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Microsoft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal

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Posted June 14, 2010 - By Kevin Kelly


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Microsft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal

I wrote a prediction piece on Friday where I went around asking the G4 staff what they thought E3 2010 would hold, and not one of us predicted that we would be privy to one of the greatest WTF?! moments in E3 history. I'm writing this just an hour after leaving the event, and I have to keep pinching myself to make sure it wasn't a dream.

Even though it included techno-elephants, Darth Vader, floating couches, and a girl walking on the ceiling ... it was all real. Sadly it was also technology-free, so we don't have enough photos to share with you. Thank the stars that the ballpoint pen isn't considered technology anymore.

Read on for the full version of what went down, which confirmed everything that was leaked online beforehand.

Microsoft's "Experience Project Natal" event was held at the Galen Center at USC, and the entire thing was "Imagined By" Cirque du Soleil. One this is for sure: they have quite an imagination. After slapping bar-coded wristbands on, we were funneled through a massive line like grocery items on a conveyer belt, scanned, and then presented with a shiny, white gown we had to slip over our heads. It wasn't optional. I just wondered when we'd get the new tennis shoes

Microsft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal

Inside, Cirque du Soleil performers in tribal costumes bandied about, while overhead images of avatars laughing it up in a jungle environment were shown over and over, while some sort of holy man sat on a rock, and a couch floated overhead with a family sitting on it and watching the event unfold. Yes, I promise you I'm not making any of this up. Some of the Cirque performers had audience members speak to each other through tin can telephones, while our own Jake Gaskill was the recipient of a very creepy staredown with someone who looked like they'd missed a curtain call for The Lion King.

After a long wait, the jungle scenes shifted from daytime green to nighttime blue (we expected to see the Na'vi at any moment), and a procession of Cirque performers with hanging lamps came out in procession, while the floating couch descended with the young boy of onboard family holding a glowing green orb. He was bodysurfed by Cirque up front, where he somehow became tribal boy, while an enormous animatronic elephant strode around the floor with a video screen displayed a pictorial history of technology from the anvil and hammer, all the way up to the present.

Microsft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal

"SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME ... " a voice boomed out, chronicling that mankind was always controlled by technology, but that now technology would be controlled by man himself. The voice wondered, might the next step be the absence of an object? Tribal boy showed us how that would be done by clearing three video games via a handheld controller, including an appearance by The Maw and an updated Kameo. Once he cleared the final game, he was deposited on a massive Xbox 360 guide button, and ... he ditched his controller. An avatar representation of the boy appeared onscreen and mirrored his movement.

"What's your name?", he asked. And the word "Kinect" appeared onscreen in purple letters. Based on the logos and flash drives they handed out at the event, purple is the identifying color of Kinect. The screen he's playing on, which is vertical, rotates to a horizontal position, and opens up. Inside there's a living room, completely with a couch, and his waiting family. He heads inside, plops down on the couch, and then the entire room rotates until the family is upside down. A girl who was in the corner watching them is now upside down and walking on the ceiling. Obviously there's some technical Cirque wizardry going on, but it was creepy and cool at the same time.

Oh, and at some point during all of this, our gowns lit up, forming green Xs all across the arena. That's right, Microsoft finally figured out how to turn us all into a giant advertisement, without even asking us. Unfortunately, we didn't get to keep the robes, crushing our hopes of launching our own version of the Polyphonic Spree.

Microsft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal

Then, it was on to the games. Screens around the room displayed the extremely ecstatic family and their in-game avatars. The games presented (via canned video and not a live performance) were:

  • Kinect Adventures: This is the river-rafting game you're probably heard about where you steer a raft down a set of rapids while flailing your body around to collect bonus points. There's also a level where you're riding on a flat railcart, dodging left, right, up and down while collecting the same points. At various points, a 3D camera appears onscreen and snaps a picture of you, which you'll see at the end of the game with captions like "Kickin' It!"
  • Joyride: This game was shown off last year at E3, and it's an avatar-populated ModNation Racers. Seriously, this game looks so much like Sony's racer that we wonder why they didn't call it CarbonCopy Racing. It involves a lot of driving and flailing. There's even a flying car in it, where two people can hop on the wings and dance around simultaneously.
  • Disney: Something is coming from Disney for Kinect, but we have no clue what it is. They showed Cinderella's castle and Tinkerbell flying around while "When You Wish Upon A Star" played and a ton of fireworks went off. Yet, no game. We heard people in line talking about a possible Haunted Mansion game, but didn't see anything.
  • Star Wars: The father of the family took center stage, held up his hands, and *fwoosh!* - a lightsaber appeared. Yes, with 1:1 motion control, giving us what we never got on the Wii: the ability to actually control a lightsaber. He deflected laser blasts, took out Stormtroopers in a Clone Wars-looking environment, force-pushed some baddies back and then squared off against Darth Vader. Although we didn't get to see who wins, and we're not sure if this is from an actual game, we want it.
  • EA Sports Active 2.0: Did we get our first glimpse of this for the Xbox 360? Mom took the stage and her onscreen silhouette appeared in all orange (orange is the predominant color in the existing EA Sports Active packaging, and she went through some yoga paces with an instructor. Kinect can apparently tell where your joints are, and shows you exactly how to line up each pose. 
  • Kinect Sports: The boys squared off against the girls in this, which looks like Wii Sports in HD. The game contains running, bowling, a javelin throw, beach volleyball, and soccer. It supports two onscreen players at once, and is also compatible with Xbox Live.
  • Movie Control: There was a very brief demonstration in the Zune Video Marketplace where the daughter selected a movie and played it, just by waving her hands.
  • Kinectimals: Ever wanted a baby tiger? Now you can enjoy one without the messy litter box and the possible death by mauling. You can tickle your pet, teach them tricks, and then watch as they sadly paw the screen when you leave. You'll be able to scan items into the game for your animal to play with as well. Think EyePet meets the Xbox.
  • Dance Central: Yes, you and your family can now be hip-hop dancers as you follow along to a funky beat. You have to mimic the onscreen instructions and perform moves like "Guitar" and "Rockout". If you get chastised, the instructors slows it way down and schools you. Admittedly, It was a bit odd seeing mom, dad, and son bust a move together as the game appears to support three simultaneous dancers.
  • Video Chat: Ending a debate on whether or not Natal/Kinect would feature an actual Xbox Live Vision Camera-ish camera, daughter called a friend and they had a live video chat which also allowed them to stream photos to each other. We imagine the time for someone to flash their junk on this thing will be even shorter than the original camera.

That was it for the games (the only voiceover was a manic announcer during the Kinect Sports portion), and the creepy Girl on the Ceiling returned, tossed a ball to boy on the floor, and then a flock of flying avatars winged their way across starry skies. Our shiny gowns lit up in all sorts of colors, and that was it. The end. 

Final thoughts. There's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and it does feel like a port of the first round of games for the Wii. That's not to say it's not exciting, but the only glimmer for hardcore gamers here was the Star Wars tease. Video chat looks potentially interesting, as does the hands-free movie controls, but we'll have to wait to pass judgement on the games until we get our hands on them (in them?) later at E3 2010.

Road to E3 2010

Microsoft Unveils Kinect, Formerly Project Natal
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