As E3 Starts, Microsoft Gets its Game On With Kinect Debut

Microsoft Kinect CNET

LOS ANGELES--After more than a year of speculation, we finally know what Microsoft's new motion-control system is called. For those that have referred to it for a year as Project Natal, meet Kinect for Xbox 360.

On Sunday night, at the University of Southern California's Galen Center here, and during a special performance by Cirque du Soleil, Microsoft finally and formally pulled back the wraps on its much-anticipated system, now known as Kinect, but originally the work of the Israeli company 3DV.

Microsoft Kinect
CNET

After sitting through (actually standing, as the press was placed on the floor of the arena for a couple of hours with no seats) the performance, in which the Cirque's performers acted out and demonstrated a number of ways that Kinect can be used, my first impression is that Microsoft has hit on something with some serious potential. But at least as demonstrated Sunday, that potential hasn't been fully realized.

It was tempting to think that Microsoft was taking Kinect a little too seriously during the performance, given the scale and scope of the event (more on that in a bit), but it's clear that the company has a system on its hands that it plans to incorporate widely across its video gaming and digital living room environments.

And while it's too soon to tell exactly how Kinect will be used, and what software is being developed for it--Microsoft will say a lot more Monday morning at its formal E3 press conference--one thing became clear Sunday night: with Kinect, and a sports game, and an exercise game for it, Microsoft is, among other things, putting Nintendo and its Wii, its Balance Board, its Wii Fit and Wii Sports squarely in its sights.

Clever entrance

After waiting in line for more than an hour, the thousands of people on hand for the Sunday night event were ushered inside the Galen Center. While we didn't know what was in store, we were first taken through mock living rooms, where "normal" American families greeted us. We didn't get to sit down, however, but were clearly being led to see how Kinect, nee Project Natal, is an integral part of the living room experience.

Everyone was then given a white poncho, with large shoulder pads, and awhile into the Cirque's performance, I looked around the arena and had a definite sense of being part of some sort of religious revival, what with thousands of people sitting and standing together, all wearing identical shimmering white ponchos. No individuality here.

Also See: Full Coverage of E3

When the performance finally began, a loud, all-encompassing voice boomed out of speakers and began spelling out homilies, among them that history was about to be rewritten and that for the first time, human beings would be in control and that the machines are going to have to adapt to us.

Also Read: Microsoft: Kinect for Xbox 360

"After 5 million years of evolution," the voice boomed, "might the next step be the absence of an object?"

High on the walls of the arena were large digital screens, and these became the place where we were able to really see what Kinect is all about.

Far up one wall, a "real" living room was placed, and there, a "family" of mom and dad, brother and sister took turns playing all kinds of games and other experiences for Kinect. While not naming any of these games, it was clear that Microsoft was previewing what it would be showing off tomorrow.

At one point, a giant, glowing Xbox symbol rose out of the stage where the Cirque du Soleil performers were doing their thing. And on top of this stood one of the kids, who raised his arms and began to show how Kinect would mirror his movements.

The kid yelled out, "What's your name?" And the disembodied system responded, with letters jumbled on a screen and then placed in order, "Kinect."

A few minutes later, we saw how by walking in front of a Kinect system, your body movement is matched by that of an avatar on the screen. Then we saw how you can wave your arms to flip the pages of a large "book, "which in this case was used to embed photos Kinect was taking of the family.

And now it was time to play some games.

Read the rest of this article at CNET News.com.

  • Daniel Terdiman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.

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