What Could the Xbox Kinect Mean for the Future of Storytelling?
In case you missed it, Microsoft's motion-sensing add-on to their Xbox 360 gaming console, Microsoft Kinect, launched this week. Word on the street is the software giant is spending $400 million just to promote the device -- more than the entire budget of Avatar, depending on who you ask. More than just a Nintendo Wii rip-off, however, the Kinect portends major changes to come in natural user interfaces as well as a further push into online video distribution by Microsoft (relevant disclosure: we had a Non-Disclosure Agreement with Microsoft last year regarding our project 3rd Rail. Oops, was I not supposed to disclose that?).
Here's a little overview, for those unfamiliar with the Kinect (née Project Natal):
Watching videos of people playing casual dance and boxing games, I immediately start to wonder what this kind of naturalistic control scheme will enable when it comes to the next generation of "interactive movie" games like Heavy Rain. Because while the Kinect seems like a step back for navigation of interfaces (Gizmodo notes it takes "about a minute to type '30 Rock'"), it also includes voice commands (pretty self-explanatory) -- and from an immersion standpoint I don't see how the PlayStation Move or Nintendo Wii can touch the Kinect. Presumably the Kinect is the first entry into an entirely new category of controller-less devices, which will eventually include even more sophisticated technology like eye tracking and crazy 3D integration.
I haven't had much time to think about all of the new possibilities the Kinect represents for storytellers (yet). So for now, here's a quote from Gizmodo's Jason Chen:
I like what this means for gaming, and for computing, in general. Just the fact that you can now navigate through the Xbox menus, music, movies and games using your body and your voice heralds change; something that usually needs an entirely new console to accomplish. I hate to use the old cliches of Minority Report or Blade Runner, but being able to wave at a machine or say the equivalent of "enhance, enhance, enhance" and have it actually know what you want is science fiction in practical terms. Imagine doing this not only for games, but for your desktop, changing from email to your browser to IM either with a wave of your wrist or a quick utterance of "Computer, go to YouTube." Suck it, past. This IS the future.
As with any new technology, out of the box the Kinect is a bit rough around the edges. There have even been questions of whether the device is racist. But it will only get better, and the games available at launch will be quickly leapfrogged by other apps in the months to come.
I don't have an Xbox, and have no plans to buy a Kinect anytime soon (I have a Playstation 3, and actually only own one game for it, as I bought the PS3 to watch Blu-ray movies). But the Kinect is something I'll be keeping tabs on, as the device -- and others like it -- will have a profound impact on the way we interact with stories going forward.
What do you guys think -- are you planning on adding a Kinect to your living room?