Researchers at the University of Southern California have come up with software that allows off-the-shelf PC games to be played with Kinect and may one day have a role as a rehab tool and in helping reduce childhood obesity.
Kinect looks like it might be a lot of fun, but for one niggling problem: the selection of actual games for it is kind of terrible. But what if you could use Kinect to control just about any game on the market? That's exactly what the Institute for Creative Techologies at USC has done with FAAST, the Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit that simulates keypresses based on body motions and gestures picked up by Kinect.
The software can be configured to work with a variety of games; in the World of Warcraft demonstration, the player leans forward and back to move the character, uses side-to-side hand motions to control the camera, a grabbing motion with the left hand to target an enemy and right-hand gestures to launch different attacks. Gameplay was "surprisingly fun" despite the relatively basic control setup, but the Institute's Skip Rizzo said the potential applications go far beyond merely boosting the fun factor.
"I think the real compelling aspect of all this is that you can now take off-the-shelf games, content that's already built, and emulate the keyboard actions with body movement," he explained. "This opens up the doorway for building rehabilitation exercises for people after a stroke or traumatic brain injury and in an area that's getting a lot of attention, the area of childhood obesity and diabetes... You've got a kid who's interacting with World of Warcraft for six hours a day, perhaps a parent could step in and say, hey, for one hour of that time you're gonna do it with the Kinect or the PrimeSense camera, and you gotta exercise while you're doing it."
The Wii has already done a lot to demonstrate the usefulness of videogames as rehab tools and there's no reason the Kinect won't be able to do even more, especially if it can be made to work with virtually any keyboard-controlled game on the market. From a purely gaming standpoint, however, I'm a little more dubious. Most PC gamers use conventional monitors, not huge televisions, and trying to play on even a 24-inch widescreen from six or eight feet away while you're bouncing around like a fool doesn't sound like a very practical idea. It also eliminates one of the big attractions of PC gaming: the ability to do other things, like chat, check your email and look up strategy guides, while you play. There's clearly a lot of potential for specific applications but I'm not sure how much of a splash it will make in the PC game industry.
And one other thing while we're at it. Parents, if you have kids who are spending six hours a day on World of Warcraft, don't tell them to start playing with Kinect. Tell them to go outside.