Thursday, October 20, 2005

Yourself!Fitness vs. Eyetoy: Kinetic

Okay folks, I am seriously sore today, having gotten a bit too... enthusiastic about testing the various features of the Eyetoy Kinetic game I picked up yesterday. I've been working out with Yourself!Fitness for several months now, and have completed more than 50 workouts - I like this program a lot, but I was also intrigued by some of the things Kinetic offered. Here is my first impression of the differences between the two fitness titles (with the caveat that I know a lot more about Yourself!Fitness than I do about Kinetic, and so may be under- or over-estimating Kinetic's features - I'll follow up this post in a few weeks, to see what more experience with the product might change).

(1) Technical:

Kinetic works only for the PS2 (and, because it relies on the Eyetoy peripheral, I doubt there's any intention to port it to other platforms). A lot of people therefore won't be able to use it, and it's not as flexible even for those who can (I have Maya on my laptop, and can take her anywhere, but Kinetic will have to remain at home).

Kinetic's use of the Eyetoy is both a strength and a weakness: first, you need a *lot* of space to take advantage of most of the Kinetic fitness games. I never have space issues with Maya, but Kinetic routinely saw me needing, e.g., to kick through my couch, or punch through my fireplace, to execute moves properly for the Eyetoy camera.

The Eyetoy also generates errors if you can't work out in near-ideal lighting conditions, and with a blank wall in the background. I can't do this and, while I could definitely play the games, game objects would periodically interact with other objects in the room, rather than with my body, or would fail to interact with my movements because I blended in with background objects. The Eyetoy also worked far better during the day than at night: even after I added a spotlight to the room, the Eyetoy occasionally paused games for poor light at night - a real issue given that I like to work out late...

On the plus side, the Eyetoy lets you see yourself on screen while you exercise - making it possible to compare your form to the trainer's, and also enabling games where you exercise by moving your body around to interact with virtual objects - both of which are very cool features when they work properly. (Side note: it can be really disconcerting to see yourself on screen initially, particularly if you have any issues with how you look - my husband took one look at it and said, "No way am I letting that thing film me...")

(2) Ambiance

I prefer Maya's voice and the kinds of phrases she uses (she seems a bit more interactive and... warm?). The Kinetic trainers came across as annoying in the ads for the game, and so I expected not to like them but, in game, they were actually fairly neutral and professional, although they sound a bit more... pre-recorded (partially because in some segments they literally *are* - like an exercise video, they will always say the same thing). Kinetic does offer the choice between a male and a female trainer, though, and they supposedly have slightly different personalities and phrases (I've only tried the male one so far, so I can't comment personally).

Kinetic's music is much better - each game or exercise type has a selection of two music types geared to the type of action required for that activity, as well as a no music option. Since Kinetic doesn't try to synch the workout to the music, it's more viable to select no music and workout to your own, if you get tired of the available selections.

Kinetic's workout environments for the floor exercises were worse than those in Yourself!Fitness, for me: they seemed more cloistered and constrained. I realise that Maya probably isn't really moving around any more than the Kinetic trainers are, but her environment disguises this and makes the workout environment feel more spacious. Kinetic's gaming "environments" also didn't offer a lot of variety (shall we use red orbs in this game? or yellow ones?), but you don't really mind because Kinetic successfully engages you in concentrating on what you need to *do* during the game.

(3) Commitment vs. Personal Training

Kinetic's equivalent to Maya's commitment schedule is a personal training mode, which is a bit less flexible than Maya's. To use Kinetic's personal training option, you answer some basic questions about yourself (age, weight, personal perception of fitness level, etc.). Kinetic also asks whether you’ve had a recent injury or medical issue – I answered no, and so I didn’t check out where this might take you, but apparently Kinetic does have some ability to modify recommendations based on physical impairments. Kinetic doesn’t offer any kind of fitness test.

Kinetic then designs a 12-week program for you, in which you *must* work out exactly three days a week (no more, no less). Kinetic also requires (unless I've missed an option for changing this) that one of those days be either Thursday or Friday, another must be either Saturday or Sunday, and the final must be either Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. So if you'd like, for example, to do your personal training sessions on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you seem to be out of luck. (This seems so strange that I'm thinking I must have missed an option to change the dates somehow, but I did look for one...)

Like Maya, Kinetic will track whether you've met your commitments.

