Kipman: Kinect CPU use down to single-digits

Microsoft's director of incubation says all Xbox 360 games still leave a significant amount of processing power on the table

Alex Kipman, director of incubation at Microsoft and the brains behind Kinect, has told that the new motion control tech now only uses a single-digit percentage of the Xbox 360's processing power, down from the previously stated ten to 15 per cent.

Speaking in an interview published today, Kipman said that although the sensor bar impinges on system resources more than was originally planned, it shouldn't affect the ambitions of developers, as even the most demanding of games still leave plenty of 360 processing power to be taken advantage of.

"The answer is, as much as we like to talk about bits and percentages, you take a game like, I don't know, Call of Duty: Black Ops - there's a significant amount of processing, be it CPU or GPU, that still remains on the table," Kipman said.

"So after that, when we came to this revelation about games, and future games that would be coming to Xbox, we looked at it and we said - 'is it worth the trade-off to put on-board processing on the device when we think we can create magical, unique, deep, thorough experiences without it?'"

Originally, Kinect was intended to deal with all of its processing internally, thanks to an on-board processor which waslater dropped by Microsoft to keep down costs.

"That figure of 10 or 15 per cent, we're actually in single digits, but the philosophy is correct," said Kipman. "It's a trade-off... That trade off is easy, it's about the affordability of the device. From the perspective of bringing to market this amazing deal, £129.99 with Kinect Adventures, plus sensor - buy one and have your entire family play, it's a very interesting customer value proposition.

"We can create games which are as rich and thorough and as deep as the games which we have on our platform today and which we will have tomorrow. Then the conversation becomes simple: you start moving into a world which says, why keep something complicated when you can make it simple? We decided to have our cake and eat it too."

Kipman clarified that Kinect functions are modular choices, that they can be included or left out according to developer preference, in much the same way as any other technical option.

"What Kinect brings to the table is a new set of paints and paintbrushes, it broadens the palette and allows you to do different things. Not all features are created equal, you can totally imagine a game that's using practically the entire of the Xbox 360 and still uses identity recognition. You can have a game that uses a small vocabulary of voice recognition that will still have pretty much 100 per cent of the processing. And on and on.

"You can shop, in a way, in the platform by menu, and you can choose the paint colours and paintbrushes you have. This is no different than saying, 'what physics engine, what AI engine, what graphics engine' you're going to be using. I can make the same argument that, hey, I'm going to be using Engine X off the shelf, I'm going to be giving up control over the hardware. There's some amount of resources that I give up for the price of the flexibility and the time to market of using a middleware engine."

The first part of our interview with Alex Kipman, where he discusses overcoming human lag, the move away from traditional programming and the idea of "machine learning", can be read here.

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Latest comments (21)

Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
"Call of Duty: Black Ops - there's a significant amount of processing, be it CPU or GPU, that still remains on the table,"

Interesting quote. I wonder how close we are to maxing out the 360. I thought that most of the capabilities of it's set up have been squeezed out already.
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Private Industry 11 years ago
The scale down of the hardware is not only about the 360 having to do the calculations, the camera was scaled down to offer less functionality. Wasn`t the camera previously supposed to track fingers what it can`t do anymore now?

Sure Kinect games don`t require the full power of the hardware having 91% or 100% available doesn`t make much of a difference for Kinect Adventures if you need only 70% anyway (just a number completely made up). Obviously if you start to talk about games like Mass Effect 2 that`s going to be probably a lot more complicated. He also only talks about CPU and GPU requirements, but what about memory?

Sure it`s cheaper that way and sure it works fine that way for casual games, but how many core games can`t even maintain a stable frame rate without having to allocate resources to some external device? Don`t think that makes it any easier for developers who want to make cores games with Kinect. Unreal Engine 3 games already take ages most of the time when it comes to texture loading how long would it take if you allocate resources to Kinect?
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Alan Pierce Programmer, Digital Delight11 years ago
I still cannot grasp how this is anything but a step backwards for games. You take out the precise control that a traditional controller offers and you take out the core games, yet they are promising 'magical, unique, deep, thorough experiences'. It seems irelevant to talk about CPU savings on a system whose games don't look like they require an awful lot.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alan Pierce on 3rd November 2010 2:15pm

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Geoff Richards Commercial Manager, Net Communities11 years ago
Interesting to read about "keeping costs down" as I still think 130 is WAAY too high. However, they spin it nicely by saying the entire family can play (albeit only TWO at a time, right) versus having to buy loads of extra Wiimotes and Move controllers.

Of course, the flipside is also true: the other two systems allow PAYG investment in controllers (including your friends bringing round a couple with them) whereas Kinect is 130 up front regardless of whether you're Mr Popular or Billy Nomates.
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Robbie Kazandjian Director, SoundBoy Ltd11 years ago
Alan, what makes you think that...... as a developer,
"you take the precise control that a traditional controller offers and..." you ADD the Kinect layer of experience / opportunity on top.

Some games will be mindless Wii sports clones etc, but the future is upto developers.....
"hardcore games" integrating controllers and kinect (for voice control and signals etc) should be great
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Private Industry 11 years ago
Not with that controller. You would need to put the controller down make gestures/signals and pick the controller up again. Does not sound great to me.

As for the voice control, do we really need a 150$ camera for playing games with voice control? Endwar did that already and hell even Socom on the PS2 did that already without having to spend that much money.
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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
I was thinking along the same lines as Werner about the integrated controller/Kinect combo. Before I thought it sounded like a great idea, but thinking carefully about it it's difficult to see how any meaningful layer of control could be added by Kinect. Your hands are tied up with the controller, so that leaves head tracking (ok I guess), and goodness knows what for your legs/feet!

Also, as Werner suggested how will it integrate with core games on a hardware level. I'll use Fable 3 as an example, because it was meant to have kinect support. Now, there's a game which uses a chunk of the 360's resources and struggles. A lot! How would that have worked with a Kinect element? I imagine the whole thing would have just fallen over.

The official word from Lionhead was that the elements that were planned didn't meet quality expectations (I'm paraphrasing), but is it more likely that the planned content wasn't workable with the 'new' spec Kinect hardware? Was it infact Kinect that didn't meet quality expectation?!

Not to denegrate either Fable 3 (which I am enjoying Immensely), or Lionhead. I guess we won't know for sure, but I think it is important to ask that question (especially considering how much of a fan of the tech PM says he is).
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Terence Gage Freelance writer 11 years ago
That also interests me when people suggest using Kinect with a controller - which initially sounded like a solid idea - but it means your arms are not free to 'control' Kinect, so surely this defeats the point...?

I expect the 360 still has grunt to give, but obviously different devs will get different levels of performance from it. I recall Epic said around the time of Gears 2 they were nearing its capacity, although presumably they'll have found reserves for Gears 3 which does look very beautiful.

Anyway, although it'd be great to see Kinect integrated with 'deep' and engrossing games like Fable, I expect most of its output will be dancing games or party/mini games; at least initially.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Terence Gage on 3rd November 2010 4:43pm

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Jeffrey Bacon Director of Mobile Strategy, bitHeads Inc11 years ago
Have any of you actually played w Kinect yet? it's a matter of personal preference of course, but most of the people who played it with me at a private demo were blown away and many of us pre-ordered it. Kinect is not about truly giving all it's tools to the 5% of games that take 95%+ CPU on the 360. The vast majority of games sold don't eat that much CPU (or with proper coding and optimization don't need to) and Kinect broadens the 360 audience beyond the core gamer which has been it's stable so far.

(oh, and I believe it tracks 4 people at a time -- assuming you have a big enough room =)
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Ben Merrick Studying Masters: Digital Animation, University of Hertfordshire11 years ago
I agree with jeffery, its about broadening the audience. By making Kinect it eats into the Wii market, and stops Sony taking a chunk of that market.
It will mainly be for social gaming, for families and party games, but that is the way the industry is moving. Initially there wont be anything in it for the hard core gamer, but thats not their immediate aim. Im sure by next summer there will be some big games that harness Kinect for the hard core gamer efficiently and use it in ways we are discounting at present.

I have also used it at a private event, and was very impressed. It brings party gaming to a whole new level with a new layer of control. But I have not ordered one, and dont intend to until more indepth games utilise it, as I have a Wii, and that rarely gets used as it is unless I have loads of friends over.
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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
I have played Kinect, but only at trade shows, so maybe not the best experience of it. Still, my lounge is small and cluttered, so i'm not sure if my home is the best place for it either. What I was getting at is that Microsoft seem to be falling into a horrible middle ground with Kinect.

It doesn't seem (at the moment at least) that it is going to be accurate enough to capture fine controls required by a core gamer. It also doesn't look like it's going to be cheap enough to really capture the casual market either. Ok, MS are predicitng 3m initial sales and it will probably surpass that, but a) that's only a small percentage of 360 owners and b) what then?

It's a worry that MS are directing a huge amount of resources away from thier core 360 business, chasing a market that either doesn't really exist, or won't sustain the product in the long term. The Wii has done impressive figures, but they are slowing down greatly and who still uses the Wii they bought? Out of everyone I know who bought a Wii (and it was a fair few people), I am the only one who still uses it. I think I'm the only person who still actually OWNS mine. Even then I had to buy a 360 to satisfy my core gaming needs.

MS can't chase this 'Casual' market in the hopes of long term gain and I think they will forsake the core market, which they own completely, by doing so.
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Howard Parry11 years ago
Enjoying it at an expo or trade show is not the same as paying a decent wodge of money for it to use in your living room. The people with the disposable money just simply will not be interested in that kind of gameplay that Kinect offers, regardless of price - and those it is targeted towards will have a million better things to spend the money on.
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Robbie Kazandjian Director, SoundBoy Ltd11 years ago
I'm sorry Werner, Josef, Terence, but going with the "Black Ops" example as in the original post, are you telling me that gun toting commandos, who make hand signals for silent communication have to put down their guns every time they do so?

Use some imagination..... Using hand signals to silently control your squad in a shooter would be very immersive and cool potentially.... You could use your voice, but then the enemy might 'hear' you....
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 11 years ago
I think the voice recognition has a big potential to create increased immersion with graphic adventures/text adventures. Of course these genres have been able to work without voice for decades, but I just feel the role-playing aspect might be very interesting if you can say a dialogue line out loud instead of selecting from a menu with a controller.

Also, today even when buttons and controllers are a requirement for most console games, a lot of the game experiences I've played lately has felt pretty shallow for me. And that's a problem that is far to important to simply blame on controls.

I can easily imagine playing a shooting game with Kinect and having added difficulty because of lag/lack of finger tracking. I think that will eventually be solved, if not with the first edition of Kinect than with a later generation. I think the developers that are going to push the capabilities forward are those who look at what Kinect actually can do rather than what features are not there.

And how far have the traditional genres really evolved in the last 8-10 years? And storytelling in games? There hasn't been a lot of gaming revolutions lately, but I'll place my bet on Kinect and all the developers who now got the freedom and challenge to think outside the box. The core games will come. Definitely
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Petter Solberg Freelance Writer & Artist, 11 years ago
Josef Brett:

Why is it so worrying that MS is finally taking a big chance and trying something new? There are still tons of developers who are able to make good core games.

I also think it is unfair to compare the Kinect with the Wii just because they're both motion controller. These are fundamentally different approaches to motion gaming, even if most of the Kinect launch titles seem pretty casualn and simple. But I am not surprised there aren't more experimental or deeper games for launch. After all, many of the 'core' titles spends years in development, even if the basic mechanics have been tried and tested for years. I believe in taking one step at a time.

I wasn't at all impressed by the Wii, because I didn't feel it did what it promised to do. That type of motion control has been tried and tested before, but I feel Wii is more about 'casual' and 'gimmick' than Kinect.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.11 years ago
Everything I've seen so far suggests that Kinect would have incredible difficulty recognizing detailed hand signals. Gestures would have to be broad, sweeping motions with an open palm. Anything more complex than that would go unrecognized.

Voice commands might be great so long as you don't have to say a key word first to start the mic, e.g. "Xbox: Send in the dogs." - "Xbox: Reload weapon." - "Xbox: Pause game."
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Private Industry 11 years ago
Soldiers giving signals and having to release one hand from the gun is bit of a difference since you don`t give up any control in this situation you take your hand away from the trigger with taking the hand off a normal controller you give away 70% of the control from the game. Plus you switch between a control mechanic that has more or less no noticeable input lag to one with a very noticeable lag. Using one of the methods consistently in a game isn`t as bad as having to switch from lag free controller to lagy kinect and back again on a regular basis. It`s also good to note that often now throat mics are used in order to still be able to communicate with words while keeping the noise level down.

