In pushing the boundaries of traditional gaming, Microsoft developed the Kinect, one of the world’s first at-home motion sensors. This first step into VR led directly to the development of the HoloLens, Microsoft’s own smart glasses, as well as the next generation Kinect, created exclusively for software developers.
The Xbox Kinect was announced to great fanfare (with some help from Steven Spielberg) at the 2009 E3 conference. Instead of a traditional controller, this webcam-style device allowed players to use their body movements to game. Intended as a more accessible competitor to the Nintendo Wii, Spielberg stated that “the vast majority of people are just too intimidated to pick up a videogame controller...the only way to bring interactive entertainment to everybody is to make it invisible."
With such grand designs, audacious teaser trailers stoked anticipation. One trailer revealed players in the midst of a kung-fu battle, all captured in real-time by their Kinect. This huge marketing push was a great success. The Kinect sold eight million units within sixty days, earning it the Guiness World Record for the “fastest selling consumer electronics device.”
But the Kinect’s popularity wouldn’t last, and it was phased out of production just five years later. Initial promotions severely overhyped the technology’s capabilities. The Kinect Sports development team were reportedly aghast by the kung-fu teaser, knowing that the software was nowhere near Microsoft’s claims.
By the time the Kinect hit the market, it still had issues with body recognition and latency. Later, when the Xbox One was released in 2013, Microsoft decided that each console would come with a Kinect. This drove up the price, and sales of Xbox consoles fell significantly that year. By this point, the number of Kinect-specific games were dwindling, as developers and players lost interest in the ill-fated technology.
Thus, the Kinect struggled to be more than a gimmick. Dan Thomas, an organiser of the London-based KinectHack development events, noted that “Everybody had their first Kinect experience and said: 'This is great, but now I want to get back to the storyline or the action or whatever it is.’”
However, while the Kinect was starting to flounder in the consumer market, it had started to develop a cult-following in universities and research labs. At the time, the Kinect was the cheapest and most sophisticated skeletal-tracking camera. Third-party development exploded. One notable adopter of the technology was NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, which used it to remotely control a robotic arm.
To cater to this new market, Microsoft announced that it was developing the next-gen Kinect in 2018. The Azure Kinect Development Kit is intended for enterprise software, and AI research. One developer, granted early access, has already used it to develop autonomous warehousing. Although it’s currently only available in the US and China, it’s available for pre-order in other markets at $399.
Microsoft’s second foray into VR was the HoloLens, released in 2016. A direct descendant of the Kinect, these smart glasses were initially intended to blend entertainment and business. Although there are a few games available on the platform, the Hololens has instead leaned into the corporate and design markets.
One of its initial launch applications was HoloStudio, a fully 3D, virtual modelling application. Taking its cues from the Kinect, designers could use their gestures to create holograms. It also had two-way connectivity with 3D printers. Designers could both import something already printed into HoloStudio, and export completed designs to a 3D printer.
The HoloLens 2 was announced in February 2019, and subsequently released in limited numbers on November 7, 2019. It's the first to support Windows’ Core OS, and most excitingly, allows you to ‘touch’ holograms with your own hands. The HoloLens 2 is currently available for pre-order for $3500.
Let us know what you think about the developer Microsoft Xbox Studios and the games they create in the comments section below...
Get more from VrOne.co.uk: Join us for the latest headsets, games, news and reviews
VR Awards Game of the Year 2019. A Fisherman’s Tale is a strange, narrative puzzle adventure game developed by Innerspace VR and published by Vertigo Games. Available on the Oculus Rift, Quest and Rift S. A Fisherman’s Tale fully supports Oculus VR controllers. The game is ideal for adults and kids of all ages. Rated for ages 7+
Dispatched into hostile wetlands in your tactical kayak using your paddle to steer and move stealthily through hostile and remote locations, utilise military weapons and equipment to evade and neutralise the enemy threat. Engage your targets lethally or infiltrate unnoticed from the shadows: it’s your mission to execute your way. Phantom: Covert Ops is stealth action redefined.
The Lab offers eight different minigames, each giving a look into the unique ways that VR could interpret various video game genres. These include: an Angry Birds analogue, a tower defence game, an intergalactic shoot ‘em up, secrets galore, and the chance to become a robot mechanic. The rest aren’t really games per se, it’s more that they consider what avenues VR might go down in the future. Amongst these are an interactive solar system, detailed CT scans of the human body and a “virtual holiday” in the Icelandic wilderness, where you’re accompanied by a robotic pup.