you select movies, play, pause or stop them and even rewind and fastforward. The device also works with Zune music.

Kinect also enables video chat in VideoKinect. You can chat with people who are on your Xbox live or Windows Live messenger friends list. The device eliminates the need for a microphone and lets two people talk face to face. Once you're in a conversation with someone, you can choose a topic like news, movies or music. By choosing the movie topic, for example, you can watch a movie trailer with that person. VideoKinect displays in what town the person you're talking to lives and the weather in said town. The camera also tracks the person's movements, making sure he or she is always in the center of the screen. This feature requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription.

Kinect also has a start up screen similar to the ones found at every single Wii game, giving you advice on how best to play. On Kinect's informative screen, avatars are portrayed in a living room playing in front of Kinect while the following lines of text appear at the top of the screen:

Make sure your room has enough space to play.
Take a break if you become tired or sore.
See your manual for more healthy Kinect gaming information.

The Technology

The 3D motion sensing camera used by Kinect is based upon what was originally known as the "ZCam" being developed by 3DV Systems. It is made up of a standard RGB color camera and a special infrared sensitive camera which is used to sense depth. When in use, the device emits pulses of infrared light into the room and senses the reflections created by objects or people in it which it can use to form a 3D map of the room. Kinect then uses some complex human detection algorithms to successfully determine people from background objects. This also allows the camera to work in pitch black darkness as well as in light. Thanks to these algorithms, the camera is able to detect even the smallest movements of a persons fingers and translate it into usable data for the Xbox 360.

The 3D sensing technologies was based off a camera designed by PrimeSense. Said camera uses the same 3D recognition technology as Kinect. Microsoft and PrimeSense decided to partner up to create Kinect in late March of 2010, as announced by Ilan Spillinger, vice president of Xbox 360 hardware:

PrimeSense has delivered an important component to the technology, helping us deliver revolutionary controller-free entertainment experiences in the living room.

The technology found in Kinect may also find its way to TVs, letting you browse channels hands free.

Marketing

Kinect is being marketed as a device that is meant to be used by the whole family. Microsoft has stated that they wished to get the entire family into video games. In the ads for Kinect, you see families having fun in front of their TV, ads that are very similar to ads for the Wii, usually including shots of a family playing together in front of a same TV. The ads concentrate more on the people playing than on the games.

Microsoft sent out a number of beta invites for Kinect with application forms that you must fill out in order to participate. It is unclear what said beta is and space is limited to the point where filling out a form doesn't guarantee access. The Beta also comes with a software update that makes the dashboard Kinect compatible.

Appearances

Before its release it made many notable appearances. It was first announced and demonstrated to the public at E3 in 2009. It has also been featured on episodes of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Smallville. More recently, Kinect was shown at an event called "D8". Ricochet was the game shown during the event.

Kinect was also shown at a special Cirque du Soleil presentation. On the 13 of June, 2010, the famous performers and Microsoft joined forces and made a special show. Said show revealed Natal's real name: Kinect. The show mixed the Cirque's regular acts with Kinect. The show was about a young boy who was kidnapped by a weird clan of nymphs. As the show goes on, the child discovers Kinect and starts playing with it. While he plays with it, members of the Cirque du Soleil dance in the background. The show was heavilly focused on family gaming, showing the boy having fun with his family while playing. The performance also let people get a first glimpse of games to support the device, such as Kinect Sports.

According to articles from multiple video game press outlets, Kinect was not usable while standing up at E3 2010 demonstrations of the product. Its motion capture technology is proficient at detecting the skeletal structure of people when they are standing, but is seemingly only designed for upright, on-your-feet gameplay. Even non-gaming applications, like rewinding and fast-forwarding videos with hand gestures, were not exhibited while sitting down. Video game journalists were reportedly asked to stand whenever they controlled a Kinect demo.

Giantbomb.com recorded their first ever Quick Look of Kinect with Sonic Free Riders, the remake of Sonic Riders. More of a Quick Look Ex, the QL was conducted by Ryan Davis as a Sega representative commented on the action. Most of the screen was filled with gameplay while a little window bottom left showed Ryan playing. The QL showed an entire race with Ryan coming in 3rd. The model of Kinect used for this demo was an open developer's model and Giant Bomb had to move around the couch in the room in which Ryan was playing as there wasn't enough room.

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