If you cast your mind way back to E3 2009, Microsoft unveiled what they called Project Natal, a peripheral that could track your whole body and translate that into games. Fast forward one year and the name was revealed - Kinect - and now fast forward seven years and the same exciting concept has been discontinued by Microsoft.
When it was revealed it was very promising indeed - a camera not unlike the EyeToy for the PS2, except this time it promised full body tracking, meaning you and your friends could become the controller in new ways not really seen before. The E3 2009 demo showed sports games, voice recognition, and more being used via the camera, and it all looked ambitious and innovative. In many ways, it was Microsoft's bid to cater to the new casual console crowd that the Wii had invited in.
It hasn't been the smoothest journey for the Kinect, that's for sure. For a start, its bundling with the Xbox One was poorly received by many, being one of the many contributing factors to the console's poor start in life. On top of that, a lot of the games for it just weren't up to scratch, offering experiences with little substance. It never felt like a reliable consumer product, and its attempt to appeal to a casual audience in the same way the Wii did was unsuccessful to say the least, mostly because there weren't enough good games around for owners of the Kinect to buy and enjoy. Even the backing of studios like Rare and Lionhead couldn't save it.
The Xbox One even came with a new iteration of the technology, one that was so much more powerful that it actually had to divert power away from other resources to process all the data it collected. The Kinect didn't have the strongest of reputations on the Xbox 360, and this was just another way that consumers felt they were forced into buying this gadget they didn't even want to use. With a shift in management at Xbox (Don Mattrick out and Phil Spencer in as Xbox chief), the Kinect became less of a priority as they listened to what the fans wanted (or rather what they didn't).
To commemorate the loss of the peripheral, then, we've decided to put together a sample of some of the best, the worst, and the okay it had to offer, as well as take a look at what could have been.
The full body tracking of the Kinect lent itself very nicely to certain genres of games, one of which was dancing. Along came Harmonix with Dance Central as a launch title, and it was pretty much a success. Not only could you do all the usual stuff you'd expect from a dance game, but there was even a workout mode and a training mode. Couple this with a huge variety of content and its party-game appeal, and it was praised by many as the best of the launch titles. Not a bad result.
We should add that, while not a game, the voice controls on the Kinect worked mostly as they should. A few of our editors at Gamereactor still use theirs regularly to issue commands to the console, and although this isn't for everyone, and hasn't been improved by Microsoft, it did the job that Aaron Paul said it would when he showed us how it worked with the Xbox One.
Sticking with the voice controls, several games used the microphone and had players inputting commands manually (so to speak). It's a feature that died along with consumer interest and developer support, but it hinted at what might be possible in the future, and it's not out of the realms of possibility that this sort of functionality will a return, especially if VR continues to develop.
One might have thought that the Kinect's controls would've made it ideal for fighting games, but one game that didn't help that argument at all was AMA Studios' Fighters Uncaged. If you mix boring tutorials with unresponsive motion controls, sprinkling in some unsatisfying combat, it doesn't make for a hugely entertaining title. Fighter Within was Daoka's attempt to restore some faith in fighting Kinect titles, but that went even worse, and it was widely criticised for just not working well enough.
Another game that didn't do anything to restore faith in the Kinect was Sonic Riders. Sonic games didn't have the best of reputations at the time anyway, but this was made even worse when many felt that this game was not only hard to control but downright unresponsive at times. Action game Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour didn't fare much better either, and had the same problems; the controls just weren't responsive enough, making the game unplayable at points.
Kinect Star Wars was one of the most highly-anticipated Kinect games when it was announced - after all, it promised to let you act out your fantasies of being a Jedi with your whole body, and that's cool. A limited edition console launched alongside the game too, being styled like R2-D2 and accompanied by a gold C3PO-themed controller. It all shaped up to be a dream come true, and when it arrived it was... alright.
There was a lot to be thankful for with the game - after all, it was number one on the UK charts for a reason - and that included the art style and the concept of being a Jedi in a virtual world. The fact that the motion controls weren't totally up to scratch meant the experience lacked that special something though, and the Dance-Off mode certainly wasn't to everyone's tastes either.
Another game that received relatively good responses was Child of Eden from Q Entertainment. While the Kinect feature was fun, allowing you to aim and switch weapons with your hands, a lot of the time it was simply easier to use a controller, negating the need for Kinect at all. It worked pretty well, but didn't exactly make you consider the device feel like a necessity.
...what might have been
At E3 2009, during the reveal of Project Natal, Lionhead was on hand to show off a form of artificial intelligence around the Kinect called Project Milo. Peter Molyneux later confirmed this to be a game called Milo and Kate, and the whole thing pretty much worked as if you were speaking to an AI who could recognise words and gestures.
The demo that was shown at E3 was certainly ambitious, with Milo responding like a 'real boy', which of course got people excited. Molyneux even stated that Milo could recognise the emotions in someone's voice, as well as the facial expressions of the player. It was, as he said "true science-fiction that nobody has written about", and ended up being confined to the world of fiction too, as Milo never saw the light of day.
...and what might still come
While the Kinect as a camera peripheral is dead and buried, and highly unlikely to resurface either as a brand or as a standalone camera/motion controller, Microsoft hasn't given up on certain parts of the concept. In fact, part of the Kinect tech is central to Microsoft's mixed reality/augmented reality efforts (HoloLens and beyond). While this is far from being ready for consumers, it is an indication that while the Kinect dream may be dead, Microsoft is still dreaming of that holodeck-esque living room experience.
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