Perhaps it had something to do with the prospect of free T-shirts, but Kinect Sports Rivals consistently commanded some of the biggest crowds at Gamescom's Xbox Showcase. Before getting a hands-on myself, I kept sneaking back to Rare's stand, peeking over shoulders to get a handle on the accuracy of the game's full-body scanning and Avatar creation feature. There were some duds, of course, and there were a couple of occasions when the process failed, and had to be restarted. But more often than not you could clearly see the resemblance between the in-game champion and their real-life counterpart. The next generation of Xbox Live Avatars? This might just be it.
For my own demo, I had Rare's studio head Craig Duncan to guide me through the process. Before we began, he admitted that the programmers got a little bit nervous every time a girl approached the booth, simply because there were fewer opportunities to obtain feedback from female subjects.
He was also interested to see how the Kinect would pick up on my rather luminous hair colour. Given that there were a couple of ladies with blue hair present at the event, I asked whether the Kinect would pick up on more adventurous colours. He laughed and said no, but added that Rare plans to add more hair colours and styles before launch.
The creation process begins with a full body scan, before asking you to confirm whether you identify as male or female. You'd think the Kinect could probably pick up on the player's gender by itself, but perhaps Rare doesn't want to risk causing offence. I can appreciate that. I'm fairly certain I'd be identified as a prepubescent boy by most scanners, given that actual humans have often made the same mistake.
I asked whether I could use Create a Champion mode to find out what I would look like as a dude. "Absolutely!" Duncan confirmed. It remains one of my biggest regrets from Gamescom (aside from not getting to play Titanfall) that I didn't immediately demand we do just that.
The Kinect then asks you to step towards the camera for a facial scan. At this point, the face on screen is just a chubby, pixellated placeholder, which looks a bit like someone might after smearing their face in honey and dunking it in a bowl of mini-marshmallows. As soon as I stepped towards the camera, it asked me to remove my glasses. The Kinect can tell when you're wearing them, you see.
Unfortunately, it can't tell that I can barely see my hand in front of my face without my specs, so I had to ask Duncan to relay the game's on-screen instructions - turning my head left, right, up, down, slightly left and slightly right, so that the game can take the measure of my skin tone, face shape, hair colour and hair mass.
I was quite close to the camera at this point, so I took the opportunity to ask Duncan whether I'd be able to use the new Kinect back in my London flat, which is approximately the size and shape of your average broom cupboard. "Definitely," he replies. "And obviously in situations like this one, it actually works better the closer you are to the screen. You can put your glasses back on now."