Three years ago when Nintendo introduced the Wii game console, it changed the face of gaming - not with astonishing game titles, but with the way a player interacts with the game. The 'Wiimote' game controller allowed players to throw, hit and strike objects in the game. It made gaming fun again, and brought back people who might have previously been intimidated by gaming.
But it also led to a unique set of problems. Smashed TV screens and random injuries caused by flying Wiimotes. Now, Microsoft's Kinect system is taking the basic concept of the Wii - of physical actions to interact with the game - a step further by removing the remote altogether. It seems weird when one plays a game using the Kinect system. The Kinect receiver lies in front of the TV and is nothing extraordinary in itself. You hold no wires, no controls... nothing.
But when you wave your hands around, the character on the screen does the same. Not so long ago, to capture motion you had to wear an array of wires and little fluorescent patches, and that is what even the major special effects companies used to do. Here, the Kinect's video camera captures 48 different points on your body. It is so accurate that it can also recognise your face and load the character that you have created (an 'Avatar') in the game.
But it is during gameplay that the system really shines. In the athletic games, the more vigorously you move your thighs up and down, the faster you run. The one whose name is not Usain Bolt could not run so fast in real life, but the interface works. Bowling is even more fun. You could throw the ball overhead, sideways and maybe even properly underarm. The system is accurate enough to realise that you have imparted spin to the ball when you turn your wrist while throwing it. The fantasy racing game was quite a lot of fun as well, especially because a second player could easily trot into the game and play. The games played (and enjoyed) were demonstration versions.
The Kinect system will be launched in the US only as an add-on to existing Xbox 360 units and new ones from November. Initial pricing, for the Kinect system alone, is $149. In India, Kinect should be available before the end of 2010 and the price after excise and duties are paid is expected to be closer to Rs 10,000.
More importantly, this new user interface is a more natural way of interacting with the computer than either the keyboard and mouse, or even touch. Using gestures, such as a wave of the hand, pinching and zooming with your fingers, to interact with computers or even other types of consumer electronics such as the TV in conjunction with voice controls, gives a taste of the future. American science fiction TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s had computers like that. It has taken a while, but Kinect is the future. Not just of gaming, but of much else.