As for the signals itself, since the camera was downgraded and as it seems does not detect anymore separate fingers and just the hand itself and currently it is not known if it even can detect different shapes for the hand thats kind of reducing the amount of signals that can be given/correctly detected. What I see at the end there coming out would be some half made gimicky feature. On top of that how many squad based games are left? The last one I played was Brothers in Arms like 2-3 years ago.

Petter he is probably worried by the fact MS spends just for the marketing alone 500$ million instead of actually putting that money to better use like opening a 1st Party studio. Bungie is gone, Mass Effect is now multiplatform and what MS has left on 1st party game devs is Turn 10 and Lionhead (I can`t count Rare in). Currently 2011 has 1 exclusive AAA title for the 360 with Gears of War 3 that was most likely delayed to late next year in order to actually have something for Christmas. Looking at the same time at the Sony release list for 2011 shows very well why core gamers should be worried who play only on 360 as MS seems to put to many eggs in the kinect basket. MS never really got to the point where they create studios or acquire studios for the long run and build up strong 1st party studios, most of the business made by them is just giving 3rd party developers money instead of actually investing into game developers. Nintendo has better 1st party studios and Sony even more and MS is currently on the way to get back to the third place and now they spend most of the money on kinect in probably some weird hope to get all the Wii owners to buy a 360 and kinect. But you are right we should not compare kinect with Wii, better compare it with the 7 year old EyeToy :)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 11 years ago
Welllll... Deca Sports Freedom on Kinect has a "FPS" mini-game where (yup) you use your hand as a gun (pew! pew!). It's really jarring because as dumb as you think it might be (and yup, it sort of looks silly when playing or watching people play)... it actually works pretty well. Then again, that's pure casual gaming for you. In the right environment, no one cares how silly others look as long as they're all having fun.

Still, I can't see the more stubborn hardcore FPS fans wanting to do the hand-gun thing in front of other people. Even the cat would be cracking up and rolling off it's perch on the sofa...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 4th November 2010 10:15am

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Terence Gage Freelance writer 11 years ago
I think Werner's comment two posts above sums up my own feeling pretty well. Although the notion of combining hand-motions with using the controller seems sound in practice, by all accounts Kinect's hardware has been scaled back to the point where it cannot recognise such precise and small movements, so I have reservations whether such capabilities are possible.

And I broadly agree with the comments on MS's lack of first-party studios - I think that $500 million would be much better invested in setting up a raft of new development teams and creating new or updated IPs; just think how much good it would do for their in-house catalogue if they used that money to make 9 new triple-A developments (at $50 million each), and the remaining cash on new Live releases.

But this is just my opinion and I'm not an executive in a multibillion dollar global company, however I think MS would be better consolidating and growing their current audience than totally neglecting their existing fanbase and putting most of their effort into chasing the Wii audience.
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Josef Brett Animator 11 years ago
Petter - I think the last paragraph of Werners post pretty much sums up what I was thinking. I think MS are investing a lot of money into this and where is that money coming from? I know MS are incredibly wealthy, they still have a business structure and still have to make money. It is a concern that money is being diverted from the 'core' business.

I don't want MS to sacrifice thier current business model to chase after one that is so risky. If it works, then fair play to them. Risks are needed in this industry, but I'm worried that I will lose quality games in the process, so I'm being selfish!
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Robbie Kazandjian Director, SoundBoy Ltd11 years ago
All I'm saying is, rather than theorising what or what not the camera etc can do, lets use some imagination, and see what developers can come up with given the tools (which will also probably improve with use) that MS give them.

I'm sure with some time and imagination they will come up with some great things......

This is potentially a "great leap forward", so best not have a knee jerk antipathy towards it, but hope for the best, and see what is delivered (after the initial rush to market is over.....)

Who knows, maybe it will be a REALLY expensive "virtual boy" but I don't think so.... (and indeed I hope it will be a success)
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