The real potential of the next generation is in its workout games

“Move right into the center there,” the Xbox Fitness rep instructed me. I was demoing their game at a preview event for all Xbox One launch titles, “Good, now stand still.”

A few seconds passed. The TV screen lit up, my heart rate was 80 beats per minute.


Witchcraft? Sorcery? How in the hell did they get my heart rate from the Kinect? I looked around in shock as the Xbox Fitness rep laughed and explained. Every time your heart beats, your sinuses expand minutely. The Kinect reads the frequency and intensity of this differential and determines your heart rate from it. I looked at the Kinect with narrowed eyes, it was not what I once knew it to be. Not one week ago my 360 Kinect had signed in my AC repairman as me while I was in the other room, and now here was its progeny reading my heart rate from pressure differentials in my face? No, I could not handle it.

But in that moment I realized: the capacity for next gen gaming wasn't shown in its launch title graphics or controls of its multimedia capabilities. The capacity for next gen gaming was evident in its fitness games. Because they’re doing some crazy shit and nobody is noticing how awesome it is, or how it could be used for literally anything else. Think about this: a horror game like Outlast or Amnesia that scales off your heart rate. The more terrified you get, the darker the environment gets and faster the monsters become. Or, when you take your hand off the controller you character is forced to stand up out of cover. Or when you look away from the screen the screeches and moans of the dead raise in volume. It’s all terrifying and it all came to me as I was watching the Xbox Fitness Rep cheerily walk me through the demo. I was a dead man standing because I would never play that horror game and in fact would pass away from fear if I had to. But my god it would be the most compelling thing ever. It then became my mission to attend every Kinect and fitness game at the event and see what they had to offer. I had never heard of this heart rate stuff, and if that was the case what other surprises were in store for me?

It turns out many surprises. Over at Just Dance 2014 I saw that the Kinect can differential two different people to impressive degrees, even when one’s directly behind the other and even when they’re hugging. That’s right,  I was smushed up against another human and the Kinect still knew where I was and what I was doing. The days of standing and slowly moving your arms seem to be on the way out. I was on my back, on my butt, in the air, spinning around, and this new Kinect handled it all.

Also the physics models created on the new Kinect are ridiculous. When I was doing squats with Shawn T from Insanity, on the right of the screen was a silhouette of myself with areas of my body lighting up. What was lighting up? Oh, just the current muscles groups that were activated by my movement. When my squatting technique was awful (shocking), the Kinect knew it and used the physics model it was generating of my to suggest corrections. Ok so the new Kinect can read your activated muscle groups and create a digital, moldable representation of you. Casual, that’s fine. Think about this for an option for a character creator: the game scans a model of your face, and then by applying pressure and pulling your own face you can adjust what the character looks like on screen. Want an elf? Pull your years out. What an older version of you? Knead your cheek fat until it’s lower on your face, pull down on the corners of your eyes, push on your nose to enlarge it and furrow your eyebrows. Done.

I was Irish Stepdancing with Zumba, revving my jet ski while sitting down with Kinect Sports Rivals, singing with Just Dance 4, and every time I encountered a new feature with the Kinect I thought, “Man this would be amazing with X.” We’re on a logarithmic curve with graphics, flattening out on improvement as we progress through the generations. The stuff that comes out of left field, the heart rate measurements, those are going to be the game changers.

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  • Eightboll812 - November 7, 2013 9:28 a.m.

    The other thing I wanted to point out is that the potential for it to be used to good effect in games actually has greater potential to be used to annoy people in games. Why? Read on. I've worked in corporate America long enough to know it's run by lawyers. One great idea can be vetoed at any time by someone in the legal department and most of getting things done requires trying to hide from those guys. If something is called to their attention, you can bet they will change things. I won't go into whether this is good/bad or whatever. What I will say is lawyers will get their hands on this heart rate monitor thing and nerf it. It's not likely that it will ever result in a lawsuit from someone having a heart attack while using Xbone, because lawyers will predict this eventuality and require changes. So if you ever were annoyed by the "need a break" popup with Wii or other motion control games, you'll definitely be annoyed when your heart rate triggers similar popups. Any software publisher who is big enough to have a lawyer on staff, will inevitably see the very things you, Zach, mentioned as cool, instead as product liabilities. Frivolous lawsuits still cost a lot of money, so companies safeguard themselves, by trying to nerf everything that could possibly be used against them. Instead of scaring you because you are terrified, they will warn you that you should take a break. I think we all know that's exactly what will happen sooner or later with heart rate monitor features. It will either be nerfed out of the gate, or it will be nerfed after a few law suits force the industry to nerf it.
  • GR_ZachBetka - November 7, 2013 9:38 a.m.

    Sad but interesting point, thanks for bringing it up. It's a shame that neat ideas and innovation have to be seen through the filter of "can we be sued by this" before they're endorsed by larger companies.
  • Eightboll812 - November 7, 2013 8:56 a.m.

    The problem with "Fitness" being a game changer, yeah the technology is cool and "wild" and all that. But the old joke about treadmills is that once bought they become clothes hangers in a bedroom. And the joke about new years resolutions and gym memberships. People that have casual interest in fitness tend to buy and then not use. People that have hard core interest in fitness won't really use it much either. I'm sure MS will be happy to have a few numbers of units sold that never get any use so they can say X million sold. But it is hardly a long term revenue generator for MS if it sits and collects dust. It also won't be sold along side fitness equipment (I don't believe it will anyway). You won't go to a store, online or retail, that has bikes, treadmills, oh and hey, Xbone sitting right there next to those. In other words, it will never get legitimate recognition as a fitness tool. Oh, MS will pretend it does, and you'll get corporate endorsement stuff from people who make money off their brand, like Sean T, or whoever. But you won't see real fitness trainers and other professionals say, "oh, just go get an Xbone and you're set!!!" The point is, just like that treadmill in your bedroom, Xbone has a ton of "potential", but just like that treadmill in your bedroom, the fitness "games" will collect dust, (proverbially if digital).
  • Ensoul - November 7, 2013 6:28 a.m.

    Yes well, that all sounds really neat and the potential is there; but that's all its going to be. It would be awesome to have those Kinect features applied to something besides fitness and dance; but I wouldn't hold your breath. It's been like this from the beginning, cool ideas that lead to statements of "They could..." followed by "Why don't they..." but those ideas remain just that: ideas. For whatever reason, I rarely see that kind of stuff happen. You just have to look at this current gen with the PS3 and Vita; even the Xbox and its smart glass. All kinds of potential there, I haven't really seen much done with it.
  • Slayer11496 - November 7, 2013 3:20 a.m.

    You've made a better case for kinect than Microsoft ever has. With that said, I still find it underwhelming.
  • Eightboll812 - November 7, 2013 8:40 a.m.

    So true!
  • Jacko415 - November 6, 2013 10:38 p.m.

    "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."
  • GOD - November 6, 2013 6 p.m.

    Still not really interested in motion controls. I was honestly happy with Skyward Swords cutting, and that involved a controller set up that used only the swinging for my sword but still let me control every thing else with buttons and a thumbstick. If the motion controls require me to stand up, then it's already asking to much. Also, are you sure that the Kinect was actually reading your active muscle groups? Or was is just reading your stance and then by running that through the game knew which muscle groups to highlight because those are the ones that should be activated from that stance?

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