Microsoft's Natal is Now KINECT - Star Wars, Video Chat

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On Sunday June 13, 2010, Microsoft kicked off the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a Cirque Du Soleil extravaganza to promote their new camera-based motion control system known as Project Natal. The official name for the device, Kinect, was revealed, along with new applications and coming games.

As the elaborate performance went on through the night, the focus for the video game journalists, developers, and even the celebrity guests was what this Kinect could actually do. In addition to a driving game already teased, several other games were shown throughout the presentation.

An Olympics style game showed off track-and-field events like Javelin throwing and Hurdles, along with other general sports like bowling and Volleyball. Multiplayer, both turn based and simultaneous split screen was shown, as well as internet based multiplayer using Microsoft's Xbox Live service.

In the previously announced racing game for Kinect, a stnning drop-in drop-out option was shown off. Players could wave at the camera and their Avatar, the digital representation of themselves in the game, would show up and join in the fun. A rafting race, for example, had the second player now joining in, able to reach for coins and help the original player on jumps and stunts.

Yoga and Dance were two obvious and expected applications for the camera sensor, and were shown in full here. With Yoga, the instructor stands side-by-side with your Avatar, and a series of interconnected dots glows green on your body when you're doing the poses correctly. A beautiful glowing presentation looked like it will be customizable, allowing the user to have a more personal experience. The Dance game featured music by Gwen Stefani for the demo, with gestures and dance moves displayed in a moving column on the right-hand side of the screen, and a dancer (or dancers for multiplayer) representing the player's successful or failed attempts at the dance moves. It looked almost instructional in nature, allowing wannabe performers a chance to learn some new moves.

Video Chat, another somewhat obvious function for a camera device, was shown off, with up to 4 people simultaneously chatting worldwide. The demo displayed the faces and video at high-definition resolutions, with an amazing, clear picture. One new function shown was the easy display of photos, sharing them from one system to another, including stored pictures and still shots of the player and their family playing some of the Kinect games.

A game featuring virtual pets drew several oos and aws from the crowd, as the demonstrator played fetch, taught tricks, and merely pet and interacted with a tiger cub. Cheetahs, Lynx, and others were shown as well, and this surefire hit for the newer gamer demographics of younger children and females will have unlockable extras, and tie-in products like plushies with scannable barcodes. Those barcodes are scanned by the Kinect camera, adding that pet to your collection.

The largest cheer of the night came when a robed warrior stepped onto the screen. A familiar-looking craft landed in the distance, and sodliers clad all in white emerged, firing laser bolts at the warrior. With a flick of his wrist, he powered on his lightsaber, and began to deflect the shots with 1:1 precision movement. This Star Wars game was Microsoft's big surprise for the new device, and something fans have clamored for since motion controls came in vogue. The demonstration included slashing and blocking with the lightsaber, as well as "force push," "force explosion," and more uses of the mysterious telekinectic powers of a Jedi.

While the spectacle and presentation overpowered the actual information being presented at times, it's clear that Microsoft is ready to take on Nintendo and Sony in the motion-controlled market in a big way. The Kinect device out this fall is shaping up to be a huge success for the massive electronics company.

More information on Kinect and Microsoft's other gaming products will be covered live here at 1pm EDT on June 14, 2010.

Kinect is arriving! What new use sounds most exciting?

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