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What Kinect Means

What Kinect Means (photo)

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Microsoft held a splashy launch party in Times Square two nights ago to usher in a new era for the Xbox 360. Hundreds of attendees walked away from the bash with Kinect units, but it’s a safe bet most people didn’t know what to expect when they finally got the thing home and plugged it in. The same can be said for the video game industry. Kinect represents a massive shift, one that takes the once-niche idea of gesture-controlled input and brings it to the mainstream.

For $150, consumers can get their own little piece of the “Minority Report” future and marvel at the voice and face recognition built into the device. City dwellers will need to shift around their living room furniture to actually play the games, and a few of them are actually worth the effort. Harmonix’s “Dance Central” will be this year’s must-have party game and “Kinectimals” will suck in anyone in eyeshot of the irresistible cuteness of its spunky virtual animals.

Still, outside of the individual games available at launch for Kinect, it could forecast a sea change for how video games get played and developed. What follows are some object lessons Kinect could provide and slight predictions of how it might change the game landscape moving forward. And, yes: all of this could be moot is Kinect winds up as a massive flop. However, Microsoft’s pledged to keep pouring money and support into the Kinect idea so the only difference may be in whether its repercussions make for sudden shift or a slower, sustained one.

1. Research Is Its Own Reward
Microsoft’s been very candid about how most of the technologies that have gone into Kinect come from areas that weren’t specifically geared toward gaming. Voice commands, skeletal tracking for movement and connected cameras for depth perception are all technologies that Kinect uses to track people in real-time in a 3D space. They’re not necessarily new innovations but the idea to use them for video games is. The research had already been going on so, when the notion to bundle these thing into one gaming-centric device hit, the production of Kinect had a vast well of knowledge to draw upon. Of course, Microsoft’s deep pockets and many-tentacled organizational structure makes it uniquely positioned to both do the research and manufacture the product. So, even if the research and execution are great, it might be a long time before anyone is able to pull off a feat of this magnitude.

2. Everybody, Do the Twist
With Kinect’s launch yesterday, all the major gaming consoles have motion control options now. Will this parity foster creativity in the space? Or, will it mean that each system gets uninteresting mini-game collections, as with the ones that drop onto the Wii like so many turds.

More important than what kinds of games we’ll get is how they’ll get made. When multiplatform games–the ones that appear on each console and/or PC– begin production, developers need to choose which platform to start working on first. The Wii changed things up for this generation, because its meteoric rise made everyone scramble to make games that would rake in the dollars. But the Wii’s not a hi-def console. For hi-def games, the Xbox has been the lead development platform because its architecture so closely resembles that of a PC, so you’re almost getting a 2-for-1 deal.

Kinect’s arrival throws another wrinkle on top of all that there is already to consider–system capabilities, online connectivity and user base–by making its input so different. The Wii remotes and the Move wands have enough similarities that some development ideas can move smoothly between the two platforms. But the Kinect’s body-controlled gameplay will force developers to choose differently than they have before.

3. PCs: Alone Again, Naturally
Gaming innovation has had a long history on the PC, but motion gaming seems to be one arena where PC-centric developers and even hobbyists have little to no interest.

There’s no reason that a decently functional computer couldn’t be hooked up to a HDTV and be the platform where Wii-, Move- or Kinect-style gameplay happens. In fact, there’s a whole category of machines called HTPCs (home theater PC) that specialize in streaming content or acting as alternative set-top boxes with cable TV access. (Apple positioned its most recent Mac Mini as one such device.) Most of these machines are robust enough to run motion control games with the right software or hardware. Yet this curious gap remains. Hopefully, as a company with a big stake in maintaining the viability of the PC as a game platform, Microsoft will bring out a PC version of Kinect soon.

4. Physical Movement as Gameplay Isn’t Going Away
There’s a subset of people that have seen movement-based gameplay as a fad. And that’s kind of understandable, because it feels goofy to jump, run or gesticulate wildly to make something happen on a screen. But what will most likely happen is that genres where physical movement doesn’t feel as out of the ordinary–like dancing or exercise–will flock to gestural gaming. This shift is already underway with games like Ubisoft’s “Just Dance” their “Your Shape” fitness games and their upcoming “Michael Jackson: The Experience.”

EA SPORTS Active NFL Training Camp | EA SPORTS

EA’s also had success with its “EA Active” series, so much so that they’re going to go after dudes with “EA Sports Active Training Camp,” a title that aims to replicate the workouts of NFL training camps. Maybe it’ll click with ultra-competitive guys who all want to one-up each other’s time on the 40-yard dash

5. The Race for a “Hardcore-Friendly” Motion Game Is On.
Ever since the Wii hit the scene in 2006, the conundrum of how to lure in the skeptical hardcore gamer has hung over it. The same problem will now vex Sony and Microsoft with regard to their Move and Kinect add-ons for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. The hardcore question begs another question, though. That being, why?

It’s a good question. The most inescapable reality of a post-Wii world is that it split the video game market into two portions. On one side of the chasm are stereotypically hardcore gamers and the mostly unfair accusations against them do have some truth. They can be un-curious, skeptical and fixated on graphics and genre. They were once Nintendo faithful during the GameCube era but the Wii’s preponderance of twee content has pushed them away. Even when a shooter like “The Conduit” comes out–specifically targeting people who want a good-looking, action-heavy and narrative-focused experience on the Wii–the best it can manage is polite applause for even trying to go there. So, again, why try to entice the hardcore gamer to the motion-control pleasure dome? To pull back the hardcore gamer grants a blessing. It takes away the upturned nose and amounts to the reunification of Germany. It takes away the classist subtext in comments like “Sure, it’s good… for a Wii game.” Wiping away that attitude invites the most technologically talented designers to come create in the motion-gaming landscape.

Efforts are underway. The Playstation will be making the next installment of their “SOCOM” military shooter playable with the Move controllers and Microsoft recently announced that certain games will be abe to use both a traditional controller and the Kinect. If any of these efforts prove successful, then the tent of motion gaming will seem more inviting to those who walked by it before.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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