Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Microsoft Kinect Doesn't Work - "Sitting is Something We're Still Calibrating For"

The bombshell revelation of the 2010 E3 expo: Microsoft's Kinect cannot work when the player is seated.  Its cameras can only detect a person who is standing.  This news has been confirmed by multiple press sources, as well as inside accounts from software developers, who have been privately instructed by Microsoft to only make "standing" games.

This screenshot comes from Kinect's E3 presentation, the only where Microsoft greeted attendees with a free Xbox 360 (a shameless bit of bribery for the gaming press).  But you won't be able to play games this way.  You won't be able to sit down at all.

IGN first broke the story last night, but the news was quickly disappeared and replaced with a friendlier, and strangely non-committal, piece of PR.  The same story was later revealed by Endgadget, who confirmed that none of the E3 Kinect demos will work when seated.  And it also confirmed in a lengthy article on Kotaku:

One developer with whom I spoke and who is familiar with how Microsoft is briefing studios making games for Kinect said the company has specifically advised developers to not make games that would involve the player's sitting down.

None of the games shown for Kinect at a showcase early in the week were set up for sitting. Kinectimals, a cute take on Nintendogs-style games, but with tiger cubs, was presented as a player-stand-here demo. That's logical, because the game involves walking up to the animal and then jumping or running or doing some other action you want the animal to replicate. The game's lead creator, Frontier Design's David Braben shrugged when I asked him if the game could be played sitting down. He guessed some of it might work, but it didn't sound like he'd tried, possibly because it was irrelevant to his game design.

You might have expected a seated Kinect experience from the Forza Motorsport team. Those folks are making Kinect driving games and tech demos. They've got a fun highway driving challenge that involves standing in front of the Kinect and steering by holding your hands in front of your body as if you were turning a real steering wheel. The perspective for this game experiment is inside the car, through the eyes of a driver. Rolling your shoulders in front of Kinect turns the game's camera view slightly, letting you look around inside the car. Your lower body is not used — no foot-forward-to-accelerate as was seen in a similar demonstration last year with racing game Burnout. Nevertheless, you have to play this one standing up if you are playing it at E3.

I asked one of the two members of Forza development studio Turn 10 if I could play their demo sitting down. They said I could not, that it was "optimized for standing."

The thought that prompted me to start asking the "sitting question" to so many Kinect-connected game developers and executives at E3 was that the Kinect's sensor can't clearly read a human skeleton if a person is seated. Some developers with whom I was theorizing about this guessed that the Kinect would become confused by the bent knees of a seated gamer — that it would need a player to always return to a resting position that has all their joints on one flat plane, which is the case when you are standing, not when you are sitting. No Kinect developer could or would get that specific with me, so I'm left to guess.

If I know how trade shows like CES and E3 work, this rumor has spread like wildfire.  It will be the topic of every private discussion among the gaming press and software developers.  And now you know why Microsoft handed out free Xbox 360s at its press conference.

Here is IGN's original report, before they scrubbed it from their website (thanks to NeoGAF):

Right now, Kinect only works when you stand. This includes menu navigation. All the cool options to grab a slider and advance through frames of a movie you are watching only work when you are on your feet. Kinect, we've been told, has problems handling your skeletal frame while sitting. The voice commands still work, but every game we've seen and even simple menu navigation have to be done with you out of your seat. That's not exactly how I want to watch my movies. If the focus for Kinect is creating games like Dance Central that naturally would require you to be off your couch, that's great. But I have to say, no one thinks "I am driving a car!" while standing up in their living room.

I am convinced that, after Nintendo's stellar performance, this is the biggest news event of E3.  Microsoft spent millions and years of development on Kinetic.  This is not some minor peripheral, but the console's major thrust against Sony and Nintendo - XBox 360 Part 2.  A spectacular failure, brought upon by shoddy and ineffective hardware, would be a devestating blow for the company.  This is huge.

No comments: