They did not disappoint.
Their first move was to cater to their longtime gamers and franchise fans, releasing previews of Metal Gear Solid: Rising and Halo Reach, the latest games in their relative franchises.
With their hardcore gamers satisfied, they moved on to what everyone wanted to see: updates on Project Natal. Microsoft had released the motion sensor technology at last year’s E3, billing it as gaming without a controller. This year, it came with stunning updates.
The first was the name. Project Natal now goes by Kinect, a name that reminds me more of Linkara’s “Poor Literacy is KEWL” joke than anything else. Marketing-wise, it’s better than Project Natal by a long shot.
That was where the Kinect stopped being laughable and became jaw-droppingly awesome. The Kinect has the ability to recognize the user and pull up their avatar (think Mii, not blue cat person) on sight. It also accepts voice commands: saying, “Xbox – Netflix,” will pull up the Netflix application on Xbox Live, where you can also use voice commands to choose a movie, play it, pause, fast forward, and just about anything else you would usually need a remote control to do. If you didn’t want to speak, grab and drag controls were also available with a literal wave of the hand.
As if that weren’t enough, Microsoft appealed to the sports fans by announcing it had partnered with ESPN and that live and pre-recorded sporting events would be available on Xbox Live, complete with the aforementioned vocal controls.
Obviously making every sports and movie fan in the audience cheer wasn’t enough, because Microsoft then proceeded to go after what most people call “casual gamers” – the people who bought a Wii for Wii Sports and think Metal Gear Solid is the name of the latest Transformers movie.
Microsoft tackled every casual genre in this presentation. A young girl demonstrated Kinectimals, a game highly reminiscent of Nintendogs, by playing with a tiger cub she’d named Skittles. A personal trainer showed off a full-body fitness game. A rather geeky-looking programmer demoed a dance game that, unlike the ever popular Dance Dance Revolution, sported choreography that used the entire body and taught the gamer dance moves they might actually be able to use in public. All of these were played completely without controllers – the player simply moved with the instructions on screen, and the Kinect picked up their movements and translated them into the game.
The in-theater audience clapped and cheered. The at-home audience sat in their chairs with their mouths open in shock.
Microsoft capped their presentation by announcing a brand new Xbox 360 – smaller, black, with a 250 GB hard drive and wireless built in – to be sold for the same price as the older model and shipped this week. In a surprisingly Oprah-esque move, they then gave a new Xbox 360 to everyone in the audience.
Several hours later, now that I’ve recovered from the shock and awe that was Microsoft’s press conference, I have several questions. The first is about the Kinect itself. They announced that it would be released in the US on November 4th and come with fifteen games, but they didn’t give a price. It took a Game Stop slip to reveal that - $149 for the Kinect itself, with controller (if you can even call the Kinect a controller) and game packages going for $299 and $399. My question isn’t about price, but rather how Microsoft intends to keep their newest feature in supply against what promises to be overwhelming demand. Will we see long lines of anxious consumers wrapped around the sides of buildings, waiting for hours to get just one unit? Or is that preferential treatment saved for new consoles only?
The second, bigger question is what is Microsoft going to do with this technology? Obviously they’re not limited to gaming. Could you imagine your computer taking voice commands to open Word documents or browse the internet, or your car adjusting your seat to your preferred height and setting the radio to your favorite station the second you came into eyeshot? Kinect’s particular brand of motion capture technology has far more uses than just gaming, and it will be more than interesting to see how it influences other devices.
The final question is, how on Earth is Nintendo going to top this at their press conference tomorrow? I get the feeling that the next Zelda game just isn’t going to cut it.
Deal of the Day: XBOX 360 Wireless Controller. May as well enjoy your controller while you need it, right?