Personal training sessions begin with a warm-up, then move on to cardio, combat and mind-body games (more on this in a bit), then onto floor exercises, then a cool down session. You have some choices during the session itself: if you don't like the games your trainer has recommended, there is a "shuffle games" button; you choose what type of floor exercise you will do (from a list of toning and mind-body options); and you choose the length of your warm-up. There doesn't seem to be any equivalent to Maya's "daily focus" - where you decide, for example, that you want to focus on core, and the trainer organises all your exercises around that goal. (There is also no way to set an overarching goal for the 12-week program.)

If there's a way to tell how long the overall workout is, I haven't found it. Cardio games tend to be around 10 minutes (at least at my level), and combat games tend to be around 3 minutes. For toning exercises, you get a repetition count, which is handy, but no sense of how long the overall session is going to be, or what exercise is coming next. You can choose a length for the warm-up section (but I don't remember this option for the cool down portion). The personal training option isn't great, though, for those who need a lot of control over how long their session will be.

The warm-up and cool down sessions are much more comprehensive than Maya's. Cool down involves a fairly systematic stretching program for all major muscle groups. Warm-up is not just slowed-down cardio moves, but involves some stretching and breathing moves for major muscle groups - I like it, but am not sure that it eases the heart rate up prior to the cardio activities (although these do start slow and then speed up).

While I like Maya’s commitment model more than Kinetic’s personal training mode, Kinetic also offers the ability to design and save your own exercise routines from an a la carte selection of all the games and routines available in the software. This is a really nice feature: you can choose a preferred trainer, control the length of the workout, select all of the activities in it, determine the difficulty level of each activity (using a simple easy-medium-hard scale), select an appropriate warm-up and cool down, etc. You can also save a variety of different routines, producing a menu of exercises that you can choose from when you load the software. There is no way, however, to schedule these routines, so the personal trainers won’t keep track of when you do them.

(4) Feedback

Kinetic’s feedback system is designed, I think, to appeal to gamers – it collects a lot of stats on various aspects of your performance in different games (total score, a qualitative grade, personal best score, subscores for particular kinds of activities like reaction time, or longest duration without making any mistakes) – all of which is fun, but possibly not as meaningful as Maya’s system of providing feedback based on your performance against fitness benchmarks. Then again, you can max out on Maya’s fitness challenge benchmarks, while it’s probably always possible to improve something in the gamelike stats Kinetic tracks.

In personal training mode, Kinetic gives you a “grade” for each game, as well as an overall grade for your daily performance (I got a “D” for my first day, largely because of a combat game that… didn’t go well… ;-P). You then apparently receive an aggregate weekly grade, which, together with your actual performance on individual games, influences the design of your program in future weeks. You can scroll back and forward through the weeks in your personal training program to view stats, and there are also charts that track progress.

If you’re very competitive about things like grades, game performance, etc., be very sure that you have an ideal workout environment. Otherwise, the inevitable Eyetoy errors will… raise your heart rate for reasons unrelated to exercise… And speaking of heart rate: Kinetic has an extremely poor implementation of heart rate monitoring. It offers a button leading to a timer (as Maya does). Once you’ve counted heartbeats for 15 seconds, though, the program just tells you to multiply the number by four (in your head) and look at a chart to see whether you’re in your target zone…

Aside from tracking progress, Kinetic provides some innovative feedback during the actual exercises: during the floor exercises (warm-ups, toning exercises, etc.), you can split the screen into up to three panels – one showing the trainer from the front, one showing the trainer from the side, and one showing (gulp!) you. This makes it much easier to see whether your form bears any resemblance to what the trainer is doing. Unlike Maya, however, Kinetic gives you no control over the camera and offers no tutorial mode on individual exercises, so you don’t have the same ability to zoom in from different angles if there’s something you can’t quite work out.

The games begin with a tutorial explaining how to do them and, if you find yourself struggling during the game, a silhouette will appear on screen – you can situate your body within the silhouette, and move as it moves, to improve your performance.

Verbal feedback from the Kinetic trainers is much more detailed and comprehensive than Maya’s (presumably because they don’t offer a tutorial mode, so what you hear is what you get). Kinetic provides very good verbal information on what you’re trying to achieve with a particular exercise, potential modifications to make exercises easier or more difficult (sometimes the more difficult options are demonstrated visually during the final repetitions), and advice on safety issues. The flip side is that there is a *lot* of talking during the Kinetic exercises. Also, the words don’t seem to vary at all on subsequent repetitions, so it’s a bit more like an exercise video (unless they have it designed to scale back when you gain more experience than I have).

Kinetic also visually highlights (on a paper doll cut-out on screen during the toning exercises) the general part of the body being worked by an exercise. This feature isn’t that helpful, however, because the area being highlighted is so large – body region, than specific muscle group…

(5) Exercise Types

Kinetic groups exercises into four categories: cardio, combat, mind-body and toning. Cardio (aerobic) and combat (anaerobic strength and reflex training) are carried out exclusively in the form of games. Mind-body offers both games and floor exercises with yoga, tai chi or meditation emphases. Toning is your traditional upper body, lower body and abdominal resistance floor exercises (and, unlike Maya, Kinetic offers no options for incorporating equipment into these routines).

The games are, in my opinion, the best features of Kinetic: they successfully keep you distracted and entertained during cardio sequences and, without having to train you explicitly in copying specific moves, they lead you through activities where you develop the moves yourself, because they’re simply the best ways of carrying out game-related tasks. (And if you’re struggling to figure out the best moves, the silhouette will appear on screen, and you can mirror its motions.) I tried several cardio games, a couple of mind-body games, and one combat game.

The cardio games aim, like all cardio activities, to get your large muscles moving and your heart rate elevated at a sustainable pace for an extended period of time. Most of these games led you naturally into moves that were similar to dance and, occasionally, mild kickboxing by asking you to interact in specific ways with objects that would appear on screen: you might be reaching out with your arms or kicking with your legs to deflect or destroy objects on screen, or you might be ducking and weaving to avoid objects. (You can of course see yourself on the screen, so you can judge how you need to move.) I tried three of the cardio games, and all were low-impact: I never had both feet off the ground. Personally, I found this be a relief, as I’m always feeling like I’ve half-strained something with Maya’s high impact moves, but Kinetic’s approach probably doesn’t burn as many calories… I will say that, since I’ve stopped playing sports, Kinetic was hands down the most fun I’ve had doing a cardio workout (and I’m also paying for this today, because I kept wanting to “play” more, and did probably the longest sequence of cardio exercises I’ve done in years as a result…)

The combat games are designed to lead you naturally to make short, high-intensity moves that will rely more on anaerobic processes. They lead you naturally into boxing, martial arts, or higher-intensity kickboxing moves – which may explain why I did so badly on the one combat game I played… ;-P I would expect that the combat games would really appeal to guys (as well as women with more experience than I have in this genre).

The mind-body games are designed to lead you naturally into moves reminiscent of tai chi and stretching. I personally loved these slower-paced, thoughtful games.

In any game, if you get into a kind of zone and start doing things correctly for several seconds or moves in a row, your image on screen starts to gain a sort of “halo” around it (if you’ve ever played Fable, or Black and White, you’ll know what I mean) – the better you do, the more you radiate light in waves as you move. I know this will sound very nerdy, but I thought this was really cool… ;-P

Games aside, Kinetic offers a more systematic and better explained yoga sequence than Yourself!Fitness – although there are still occasional moments where the trainer has moved on without letting you know, in general the voiceovers are very comprehensive and, once you know the moves, you can follow without having to look at the screen. (I should note, though, that my only other exposure to yoga is through Maya, so others might be able to recognise problems I’m not equipped to see…) If you do look at the screen, though, you can choose a view that displays your image in a panel, alongside the trainer’s – I find this particularly helpful because I have never done yoga before, and I really benefit from the extra visual cue.

Kinetic also offers tai chi and a meditation sequence, neither of which I have tried.

Like Maya, Kinetic divides toning sequences into upper body, lower body and abs/core. You can choose to view yourself on screen to monitor your form. You can also choose between easy-medium-hard difficulty levels, and Kinetic provides excellent verbal instruction throughout the toning exercises (although I hope the amount of talk goes down as you gain experience – my ears were ringing by the end…).

I suspect, although my memory is not quite good enough to be absolutely sure, that, at a given level of difficulty, in a given environment, and with a given trainer, these sequences are set pieces, rather than randomised. (Please note that I don’t know this for certain – I’ve only played with Kinetic for one day, but the one floor sequence I looked at twice seemed awfully familiar the second time around.) There are some advantages to preset toning workouts, of course: you can ensure that you work through all major areas systematically and in a logical order, that you don’t have, e.g., runs of all-lunges-all-the-time, etc. On the other hand, Kinetic doesn’t seem to give you any control over the length of toning workouts (or even any sense of how long they are going to take – although it does provide a repetition count during individual exercises, which I did like).

In general, though, I prefer Maya’s toning sequences: I like the fact that Maya can incorporate equipment, I like the way Maya talks during the exercises (I felt a bit lectured by the Kinetic trainers) and, in spite of occasional issues, I like the random selection of exercises. Also, I like that Maya tells you what exercise is coming next (Kinetic never does), and gives you control over how long you want to work out.

(6) Bottom Line

Basically, I’ll continue to use both of these programs.

Kinetic’s games are a real winner for me – particularly for cardio – as is the ability to design custom routines and the ability to see myself on screen to monitor my form. Kinetic also provides a good cool-down segment that I could easily see adding onto the end of a Maya routine, as well as great yoga, tai chi, and meditation options. Kinetic also wins the music stakes hands down.

Maya wins for me on floor exercises, the ability to incorporate equipment, the “realisation” of the trainer, the greater flexibility of the commitment system, the fitness assessment system, the reliability of the technology (no dodgy Eyetoy issues), and sheer replayability (because the variety is ultimately infinite).

I’ll be curious what others think…


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review!!!

4:15 AM  
Blogger Glen said...

Thanks for that in-depth writeup! I've linked to it from my Videogame Workout blog

How'd you get a copy already? All the stores claim it's not in stock for another month!

6:05 PM  
Blogger koan said...

Although I'm originally from the US, I'm actually living in Australia now. Kinetic's already on sale here (and I think it's been on sale in Europe for some time). I've heard that it's not scheduled for release in the US until November.

Many thanks for the link! I'll have a look at your site.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Glen said...

My full site is at . Kinetic launches in the US around November 20th. (I really hate that PS2 software is region-coded so I can't just get a European or Australian copy in the meantime!)

12:14 AM  
Blogger koan said...

Region coding seems to have been an issue here, in a recent High Court case to authorise modding of PS2s. The Court seems to have decided that, although modded consoles can be used for illegal activities, there are also legitimate legal reasons for modding - including circumventing region coding... Haven't taken that step myself (I actually just purchased the PS2 to play Kinetic - we had an Xbox previously) but, since it's extremely rare for anything to come out in Australia before the rest of the world seems to have it, I can understand the frustrating with region coding...

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found this write up - I asked you on the Y!F for more info about Kinetic and then did a search and stumbled on your blog. Thanks much for such a detailed write-up! I'm still debating whether this game is worth buying a PS2 and EyeToy! :)

9:34 AM  
Blogger koan said...

I'll keep posting periodic updates here, as I progress through Kinetic's 12-week program. I'm planning on posting a "one month on" write-up sometime next week (once I've finished the fourth week of the program).

If it helps, we bought a PS2 and an Eyetoy just for this game (we still haven't gotten around to buying any other PS2 games, although I'm sure we eventually will), and we think the purchase was worth the total price.

The only potential buyer beware issue would be whether you have an appropriate exercise environment - I could get the game to play reasonably well during the daytime in a very cluttered living room, with half of the room lit much better than the other. Until I moved to a better space, though, the game paused frequently at night, and some games (particularly two of the mind-body games) never played properly in the living room - they just kept interacting with the furniture... Still, we were getting most of the functionality of the program, in a very non-ideal environment, so we were fairly happy with it even then...

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks so much for this review! it was just what i was looking for. i saw Y!F in the bookstore a couple of days ago and in looking for it elsewhere, i discoved the Kinetic game. it looked more juvenile than Maya, but seemed more gamelike/fun. so, i was unsure of which to go for. this review will probably get me to go with my first instinct - Y!F - mainly because Maya seems more like a realistic trainer - a more disciplined workout/schedule is really what i'm looking for right now. i may get Kinetic for "fun" later though - when i don't feel as much need to keep a "real" fitness regimen.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Maqui Berry said...

Ye great review and nicly balanaced. I personally enjoy kinetic more.

1:29 PM  

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