Hands-On With the Iron Man Virtual Reality Setup: This is as Badass as Kinect Gets

By Chris Mills on at

To shamelessly promote the Iron Man 3 launch -- 25th April, for you calendar-watchers out there -- Marvel's touring a nationwide Kinect-powered virtual reality setup that lets you 'become' Iron Man. And yeah, it's pretty much as awesome as it sounds.

The premise is very simple -- there's a giant TV, a Kinect bolted above it, and in the middle of the room, you. Once it's calibrated, your 'armour' is assembled over your body on-screen, piece-by-piece -- and in a nod to realism, you call each piece using the same gestures as Stark in the films.

the gestures used to call the armour to your body

Once all the armour is in place, you leave augmented reality, and enter the Iron Man garage/test centre thingy. The Iron Man on screen is mapped to your body, so when you wave, the superhero on the TV also waves -- you get the idea.

There's a series of 'tests' to run through, like shooting targets with your repulsors, and flying around the garage  -- each controlled by film-accurate gestures. (Which, great though they are, make you feel like a bit of a twat when you're doing them in the middle of a room full of supposedly grown-up journos. Thankfully the sound effects are provided, so you don't have to make the little "pow! pow!" noises.) You also get a bizarre dance segment in the middle, which is great if you've ever wondered how well the Mark 42 armour does the tango, I guess.

the gesture mapping on the become the iron man experience

The motion mapping is pretty damn good -- there's a bit of lag, as you'd expect, but it's certainly on the upper end of Kinect interaction. In fact, it's smooth enough to make the whole experience pretty seamless and just a little surreal. But who are we kidding -- you get to be IRON MAN for five sweet, sweet minutes, and if that's not enough to put a gigantic grin on your face (hidden by the mask, of course), then you've got a heart of, well,  iron.

Behind the scenes, the whole experience is running on a 'standard gaming PC', with a commercial-grade Kinect up front doing the body mapping, and a whopping 105-inch TV to see yourself in. Despite the size of the setup, the guys behind it -- who originally designed the augmented-reality system to let people virtually try on clothes in shops -- say there's no reason it couldn't run on everyday gaming systems. Sadly, though, there's no plan at the moment to bring it to a consumer game, even though Kinect, augmented reality and Iron Man seem like a match made in technological heaven.

The experience is hitting the road over the next couple of weekends, and you can sign up right here. If you do go along (which you totally should), you get a couple of cheesy souvenir photos to stick on your Facebook profile as well. It works with people of all shapes and sizes (they just need to stand still long enough to allow calibration), and we're reliably informed that sticking a four-year-old into the setup results in an adorable two-foot Iron Man flying around. (If you do this, we demand pics.)

We've got a video in the works; in the meantime, check out the full tour dates below:

Newcastle Metrocentre -- March 29 and 30
Birmingham Bullring -- April 6 and 7
Manchester Trafford Centre -- April 13 and 14
Sheffield Meadowhall -- April 20 and 21
Dundrum Town Centre, Ireland -- April 24
London Westfield Shepherds Bush -- April 27 and 28