This week is the annual E3 Expo in Los Angeles, where the world’s video game company’s demo their forthcoming projects, indulge in theatrics and hyperbole, and generally try to get the industry and the public excited about the products they plan to bring out in time for the crucial end-of-year buying season. And right out of the gate Microsoft has captured the spotlight, introducing Microsoft Kinect, its controller-free body-sensing gaming interface for the Xbox 360. Formerly known as Project Natal, Kinect is a low-profile sensor that connects to an Xbox 360 console and 9includes a camera, microphones, and motion sensors that can track up to 48 points on the human body, enabling players to interact with games just by moving, rather than by mashing buttons or wrangling joysticks on traditional game controllers.
“You are the controller. You simply step in front of the sensor and Kinect sees you move, hears your voice and recognizes your face,” said Microsoft’s corporate VP of global marketing for interactive entertainment Mike Delman, in a statement. “Kinect makes the gaming and entertainment experience more organic and free-flowing, without any of the barriers that can sometimes keep people from participating.”
Microsoft showed several demo games at the Kinect announcement, including a Star Wars game where users take on the role of a Jedi confronting Darth Vader and an animated dancing title from MTV Games. Microsoft also showed volleyball, soccer, and cart games, a yoga game that used Kinect’s joint sensors to determine whether a player was in the correct position, and “Kinectimals” which let user simulate petting a baby tiger.
Kinect features a menu-based interface; users control a point with their hand, then push forward in the air to select from on-screen menus. Kinect also features a streamlined version of the Xbox 360 Dashboard.
Despite the lavish introduction—featuring an indulgent performance by Cirque de Soliel—Microsoft still has yet announced when Kinect will be available, or how much it will costs. Industry watchers still expect Microsoft to adhere to earlier plans to bring the system to market in time for the end-of-year holidays, meaning October or November of 2010. Microsoft also has a keynote at E3 today, and may take the opportunity to reveal pricing and availability information at that time.
Microsoft has been working on Project Natal for some time, and obviously hopes the control interface will give the Xbox 360 a new lease on live as it enters the long-in-the-tooth stretch of its life on the console market. If Kinect is successful—and garners significant support from game developers—it could also be the key to finally knocking Nintendo off its perch as the top-selling game console: with the right games, the Wii’s motion-sensing controller might look pretty limited compared to Kinect.
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