Kinect powers virtual reality experience for Disney’s Planes 2: Fire & Rescue

It’s been as busy day, and not only with our partners at WPC!

I am excited to tell you that we began shipping Kinect for Windows v2 sensors earlier today and that we simultaneously released a preview version of the SDK 2.0. Now, developers have everything they need to get started with the latest Kinect technology. You can learn all about it on the Kinect for Windows blog.

Speaking of partners, I am even more excited to tell you about a fun and immersive experience that Disney has already created with v2. Moviegoers throughout the UK are eagerly awaiting the August release of Disney’s new animated comedy-adventure feature film Planes 2: Fire & Rescue.  But the opportunity for excitement extends beyond the cinema: thanks to Kinect for Windows v2, fans can experience the thrill of helping the Fire & Rescue team fight a deadly blaze in the Save the Day virtual reality game.

The game lets fans of all ages take on the role of the film’s firefighting planes, Dusty and Dipper, as they race to protect Piston Peak National Park. The Kinect-powered experience does more than just control Dusty and Dipper—it lets players virtually become Dusty and Dipper, using body gestures to control the planes. Players’ arms become wings, and as they swoop and sway, their firefighting avatars execute aerial maneuvers, including water collections and drops.  Dan Radford, head of digital marketing for Disney Studios European & UK division, explained to me that “the idea behind the game is to create an emotional connection with fans, to provide an immersive experience that engages audiences and movie goers of all ages.”

The game can be played by one or two players, each of whom racks up points as they successfully extinguish blazes. The goal of the two-player version is to work together, much like real firefighters must. This weekend, the game kiosk will appear in six Odeon theater locations throughout the UK. It will be available at Disney’s Oxford Street store in London from the end of July, and at Disney stores nationwide from late August. In addition, a fire truck equipped with the game will be traveling throughout the UK, including appearances at various festivals/airshows. And the Planes Fire & Rescue promotion extends beyond Britain’s borders, as the experience will also be available at one location in Ireland and two in Germany, with others on the drawing board.

As Disney’s Radford explains, the impetus for creating the experience came from the very successful virtual reality game that promoted Iron Man 3 in 2012.  That AR experience, called Become Iron Man, enabled the player to suit up in Tony Stark’s MK42 Iron Man armor and then control an on-screen avatar, putting the new suit through its paces. The experience used augmented reality technology developed by Apache Solutions.

This large-screen experience was powered by the original Kinect for Windows sensor, which allowed players to fire weapons and fly around the lab simply by using body movements. Become Iron Man was initially scheduled to be in six shopping malls for just a few weeks, but it made such a connection with fans that Disney took the game to 30 additional venues and even placed it in the Disney theme park in California and on a Disney cruise ship—where it’s still a popular attraction.  Shoppers were initially surprised, says Radford, “to learn that the high-quality game was free, and even more delighted once they became engaged in it.” In fact, it proved so popular that there were waits as long as two hours to play a four-minute game!  Hundreds of thousands people have played the Become Iron Man experience,   Including visitors to the Marvel Tech Exhibit at Innoventions  in Disneyland California and passengers on Disney cruise ships. This experience had the potential to reach millions of people around the globe during its promotional run.

With those kinds of success metrics in mind, Disney approached Apache, the development house that had built their Iron Man 2 experience, looking to create an equally engaging game for Planes 2. Needless to say, Adam Vahed, managing director at Apache, welcomed the challenge. As a participant in the Kinect for Windows Developer Preview Program, Apache had the opportunity to push the boundaries of augmented reality using the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor and SDK 2.0. The new Kinect hardware and SDK enabled Apache to take user interaction to the next level, allowing for greater overall precision, responsiveness, and intuitive capabilities.

Says Vahed, “It was very important that the plane controls would be entirely intuitive, so that the game could be played by all ages and without the need to read lengthy instructions.  If you ask any child—or adult for that matter—to fly like a plane, the first thing they do is put out their arms, bending their body to climb, dive and turn. So choosing the Kinect again to provide body tracking was a no-brainer!”

The biggest challenge was to translate the users’ body movements into those of the planes in such a way that it felt totally natural. The planes still had to fly as planes do, obeying the laws of physics and aerodynamics. But the player had to feel in complete control, with small body movements translating to the smallest of course corrections, while still allowing the user to aim squarely at a target fire. “The v2 sensor provided the requisite level of highly accurate tracking,” explains Vahed. Comparing the new sensor to the original, Vahed praises the enhanced resolution of the depth camera and the ability to track more body joints—25 compared with 20.  He says that these enhancements were crucial, as they “provide the data for determining how and where the user’s limbs are positioned in 3D space at any given time.”

As much as he likes the v2 sensor’s enhanced body tracking, Vahed found another v2 feature enhancement even more valuable: the ability to accurately track multiple users, since Save the Day is very much a two-player game. “Having the wider field of view of the v2 sensor enables the two players to stand side by side and still be seen by the sensor,” says Vahed. “We are keen to explore this further in future experiences, as the Kinect for Windows v2 sensor allows up to six people to be tracked, which opens up a whole bunch of possibilities.”

After months of watching creative ideas emerge from the Kinect for Windows Developer Preview Program, it’s great to see such an exciting application unveiled today—the first day that the v2 sensor and the new SDK are available.  Congratulations to our friends at Disney and Apache for their latest Kinect experience.

If you haven’t downloaded the SDK 2.0 or ordered your Kinect for Windows v2 sensor yet, here’s where to do so.