While many of us have been using our Microsoft Kinects for nothing more than some sport simulations and dance titles, it seems that there are some people who are actually trying to push the device's boundaries. One such group is a team of programmers at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. Many gamers may be making their New Year's Resolution to leave time-consuming MMOs behind in favor of exercise, but these programmers are shown that you can do both, using the Kinect as an input device for World of Warcraft. According to videos posted by the team, that's just the beginning.
The technology being used to turn the Kinect into a means of capturing 3D images may be a bit over the head of the average gamer, but the concepts at work for ICT's interface is actually quite simple. They've designed a system that will allow the Kinect's motion and depth sensors to transfer body movements into computer commands, called the Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST).
While previous Kinect videos have shown that hand movements can interact with a Windows operating system, FAAST takes movements made by the entire body and converts them into keyboard inputs, meaning that nearly any program could be operated with motion controls. If the Kinect has any chance of being taken seriously by the hardcore community, then high-profile games will have to back the tech up.
What game is more high-profile among the hardcore than World of Warcraft? These programmers have shown no fear, creating an input system based on the Kinect that will allow users to interact in a firsthand way with the world of Azeroth:
The Kinect is clearly not going away anytime soon, even if the initial reaction by the fan community is to dismiss this idea. The Kinect's sales have taken off since launch, and since the developing company also happens to make an OS, it's not crazy to think that they have big plans for expanding the Kinect's use.
World of Warcraft may be a game for the hardcore, but the influx of players that have embraced Cataclysm in record numbers show that the community isn't afraid of change if the end result offers something new. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick may have problems with the Kinect, but perhaps his opinions might change if he saw the device being used to offer WoW to a new audience.
Sure, the community of WoW fans will almost certainly never make the shift away from mouse and keyboard, but anyone knows that playing Kinect for a few minutes is sure to get your heart rate up. Exercise is exercise, so is it a stupid idea to offer players a chance to get a bit of a workout doing something that they love? Absolutely not. Dance Central is based on the idea, and it succeeds in a big way.
The potential to bring an emphasis on health and wellness into games with Kinect-based motion control is not lost on the team at ICT, and is just as important a demonstration as gaming. Aside from cardiovascular exercise, the team is using the camera built into the Kinect to design games that will aid in physical rehabilitation.
Rehabilitating people who have lost motor functions, or providing physical therapy certainly wasn't available at the device's launch, but the programmers at ICT have no doubts that physical therapy is a very real application of Kinect:
Fable creator Peter Molyneux spoke about just how much the Kinect would reinvent game genres, and perhaps this is one of the first signs of just how open-ended the development possibilities are with the device. Sony had voiced their opinion that the Kinect's camera was a limitation rather than a chance to expand the sphere of gaming, but videos like these seem to suggest that the public doesn't have the slightest idea what the Kinect will be able to do until it does it.
Using the Kinect for games like WoW or other hardcore titles may not be for the hardcore, but neither is the device itself. It was clear before launch that Microsoft's plan was to use the Kinect to expand the definition of gaming, and how people interact with video games through motion controls. In that sense, it would seem that Microsoft has already accomplished the feat, at least in principle, while opening up doors that many never realized.
Whether any one of these single ideas turns out to be a successful use of the device, the fact that people keep trying to change the status quo means that, for the moment, the future is looking bright for the Microsoft Kinect.