Four years ago the Nintendo Wii broadened gamers’ horizons, getting them up off the sofa and waving their arms around to interact with games with its revolutionary motion-sensitive controls.
Last month Microsoft took the gaming experience a step further with the release of Kinect, an add-on to the incredibly successful Xbox 360 which lets players jump into games in a way they never have before. With a combination of an conventional RGB camera and two motion-tracking sensors, Kinect scans you into the game so every move you make is reflected on screen by your character.
The system, which is compatible with all existing Xbox 360s, was released on 10 November and sold a million units worldwide in the first 10 days after launch. Microsoft is confident to have it in five million homes worldwide by the end of the year. But with so much technology already hanging around widescreen TVs across the land, do people need another device?
There’s plenty of shiny futuristic features to the technology: voice control, hand control of the menus, as well as ‘scanning’, which means that the sensor can be shown a colour, analyse it and then use it in the game, such as the colour of your car in happy-go-lucky racer Kinect Joyride (which is obviously not a copy of any Kart-based franchise on Nintendo’s consoles…).
The camera also works as a normal webcam, allowing video chats via Xbox LIVE, but with webcams as standard for most laptops and Skype facilitating video chatting it’s hardly a unique selling point.
What Microsoft have failed to realise is that it’s the strength of the games which will sell Kinect to the masses, especially their current fanbase, and unfortunately it’s a fairly mixed bag. If things had gone according to plan we might have seen Kinect-enabled Fable III as well as Gears of War 3 but alas it was not to be. Perhaps Microsoft should invest in coming up with an IP which really lends itself to showcasing the technology…?
On top of it all it’s not cheap either – despite claims originally that it would retail around the price of a standard game – Kinect currently RRPs at £129.99 on its own, though it does come with the physically challenging Kinect Adventures, or you can pay £249.99 for a bundle with the new slim Xbox 360 console included as well.
The smart thing to do though is to wait for an established franchise to take the plunge and embrace the technology to show the world what Kinect can really achieve. In the meantime relax, gaming is supposed to be recreation after all. If you want a work out though, there is a certain console from Japan which you can flail your arms at to your hearts content, if you need a clue its name rhymes with ‘money’.
So, E3 (that’s Electronic Entertainment Expo for long) has finally returned once again to bring us a week of exciting gaming announcements. Microsoft were up first at 10.30 am this morning to a slightly delayed start, but talking piece of the conference is the very sleek, slim and new Xbox 360 (that black shiny thing you’re gawping at in the pictures).
Before all that though, there was plenty of Xbox-related goodness to get through. If you don’t fancy watching the feature-length event in full, which you can easily do online here at Gamespot.com, allow me to break down the excitement into bite-size chunks.
The event began with a immersive look at Call of Duty: Black Ops, Treyarch’s stab back after the Activision/Infinity Ward fallout debacle following Modern Warfare 2. The game looks great, with all of the series’ staples in place, but you can’t help feeling it’s more of the same. There was a nice touch though with the news that add-ons and DLC would be coming to Xbox 360 first for the next three years.
A packed Los Angeles Convention Center, or more specifically a theatre inside it, greets Senior Vice President Don Mattrick as he tells us that this year is the 10th year of Xbox and pushed home firmly the idea of making gaming simple.
Keeping up the momentum of his opening sermon, Mattrick ushers on Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, to talk about the new game Metal Gear Solid: Rising. which was teasered at E3 ’09. The presentation was brief but showed off the snazzy visuals and distinctly Japanese fighting style which allows you to slice through anything.
Then comes the first part of the grand plan of simplification as the retail name of Microsoft’s Project Natal: Kinect – which was announced yesterday – is casually thrown in by Phil Spencer, who becomes the audiences’ guide for the rest of the conference.
He also talks about games, making the bold statement that “everything you see and hear from now on is exclusive to Xbox 360”, which you feel would have packed more punch right at the start, but MGS: Rising denied them.
The first ‘Xbox Exclusive’ to be rolled out is the hugely anticipated Gears of War 3, which Cliff Blesinski, Project Lead at Epic Games, is over-eager (as usual) to show us. Blesinski throws out the big guns, literally, showcasing the four-player coop of Delta Team – complete with female squad members – fighting off the new Lambent-mutated Locust, including a very quick and deadly Lambent Berserker which now hops around manically. Largely it’s more of the same, but when the same was as good as Gears 2 and there is SO much more, you can’t help but be excited.
Next is Peter Molyneux (thankfully without Milo in tow), to show off Fable III in all of it’s samey-ness, though things look a little more exciting and fast-paced than before, and the prospect of ruling an Albion moulded and shaped by your choices is an intriguing prospect.
After a random trailer for Codename Kingdoms, which resembles 300 in game form, we are treated to a visit from Marcus Lehto from Bungie to show us some in-game footage from the campaign of upcoming title Halo: Reach. At first glance the game already retains the sense of scale and wonder which Bungie have kept all the way through the series and the visuals are looking highly polished – a criticism of ODST’s minor upgrade.
On top of the visual changes the Elites have returned as main enemies, leading to a fan-boy resurgence as your Noble-team Spartan-III silently assassinates one from behind, prompting a short but very satisfying animation. The scene ends with you being ejected into space amid a colourful battle, perhaps suggesting some space vehicle combat?
With the “blockbuster game” demos out the way, the second act is left for Microsoft’s answer to the market-dominating Wii – Kinect (already proving to be a spelling nightmare.) What follows is a fairly drawn out series of demonstrations which range from a re-hash of what we were shown last year (Milo has become an affectionate tiger now), to genuinely interesting – if a little niche – titles.
The in-house launch games are all very avatar-heavy, with names like Kinect Sports, Kinanimals and Kinect Joy Ride, and have a very thin veil over the fact that they are ripping off Nintendo’s Wii Sports (& Resort), Nintendogs and Mario Kart Wii respectively.
Luckily Harmonix turn up to save Massivesoft’s bacon with the groove-busting Dance Central (think Dance Hero) showing off what the hardware can do, albeit with practised professional dancers…mostly at least. The North American launch will be November 4, but the jury will remain out until one of the ‘real’ games developers implements Kinect into a traditional game genre.
There was a big push for the multi-media aspect of Xbox ownership during the presentation, including a deal with ESPN to show matches free to Xbox LIVE Gold members, though no news if this will make its way out of North America.
Once the executives were happy they’d pushed their new, strangely named, add-on enough, (not before fondling the inside of a virtual Ferrari a bit) they moved on to welcome back Don Mattrick to round up everything great about Xbox, before lifting the Xbox 360 which had been sitting in the middle of the stage the whole time to reveal a smaller, shinier, blacker version beneath.
Though this was expected ever since the PS3 went slim last year, it still provoked the biggest response from the audience, and as an unexpected bonus, everyone at the conference was sent one free of charge – well done for them fending off the ash clouds to turn up maybe?
The biggest surprise was how quickly the company is shipping them out, claiming they will be available to buy later this week, and the unit includes built-in Wifi, something which surely should have been corrected already.
So, there you have it, all of the big news and excitement from the Microsoft camp. The Nintendo and Sony conferences are held tomorrow so expect the news from there in the next few days, if you haven’t been beaten into the ground with tweets about it before that of course.