Plenty of people can give an objective account of the rise and fall of the Kinect, but the people best equipped to tell you why Microsoft went all-in on a depth-sensing camera for the Xbox are the designers and developers who first got excited about it. In a new feature at Polygon, Blake Hester gets some of these influential figures to shed light on how the Kinect came to be and, crucially, how wildly difficult it was to get it working at all.
Richard Velazquez, then a senior product planner for Microsoft, shares a Kinect story with Polygon that might bring back memories of unpleasantly lewd Xbox 360 Uno games. "One of the funnier stories is we had to remind people that, 'Hey, we are actually looking at these images,'" Velazquez shares while remembering the Kinect's take home testing program. "'Don't play in front of your Kinect naked.'"
One decade and a mind boggling number of privacy violations from tech corporations later, the idea of Microsoft employees bringing home a prototype internet-connected camera and stripping down for some rousing minigames seems almost quaint. Still, it was probably bound to happen: As Velazquez says, the Kinect take home trial was the largest Microsoft had run for any of its projects yet, as the team faced "over a trillion test cases that [it] would've had to run manually in a lab" otherwise.
Of course, for all the millions of testing hours and millions of dollars poured into the Kinect, it ultimately failed as a gaming peripheral (due in no small part to Microsoft pulling the plug). Perhaps the Wii-like motion controllers or the Nerf-like "indestructible controller" described in the piece by Kinect Adventures developer Brian Murphy would have fared better, but even Nintendo has distanced itself from motion controls since.
As Hester points out in the feature, though, the Kinect was ahead of its time in many ways and its legacy lives on in home assistants, VR/AR tech, and depth-sensing cameras in all manner of settings. Microsoft even has the Azure Kinect, a development kit unit intended for business applications. While Xbox seems to be heading into a new generation with an aversion to pushing unproven gaming peripherals, Microsoft's company-wide efforts with Kinect definitely weren't an entire waste. At the very least, it seems, the program may have taught some testers what "clothing optional" means in our new surveillance saturated world.
Read Polygon's full story here.