So today was Microsoft's E3 showing, and I was able to watch a very large portion of it during which we got to see some really cool stuff. I'll get to the games and Natal (now known as Kinect) in a moment, but before I talk about that I should definitely bring up the bombshell the Microsoft saved for the last few moments of their presentation: The new X-box 360.
That's right, there is a new X-box 360. It's smaller, quieter, has a 250 Gigabyte Hard Drive, and a built in Wi-fi gaming system. The largest part of that bombshell? It's out now. That's right, Microsoft not only managed to develop a completely redesigned 360, but they managed to keep it under the table until it launched. Kudos for their secret keeping power. Oh, and it's the same price as the Elite. If you happen to pick up one of these, let me know how it pans out, I myself would like to fiddle with one to see what has changed.
But of course, Microsoft had some other stuff to show off, and the one that was on everyone's mind was the famous Project Natal, or as we now know it, Kinect. First of all, one thing that Microsoft seemed to stress (if indirectly, and they could have done a much better job at it) was that Kinect is not just a gaming peripheral, Kinect is a platform of sorts. Live and onstage Microsoft performed a number of clever, unique and downright useful aspects of Kinect, most of which tied directly into the services the Kinect offers.
The largest of these services to catch my eye (believe it or not) was the video-conferencing ability. At any moment, the Kinect can use it's camera to call friends on Live or on messenger in a video-phone like manner. Even better? The Kinect will track your motion (it has motor's built into it's base) around the room, so you don't have to stand or sit in front of your TV, feel free to walk around the room or do chores while you chat. Even better? You can share music, pictures and movies while you chat, leaving you free to instruct Kinect to play or pause a trailer while you chat about it with your buddy.
That's right, I said instruct. Microsoft was keen to show the level of voice control on the Kinect. It will log you in with it's voice recognition, and can be instructed at any time with a simple command. Representative's even worked commands into sentences to show how the Kinect differentiates between "So I got this new X-box game" and "X-box: pause". I don't know about you, but the sheer possibilities outside of gaming for such a device boggle my mind. Augmented reality just got very very real for the average layperson.
Of course, this is a gaming blog, and Microsoft did show off some games that work with Kinect. Of the showings, there was a virtual pet simulator, Microsoft's own KinectSports (as opposed to WiiSports or MoveSports), a workout virtual gym (courtesy of UbiSoft) called YourShape, MTV's Dance Central, and then the heaviest hitter, Forza Motorsport.
KinectSports looked to be the same sort of sport themed goofiness we've come to expect from WiiSports and the like. A series of sports themed events. One noticeable difference however was the added feature of snapshots. As people played, the game would periodically take pictures of the people playing and then show them the pictures afterwards. Hilarity ensued, and I can see that being a great party game.
Dance Central left me feeling like DDR was dead, because Dance Central improves upon the dancing game genre (Novel idea right Benemi?) by actually teaching you how to dance. While the playlist left me feeling a bit disappointed (nothing but Pop, Hip-Hop and RnB? Where's the Dance music genre?) the gameplay they showed off, which teaches you how to actually dance like the pros, left me eager, and despite a disappointing tracklist I'll probably pick it up on launch. Goodbye Dance Pads!
YourShape was pretty neat, giving players a full on virtual gym, complete with trainers, Yoga, Aerobic Dance, martial arts, challenges, stretch exercises, and a whole lot more. Ubisoft proved how well it works, bringing someone on stage and then letting the audience watch as the game scanned them into it's system, pulling up skeletal structure, height, muscle mass, etc so that it could give each user the most detailed replication possible. You will be seeing this in a lot of gyms.
So all in all, Kinect looks like a surefire win for Microsoft this holiday when it releases on November 4th. However, we are still missing some details. Microsoft did not give us a starting price point for whatever reason (I can think of several), so we still don't need to know how much to save. For now however, I'd bet at least a hundred bucks will be required for this slick piece of hardware. Hey, it could be worse, most of Sony's stuff is requiring one of those new 3D TV's for about a grand. So start saving.
Microsoft also announced a large amount of new content for X-box live, including the bombshell that ESPN will be coming to X-box Live Gold at no additional cost, letting X-box users watch and live and replayed games for every major sport (nine so far) and every single game, including college. Oh, and it works with Kinect, like everything else. Plus, unlike your cable provider, it's interactive. You can vote on which team you think will win (and see the worldwide results), play trivia games if you feel like it, and a whole host of other stuff, all by speaking at Kinect. Non-Kinect users can still use the 360 controller if they wish. I tell you, first Netflix, now this, SkyTV and Hulu rumored on the horizon. I'm thinking of cutting my basic cable package. It's not like I use it much anymore anyway.
OK, so what about the non-Kinect games? Microsoft made a very strong showing here as well, with titles like Metal Gear Rising, Gears of War 3, Fable 3 and of course, Halo: Reach all drawing choruses of oohs and Ahhs from the crowd. While I missed most of MGR, and have only a passing interest in Fable 3, Gears of War 3 and Halo: Reach grabbed every moment of my time. Reach (which I was able to beta test) is looking really, really good, and Gears of War 3 is just awesome. 4-player Co-op? Please and Thank You.
All in all, Microsoft has made a very strong showing to kick off this years E3, and it remains to be seen if Nintendo or Sony can match the impressive amount of technology demonstrated today. Nintendo takes the stand tomorrow, while Sony closes out (what? No PC showing?), so look forward to respective analysis of both as soon as they come up.
It's a good week to be a gamer peeps!