E3 Expo 2009 Is Back in the LACC

Gamecore CBS

What happened to the outdoor props, the booth babes skating around the outskirts of the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), the U.S Navy SEALs repelling down from helicopters circling above? Where are the massive crowds of gamers and onlooker alike clambering to get into what used to be the biggest gaming show of the year?

It seems after the 2-year hiatus away from the LACC, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has met with some rather tough times in similar attendance of years pass. Could this be a reflection of an ailing economy? Perhaps folks are just a bit put off by the attempts to turn this conference into more of a industry only event filled with corporate suits schmoozing press in quiet subdued hotel rooms. YAWN!

Thank goodness they're back where they belong but the question a lot of us are asking is where are the great masses?

Despite the low attendance, this years E3 is nothing short of groundbreaking announcements. Both Sony and Microsoft during their press conferences announced some pretty impressive improvements and achievements to their perspective brands. When Nintendo first introduced the Wii it was the controllers that stole the show and seemingly the steam from its competitors. The ides of one-to-one movement tracking was brought to light in WiiSports.

It was only a matter of time before the competition was forced to jump on the bandwagon.

Microsoft for example showcased Project Natal. This is basically consumer motion-capture (mo-cap) technology for your living room. For those of you unfamiliar with this, wikipedia defines mo-cap as the process of capturing movement and translating that action onto a digital model. It's largely been used to capture the real life movement of people and translating that onto a 3D model.

It can be as detailed as capturing facial expressions regardless of how subtle they may be. The technology is certainly not cheap and the sheer amount of space, and computer processing power needed to capture the basic movements of a football player is pretty significant. Companies like SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment of America) spend millions of dollars on their mo-cap studio alone and now Microsoft is bringing all that to your living room in 2010.

This controller-free gaming concept isn't a completely new. Sega attempted something similar with a game called Seaman for the ill-fated DREAMCAST console. The game came with a microphone that you plug into the console and permitted you to chat with a human faced fish conveniently named "Seaman". Though it was no where near as advanced as what Project Natal offers, Seaman certainly made the notion of human to AI interaction plausible. The game at the time was innovative but left much to be desired as it sat on store shelves.

Nine years later Microsoft (MS) brings you a more fully realized gaming model based on this principle. The Natal Sensor is where all the magic happens for this controller free gaming concept. It contains a RGB camera, multi-array microphone, depth sensor and a custom processor running some proprietary software. Unlike the Wii Nuncheck/WiiRemote and SCEA's motion-plus sensor prototype controller, Project Natal tracks full body motion and movement in a 3D environment. The mike allows you to interact with various elements via voice activation. In this case gone is the one to one movement captures interaction, which most gamers have come to appreciate. But can laissez-faire gamers really grasp this ideology of active gaming? Does it make sense to remove the scale that allows a gamer to either fully commit to this type of controller action versus just the lazy wrist action that can accomplish the same? I suppose only time will tell if this technology really pics up.

SCEA isn't far behind here with a similar take on active gaming with the aforementioned motion-plus sensor prototype controller. Imagine a stick with a white round orb on the top of it and this is what this prototype resembles. Though I imagine this will have a completely different look come 2010 when this is released for public consumption. This controller is very similar to Nintendo's WiiMote where it's a one to one movement capture utilizing the PlayStation Eye.

From what I gather however this interaction is a lot smoother and seems to track movement significantly better than Nintendo. The demo featured someone swinging a bat or holding a gun or shooting an arrow from a bow (this used to controllers). SCEA also showed someone writing his or her signature, which indicated precision control. Anyone knows that tryin to aim with your WiiMote to that level of precision is darn near non-existent, even with their recent add-ons and improvements.

Either SCEA or Microsoft has announced pricing for their new mo-cap and one-to-one movement tracking technology. There's also no indication of software to utilize their respective technology only hints at what's possible. But one thing is for sure if they can't beat Nintendo's price point, will it be worth it?

Produced by Chad Chamberlain
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