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How Microsoft Kinect Hackers Help the Device Reach Its Full Potential

What’s the best way to market your business to consumers? Well, it obviously depends on your business, but rest assured that if your product or service is something truly worthwhile, it may end up marketing itself—in different ways than you may have originally imagined. When that’s the case, all you need to do is just sit back and let your consumers tell you what works and what doesn’t.

That’s exactly what’s happening with Microsoft’s latest effort in the videogame market—the Kinect. For those unfamiliar with the product, the Kinect is basically a hardware expansion for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 that allows users to interact with specific games without the aid of a handheld controller. The Kinect uses an integrated, motion-sensing camera to capture the player’s physical movements and translate them into gameplay commands. Essentially, the player’s body is the controller. When you move your hands, arms and body, the onscreen character that you’re controlling mimics your movements. It’s an intriguing new concept that opens the door for a number of dynamic new gameplay opportunities.

The product, however, hasn’t quite taken off yet—primarily because the games that have been officially released to stores under the “Kinect” label are the only ones you can actually play using the device. And, truth be told, they’re not exactly the greatest of games to begin with. They function well with the hardware, but don’t necessarily take full advantage of the opportunity to create newer and bolder gaming experiences.

Some users modify their Kinects to develop intriguing (and practical) new applications for motion control.

Some users modify their Kinects to develop intriguing (and practical) new applications for motion control.

Well, guess what?! That’s not stopping owners of the device from taking matters into their own hands. A number of crafty videogame connoisseurs and tech-junkies have decided to take the hardware a step further than Microsoft originally intended. They’re now using the Kinect as a type of design platform by which they can develop intriguing (and practical) new applications for motion control. The industry refers to this as “Kinect hacking,” and although the product itself is not necessarily being “hacked” in the traditional sense, the idea is basically the same: to subvert the intended purpose of the device for the user’s own benefit.

Here’s the interesting part: Microsoft is okay with this! In fact, they’ve released statements indicating so. Company reps have even expressed their outright excitement at the prospect of users discovering the hardware’s full potential through experimentation. The company’s enthusiasm does make sense, given that there have already been several new motion control applications developed by proactive hackers since the Kinect’s release (only two short months ago).

Believe it or not, there isn’t enough space in a single paragraph to completely list the number of Kinect hacks that have surfaced so far. The device is being used as an intermediary tool in everything from digital art and design to videogame control and virtual reality simulation. In some areas, the results are actually pretty impressive. ABC News even did a full report on the trend.

Kinect "hacks" range from controlling games and apps to controlling a light saber!

Kinect "hacks" range from controlling games and apps to controlling a light saber!

There’s really no upper limit on the kind of creativity that the hardware makes possible. For instance, hackers have already devised ways of using their exact body movements to control their favorite games (from running and jumping in Super Mario Bros. to spell-casting in World of Warcraft—click here to see). They’ve even figured out how to use hand gestures as a way to control everything from Windows apps to Google Maps. Others have been able to use the hardware to render some fairly impressive visual effects—a light-saber demonstration (rendered in real-time using the device) is currently a favorite on YouTube.

At the very least, a hands-free interface with computers and televisions is interesting food for thought. Who knows what the future will hold for it? Though still in its infancy, this kind of advanced interaction (minus a mouse or a controller) could conceivably be the next giant leap in consumer-level tech. And just think: the world of Minority Report could soon become a reality—all doubters, click here.

Microsoft has taken an interesting business stance in advocating that its product be used in such an experimental manner. And again, it makes perfect sense. If your product offers room for improvement or further development, why not let your consumer base do the heavy lifting for you? Let them figure out what works and what doesn’t. After enough trial and error, the product’s significant selling points—or its application in broader markets—will soon surface. Though Microsoft has no immediate plans to pursue the further development of any unofficial, consumer-created apps, the potential to do so is certainly there.

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Joseph Giorgi

Joseph is the head of the Media Team at Quality Logo Products. He's a video specialist, blogger, perfectionist, and all-around likeable guy. When he's not busy focusing on the nitty-gritty details of his written and visual work, he's normally listening to bad 80s music and scouring the internet for useless information on useless subjects. You can also connect with Joe on Google+.

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    I think the Kinect looks like an incredible piece of technology, but I think without community support it would die quickly. Most traditional games just won’t function well without controllers. I personally don’t want to hold my arms out for hours at a time to play a racing game when a thumbstick works just fine. But with these hacks, the possibilities for NEW innovations are endless! And THAT’s where things get exciting!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Exactly!

      Traditional controllers have been the standard for so long because they function well with traditional games. The current games available for the Kinect are somewhat traditional in their approach to gameplay. Newer and bolder steps need to be taken in order for the Kinect to become a worthwhile platform. Right now it’s just a fun piece of hardware, but hopefully it’ll be much more in the near future. It’s all about innovative applications and software. If the game developers won’t step up, the hackers will!

  2. Chase

    I might have to see if i can hack mine! It sounds like fun!!!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Check out some the “Kinect hack” videos online. Some are pretty impressive!

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    That is so weird. Kind of reminds me of the movie “HACKERS”–when THE PLAGUE is in his lair and using a body device to hack into “Main Frames.” Really a film ahead of it’s time. :P

    I would really like to try one of these. I love Wario World on the Nintendo Wii, so I am sure this is a blast! There is a dancing game out and it would be especially fun at parties with intoxicated players! Haha!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      “Hackers” was definitely ahead of its time when it came out, but it’s a bit dated now–no one really uses floppies anymore. :P

      And yeah, some of the Kinect hacks look like they would be a LOT of fun to try!

      As far as dancing games: I’m not a fan.

      Not. A. Fan.

      • JPorretto

        Not. A. Fan. Either. =)

  4. Kyle

    Interesting read. I know a little about the Kinect but I never realized people were hacking them to create new possibilities for the hardware. Most of the official games out now for Kinect look pretty mediocre, but maybe game developers will kindly “borrow” ideas from the community to create more innovative games that make full use of the Kinect’s capabilities. I think Microsoft would be foolish to not support the community’s eagerness to dig into the new peripheral.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Totally.

      Microsoft should heed the advice of their consumer-base and develop the kind of software for the Kinect that gamers and tech-junkies are obviously (judging by the videos) interested in. Heck, they should purchase the rights to some of the prototype apps that these hackers have already come up with.

  5. Brian

    I think the Kinect is a great device. It’s not blowing up like the WII did when it first came out because the WII actually had other games, like first-person shooters and story modes. Once Microsoft comes out with these games it’s going to be a big deal, I believe.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      There are a number of upcoming titles for the Kinect that seem like they could boost the device’s reputation as an innovative alternative to traditional gameplay. “Child of Eden” is definitely the Kinect game to look forward to. Check out the previews online.

  6. Yowhatup!

    Great post! I really have to get myself one of these!

  7. Bret Bonnet

    I’m honestly surprised that more Xbox 360 owners have not yet embraced the Kinect; it’s a great piece of hardware.

    Only if APPLE would embrace the developer/hackers community more; maybe the iPhone 4 would actually be an improvement over the original iPhone.

    Come on Apple, take a clue from your arch nemesis – OPEN IS BETTER!

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