Microsoft took the wraps off Kinect (nee Project Natal) at E3 2010, promising an experience that will "bring living rooms to life in a social and accessible way."
The much-anticipated gaming technology from Microsoft will launch on November 4. Pricing was not announced.
To the thumping sounds of techno music, the company trotted out actors who leapt, lunged, and waved their arms in the air, demonstrating various sports and fitness-themed applications.
We've known about Natal for at least a year now, but today's event was all about rebranding the product as a family-friendly (and centric) tool, aimed at uniting all stripes of gamers, hardcore to casual.
After rolling footage for fan favorites like Metal Gear Solid Rising ("It's unlike anything you've ever seen"), Gears of War 3 (Marcus Fenix and friends battle giant squid-like creatures), Fable III ("It's a revolution!"), and Halo: Reach (Halo meets spaceship battles), the presentation turned to all things Kinect.
"Imagine a world where you can watch a movie without a remote, play a game without a controller," said Microsoft Games corporate vice president Marc Whitten. "Imagine that living room is smarter... Imagine that finding content on your TV is so simple, everyone can do it."
Kinect Hub and VideoKinect
The first demo involved Kinect Hub, a way to find friends, games, and other content like Netflix, Facebook, and Last.fm in one place--no controller required. Think Minority Report (Tom Cruise waving his hands to move or select items) with the noteworthy addition of voice recognition. The Microsoft rep demoing this feature said things like "Xbox pause" and "Xbox Play" to stop and start media, and Kinect responded instantly. No pauses, lags, or glitches--at least so far as the demo was concerned.
VideoKinect was next, a video chat interface that capitalized on Microsoft's integration of Xbox LIVE and Windows Messenger to let you dial up friends and chat in realtime. Again, the video quality and performance appeared seamless, even when Microsoft showed how you could select a movie, launch it, and proceed to watch it simultaneous with your video chat connection.
Nodding to sports fans, Microsoft rolled out a Kinect-based ESPN interface with commentators Josh Elliott and Trey Wingo. The two showed how users could use voice commands to access DVR-like pause and replay features, at one point joking that "Kinect is going to make taunting that much easier." Additional features included accessing ESPN game scores, video statistics, real-time polls, and sports trivia, all without leaving the video feed of the game itself.
Next: The Games
Microsoft then revealed the six games that'll be available for Kinect when it launches November 4.
The first--and arguably most impressive--involved a little girl onstage, who played with a virtual tiger cub (dubbed Kinectimals). As she cupped her hands and stroked the air, a pair of virtual "ghost" hands petted and caressed the tiger cub. The girl proceeded to call the tiger over, ask it to pick up a toy, then jump rope with it, and the tiger responded dynamically, reacting to her voice (and possibly the emotion in her voice) without hitches.
Kinect Sports, Microsoft's answer to Wii Sports will as expected offer a panoply of activities, from boxing to soccer to volleyball to bowling. Also noted: Javelin-throwing, hurdle-leaping, and table tennis. While it all looked decidedly Wii-like, the level of interaction was notably deeper and more precise, as it involved players' full bodies--legs, arms, heads, and torsos.
Joyride, an Xbox LIVE avatar-based racing game, lets you drive using your hands to grasp an imaginary wheel, but with wrinkles: At one point, the demonstrator thrust both arms out to her vehicle, and stunts seem part and parcel of the final experience.
Kinect Adventures looks like a series of obstacle-course games for up to four players. The first demo involved two demonstrators grabbing jumping and grabbing coins, Mario-like, while a second demo dropped two players into a river raft racing over rapids. At times the leaping and flailing was fairly intense, and you had to wonder at the potential for multiple players to crash into each other.
The final launch game was called Dance Central, an Harmonix-developed Kinect-based dance move game. With a soundtrack including No Doubt, Lady Gaga, and the Beastie Boys, players can perform some 600 moves and 90 dance routines, including some for the songs' original music videos. The game tracks your fidelity thereto and rates you appropriately.
Sadly missing from the whole thing? A price for Kinect. Microsoft's still not keen to talk pricing, it seems.
(For a full show recap, see our liveblog coverage.)
Follow me on Twitter (@game_on)