Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kinect Me To Who's In Charge

No, I'm not Skyrimming. Elder Scrolls can go clean my oven for all I care with all its... first-personish. Yes, that's my only gripe with it and its enough for me to never even want to touch it.

Instead, let me tell you about my misadventures with Kinect.

As most people in the modern world, I live in an apartment. Apartments have the idiosyncrasy of not being very spacious. Mine escapes not the norm (ugh, I've been playing way too much Tactics Ogre). Still, we heard that ME3 was taking advantage of Kinect's built-in voice recognition to issue commands to party members and go through dialog. "What fun", I replied and so I put my foot down and stated that by next year I was getting a Kinect. I ended getting one on my birthday, last September.

Now, if you're anything like me you probably got excited when first word of the Wii came out. The prospect of physically interacting with your games beyond your thumbs and possibly chin (I get lazy sometimes) was wondrously innovative to my pseudo-laywoman's mind and we quickly jumped on the hype bandwagon. In fact, there's even a video of Mike in the line at Toys"R"Us at launch day after an incident at a different store involving a pre-order, a complaints book and the Police. What followed (not that particular launch day but in videogaming history) was a series of disappointing releases and half-hearted attempts by other companies to stake their claim in that same niche market. For a long time I was verily unimpressed.

Like nothing had ever happened and like nothing had been learned, we were overjoyed, excited, psyched even, when news of this one project Natal reached our little corner of the world. Remarkably, this had very little to do with "Natal" being directly translated to "Christmas" and more with the fact that someone had picked up on the idea first proposed by the Wii and expanded on it to something that didn't require a hand-held accessory. We had had our share of holes in walls with the Wiimote. Nintendo had been stupid but Microsoft now had the possibility of picking up where they left off and actually put out title that post-12 years old players would actually want to play. And the technology in the info releases they were making seemed pretty groundbreaking and we felt like we were living in the future. We may not have flying cars but the survival and prosperity of the human race was assured if our gaming consoles could talk back to us. But we should've known. Peter Moulineaux has fooled and tricked us so many times before. Why, oh why didn't we see it?

So, ok. The Kinect wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But it's not that bad either. Like, Yahtzee (at least I think it was him) said: no matter in how many different ways you can interact physically with a game if you don't have a corresponding physical feedback, what's the point? Still, the motion capture is pretty decent and it's terrible fun watching myself as a stick figure during the calibration process. It has its faults, though. The biggest one, and the one I blame for their failure to connect (HA, see what I did there?) with the far east market is the amount of space it requires to work properly.

We set the thing up and my cat jumped at it when it started bobbing up and down, trying to determine where the floor was. It had to see the floor so we couldn't gain a few precious inches by moving it a bit further back, closer to the wall. When calibration time came we had to move the couch back until it touched the dining table. Then we had to push the dining table back and the couch with it. Then we decided to move the couch out of the frame entirely to the side and STILL had to play the "restricted" version of games and demos. The Kinect needs a LOT of space to see you. So, before I even consider if I want to play something with it I have to consider if I feel like rearranging furniture and if the downstairs neighbors would be cool with that at whatever hour it happens to be.

But, you know, the motion sensor thing is neat, and cute but not at all the main reason I bought it. We proceeded to calibrate the thing's voice recognition and, at first, all was fine. We giggled like school girls when the screen filled with my achievements after we blurted out "Xbox, Achievements."

But, after we connected to Xbox Live, the thing went deaf. No matter how much we hollered out for it using our many different accents and tones, it wouldn't respond. We discovered then that voice activation did not work in our native language. But that's ok because we're sufficiently proficient with English, in my humble opinion, to issue simple commands. Turns out it decided it wasn't available in our geographical area, regardless of our language skills. So we decided to switch our settings to the UK because it's still in the same time zone and we were fairly sure it would raise no issues with the English the English speak. But no, as soon as we connect to Xbox Live it realizes the trick we're pulling and wags its finger at us reprovingly.

My only hope is that this issue exists only on the Xbox dashboard because if it persists in games... well... There goes my entire reason for wanting it, eh? Then I'll just be stuck with a pretty expensive, bobbing, dust magnet of a cyclops in front of my TV for no good reason.

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