Digital Life: Wave hello to the new games
The revolution kicked off by Nintendo's Wii took another giant step this week as Microsoft revealed the final version of its rival motion-sensing system Kinect.
Formerly known by the codename Project Natal, the add-on camera for the Xbox 360 includes voice/face recognition and a full-body scanner.
With the new technology, Microsoft's ambition goes far beyond the simple waggling and pointing of the Wii. Your whole body becomes the controller.
The company describes Kinect as a totally new way not just to play games but also to control your videos, music and activities such as Facebook -- all with just a wave of your hands.
It's specifically aimed at people who find traditional game controllers with all their buttons and triggers intimidating.
"Kinect recognises you, it responds to your gestures and it listens to your voice," said Microsoft's Marc Whitten at the official launch at the beautiful art-deco Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles on Monday. "There are no barriers and no learning curve."
The camera and its microphone can recognise and track several people in the same room at once.
A succession of presenters demonstrated the concept, ranging from energetic dance moves in a music game to running and jumping in a sports game. The camera tracked the motion of their bodies and reproduced the actions with their character on-screen.
The title that drew the biggest cheer was a Star Wars game that featured the inevitable lightsaber duels. It's not due out until 2011 but could be the one that sees Kinect cross over from casual gaming to hook the hardcore gamer.
Not everything with Kinect requires a burst of adrenaline. Even simple actions such as watching a movie or starting a video chat could be launched with just a wave or a voice command.
The camera will launch in late November but Microsoft would not reveal pricing, though it's expected to cost around €150, which could be an obstacle for some people.
Kinect's debut came just ahead of the most important annual event in the gaming calendar -- the giant showcase known as E3 in LA.
But Microsoft does not have the field to itself. Sony also revealed new details this week about its motion controller, called the PlayStation Move. The two giants will go head to head when both Kinect and Move hit the shops before Christmas.
There will be about 15 Kinect games available to buy by the time it launches in mid- to late November.
The new products represent big bets for the old enemies of Sony and Microsoft, with no expense spared for the glitzy launches.
Microsoft was unable to top the star wattage of last year's E3 when Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr took to the stage to promote The Beatles: Rock Band game.
Instead, the software company commissioned circus troupe Cirque du Soleil to craft a special performance explaining Kinect.
Featuring performers walking on the ceiling and incorporating a full-sized mechanical elephant, the kooky, one-off show on Sunday was watched by a specially selected audience including stars such as Billy Crystal, Nadine Coyle and Rosario Dawson.
But Microsoft hasn't sold 40 million Xbox consoles by neglecting its hardcore heartland, the keen gamers who lap up macho shooters.
In quick succession, the stage at Monday's launch resounded to a string of blockbusters -- including first glimpses of the latest instalments in series such as Gears of War, Call of Duty and Halo.
"We remain very committed to that audience -- they defined us, let's be honest," said Chris Lewis, the European head of Xbox. "While doing so, we have a desire to appeal to a broader audience."
But there was little sign of Kinect being integrated into these traditional types of games. Chris Lewis is adamant that will come, but not for a little while yet. The only signpost was a demo of the Forza racing game in which the steering wheel could be controlled using an imaginary steering wheel via Kinect.
Microsoft also unveiled a revamped version of the console itself. The thinner, quieter machine costs the same €250 as the model it replaces but at last comes with built-in wireless and a huge 250GB hard drive. It goes on sale here next month.
Check out Digital Life next Tuesday for the rest of the news from E3 2010.