Since its launch a couple of years back the Kinect has rarely entered my thoughts as a potential addition to my ever growing collection of peripherals that I particularly desire. Microsoft captivated the world with the crazy tech demos like Project Milo, showing the enormous promise the technology holds. The same can be said for many tech demos though, and it's rare that such promise condensates into a fully developed final product, at least in the early stages.
The route Microsoft took with branding and promoting the Kinect and its software library went against the standard convention of new hardware launches that we've come to expect over gaming's short history, in that they began by selling their cutting edge tech to the casual, family orientated audience. They may have gone against the grain to a large extent, but the path they trailed was hardly original - Nintendo had made a killing with the Wii just a few years earlier by simplifying the controller for the uninitiated masses, and in removing the physical controller completely in favour of the Kinect's motion sensing abilities the ultimate realisation of that ethos was arguably achieved - the human body became the controller that we instinctively know the capabilities of as soon as we first become articulate as infants.
The Kinect's sales figures over Christmas 2010 justified Microsoft's decisions, but since that initial boom of public endorsement of the new kit it would be hard for anyone to argue that the portfolio of games that have been created and enhanced by the software have been extremely limited. That's began to change a bit this year, with this week's announcement that Bethesda will be releasing a patch for the Xbox 360 version of Skyrim that will allow over 200 voice commands to be issued via the Kinect's microphone. Anyone who has played Skyrim (or any Elder Scrolls game for that matter) will know that any improvement in the games inventory management system of this potential magnitude deserves worldwide celebration. All the while, Playstation Move gathers dust on shelves across the globe, waiting for a motion sensor patch that's probably never going to happen.
Bethesda's anouncement regarding Skyrim is exciting for reasons beyond its ability to improve the game itself though. It's exciting because it's proof of yet another fully established AAA developer embracing the technology. Bethesda as a publisher are bastions of the traditional hardcore gaming market, so for them to be putting the time and effort into developing this kind of update is extremely encouraging. Coming off the back of Mass Effect 3's apparently decent integration of Kinect voice commands as well, hardcore gamers are now beginning to be brought into Microsoft's grand plan in a big way it seems. It will take much smarter people than I to think of how much further Kinect can go, but in a world where just over a year ago the choice between which console to buy a cross-platform release for came down to which one would be getting the DLC first, it's great to see one of the consoles at least beginning to offer something more tailored to its particular peculiarities. A Kinect sensor is rapidly moving up my shopping list, and for now it seems it's over to you Sony to see what hardware specific perks you can bring to the table for Playstation 3 users.
I'll give you a hint... two words - REMOTE PLAY.