Microsoft's Penello on why Xbox One's Kinect will overcome its "perception problem"

A chat with Microsoft's planning and marketing chief about motion sensitivity's future

Kinect may not be required for Xbox One to run, but Microsoft will ship a sensor with every console nonetheless. This has annoyed those who aren't convinced by the manufacturer's claims about the new Kinect's accuracy and responsiveness, in light of its predecessor's less-than-stellar track record on Xbox 360, but planning and marketing director Albert Penello assures us that hands-on (that's to say, hands-off) time will bring the nay-sayers round.

The conversation in question dates from roundabouts the Xbox One's reveal - ergo, sometime before the various Xbox One80s - but Penello's points remain applicable. Sorry for the wait on it. There's a massive stack of transcripts from the period on my hard drive, the collation of which may well prove to be my life's work.


"One of the biggest challenges with Kinect is that the people who are the most vocal against it, often haven't used it," Penello told us, when we asked how he felt about feedback to current-gen Kinect. "You know, we've sold 26 million of them against a 76 million unit install base, or something along those lines - but the problem is it's an accessory right? And whenever you have an accessory, you know, as a guy who's worked on platforms now for three generations, there's always a pro and a con to an accessory.

"The con is, when developers can't rely on it, when they don't know it's there, they're never going to take full advantage of it. So, you get these inconsistent gaming experiences, you get inconsistent implementation, game developers had to choose to take CPU power away from the console to support the skeletons. And what we said was, for those of us that use it - like I don't play Pixar Rush, it's not my kind of game, but I use Kinect all the time for Xbox pause, Xbox play.

"And when you see the features that the new Kinect can do - we just said, you know what, like let's take that decision of having to make that trade off away and the console will support it, it's native, it was engineered for it."

The argument about developers being unwilling to invest in an optional peripheral is one we've heard before, of course. Microsoft and Penello hope that the next gen Kinect's software slate, coupled with motion and voice control throughout the Xbox One's interface, will be enough to win over detractors.

Key upcoming exclusives include Ryse: Son of Rome, which allows you to command armies by yelling at them, Rare's Kinect Sports Rivals, which features new avatars based on full-body scans, and Ubisoft's Fighter Within, a complex fighting game with 1:1 motion recognition. Rare is also thinking about the possibilities for various older IPs, such as Perfect Dark, Banjo and Viva Pinata.

"It is the constant struggle of being the people who conceptualise these things," Penello admitted. "The best example of this I ever had was, I worked on the original Xbox controller, right - the one we call the Duke. And we had all this data and testing that said: look, this thing's super comfortable, it's got great performance, but people just didn't like it.

"And it's hard to break past that. We're aware with Kinect - yeah, everything [critics have] said, particularly outside of the US, with smaller homes and things like that, where people have to move furniture and so on. But with the new Kinect, those things - I don't believe are going to be an issue."

The new Kinect has a much wider field of view, rendering the addition of a tilt motor unnecessary, and the new 1080p camera can read a fingertip from three metres away. It's also smart enough to work around fluctuating light levels, thanks to a new IR sensor, and can account for obstructions, such as a user's torso blocking the view of their arm. The microphone, meanwhile, is able to zoom on speakers and cancel out surrounding noise. You can read more in our Xbox One guide.


"And so yeah, I think people are going to have a perception problem, but at the end of the day, I firmly believe that the experiences will sell," Penello continued. "If it's there, now that everybody can rely on it, now that we're not burdening developers [with the task of making] trade-offs with games that use it, that means more people are going to experience it.

"I think they're going to discover the same thing that everyone else discovers, which is, you're going to use it. I mean, people just went straight to some flailing-arm Halo idea, which is never going to happen, but now that, you know, it's always there, I think there are some really cool ways it can be used."

Fingers crossed.