Recently rumours were circulating that the new Kinect (Kinect 2.0) was a huge cost factor in developing the Xbox One (I will be calling it the One throughout this post). Now this wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was creating solutions to problems in how we interact with our consoles (this is what the blog post is going to be about). It is a no brainer that, on paper, the PS4 is a more powerful console than the One. The fact that the PS4 has more and better RAM than the One (8GB GDDR5, which 7 of it is useable for games, compared to 8GB DDR3 which 5 of it is useable for games) puts into question is the Kinect really worth the price for lower specs and $100 more. Microsoft, at Comic-Com, announced new features for the Kinect that are being called “base level features any developer can use”. It is cool we know more about the Kinect but it also highlights that Microsoft’s direction with the Kinect is less about doing something new but about solving non-existent problems.
Navigation: The Kinect (both versions) advertised that you can navigate the One with your hands. It is cool except this is non-existent problem. We have been navigating menu screens for years with ease. The way menus have been made is to make the user easy to understand where everything is and navigate it with very little problems. The Kinect seems to advertise itself (in this regard) as more of a novel experience as you are not going to start up the One without a controller.
Profile settings: This one is fairly interesting. The Kinect will be able to recognise you and load your certain profile (i.e. if your friend likes inverted controls and you don’t it can change it on the fly when you pass the controller over). If we ignore the fact that the friend would have to set up his preferences (like setting up a profile) it is a quick way to swap profile settings. The biggest problem is, again, it is solving a non-existent problem. We have had profile settings since this last generation started. You just had to log in. This could be streamlined at a far lower cost to the consumer by removing the Kinect altogether. One button could do this, for example the PlayStation button on the PS3 is used to do several things. I think the profile switching, all be it cool once it has been set up, is an expensive solution to a non-existent problem when you factor in the cost and specs of the system because of the inclusion of the Kinect
Reading heart rates: This one may be just a personal thing as I know some people get really into gaming (I thought I was up their writing blogs and reviews like this but I may be wrong) but I can safely say that no game has made my heart rate race or given me an adrenaline boost while I play it. The reason being I am not in any sort of threat so I can’t see how this will be used in any game I play except for one genre which is fitness games. Now I am not a fitness fanatic but I do run a lot. I enjoy doing circuits and pushing myself to do big runs every day. That being said I can safely say fitness games on consoles are a waste of time and money. This isn’t just an issue with the Kinect as the Move and Wii U has the same issue.
Voice commands: This is an interesting and not entirely a bad point (bringing it up out of fairness) but they do not require the Kinect. A cheap microphone that is good enough to pick up the sound in the room is sufficient for voice commands. What makes voice commands good is the software behind the microphone. Now Microsoft seems to have quite a comprehensive voice command system but couldn’t this system be applied to a headset? It can but I do agree with them putting it into the Kinect (especially when it is compulsory addition to the One)
Right direction: The newly announced face scanning thing (makes a 3D model of your face) is a step in the right direction for the Kinect. I feel it gives a real reason for adding the expense to the system. However, I am not getting whole to excited yet as the past Kinect promo adverts advertised a similar system with a skateboard which never made it into the final product. Another problem I have with it is would it really be used within a game. Games have become very cinematic in nature this last generation. Would I want my face with little to no emotion in a cinematic cut scene? It would look out of place. Now it could be used in MMOs and other less storytelling driven gameplay but isn’t this a gimmick in itself. I mean, as gamers, we tend to live out a fantasy which is why human looking MMOs tend to not have the appeal that an elf MMO has. The big question is if it isn’t used to affect gameplay then what is the point?
To conclude the Kinect 2.0 doesn’t really change anything. It is an expensive device/choice especially considering the One is, on paper, a weaker device in terms of specs but it costs $100 more expensive than its’ closet rival. Navigation, profile settings and other things like that can be done already with very little problems. It brings me back to my title of “creating expensive solutions for non-existent problems” as these features are not a game changer. The Kinect is offering a more expensive way to do it. It is very similar to the voice commands thing. Voice commands have been in gaming for quite some time now. I remember playing Socom 3 on the PS2 with voice commands. No expensive Kinect style thing was needed. All that was needed was a cheap microphone. The software did all the work. Now Microsoft are moving in the right direction with the face modelling thing but is there much practical impact this will have in the actual games? Is it worth the price and reducing the One’s own specs to make the thing affordable? That is up to personal opinion and debate.
I will leave you (the reader) with a little comparison to another next generation system that equally has an issue with creating an expensive solution for non-existent problems. Imagine the menu screen being on a different more expensive controller so the game can continue running while you do menu stuff on the other screen, even though developers have gotten around the need for another screen with inventory menus that do not stop the game. The screen has pushed up the price of the system.