Natal Becomes Kinect and Brings Along an Elephant

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Natal Becomes Kinect and Brings Along an Elephant

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Microsoft's Project Natal Experience was a special-effects laden extravaganza that had girls walking on the ceiling, ponchos that changed color on command, and even an elephant. Oh, and a gaming peripheral, too.

The ostensible point of the evening was to give us our first real look at Microsoft's motion-sensing Xbox 360 controller, now dubbed Kinect, but the real object was to blow us away. We were meant to leave the Galen Center, jaws brushing the floor, and at first it seemed like we just might. The entire theater was done over in tropical greenery - from my seat, I could actually smell the flowers - with a rock promontory reminiscent of The Lion King at one end. The members of Cirque du Soleil prowled around in various wild costumes, amusing and enthralling the crowd as we waited to find out what was going on. A family was seated on a couch suspended high in the air. A shaman sat tranquilly on a rock. A gorilla scampered around. It was...well, it was all very, very Cirque.

After an extended delay, (due to either malfunction or the late arrival of VIPs who wanted to catch the Lakers game, depending on your conspiracy theory of choice), the show finally began. As an enormous elephant shambled into the room, an announcer waxed philosophic on the relationship between man and technology. I have to confess, I was so enraptured by the enormous pachyderm, I missed much of what he was saying. The elephant was an incredibly complex puppet, with who knows how many operators inside, that looked and moved so genuinely that if it weren't for the digital screen on its flank, I could've sworn it was real.

Eventually, the announcer got to his point - that perhaps in the future, technology would evolve to the point that humans were once again the centerpiece, as opposed to objects. Perhaps for technology to advance it had to disappear. Or something like that. Did I mention the elephant? That thing was amazing.

At this point, a young boy had begun to climb the rocks, controller in hand. He played and climbed, played and climbed, until he reached an enormous sphere, which soon lit up with a very familiar green X and slid higher so that the boy might leave his controller behind and become one with the game. Facing a giant screen, he moved first his arms, then his legs, and his avatar mimicked his movements. The screen slid aside to reveal a family waiting to greet him. He stepped through to join them, they sat on the couch...and then the room flipped the hell over so that they were sitting upside down and the cute girl with the blonde ponytail who'd been lounging against the wall calmly strolled out the door by walking across the ceiling.

If you're thinking this sounds like one hell of a show so far, you're dead right. This was grand theater, expertly done. Microsoft certainly had our attention - but unfortunately didn't do all that much with it. What followed was a series of game demos, most of which were boringly reminiscent of Wii games. There were minigames galore - river rafting, kart racing, airplane flying - if you want to fling your body around to collect tokens, Kinect can hook you up. There was also a bowling game that looked pretty shabby compared to Wii Bowling, and a track and field game that didn't look nearly fun enough to justify its exhaustion level. (Seriously, if I want to run that much, I'll just go running. It'll be far more enjoyable.)

Some demonstrations did show exciting potential, though. A Star Wars snippet demonstrated the delicious possibility of actually gesturing to use your Force powers. Force push by actually pushing? Please and thank you. We also saw a tai chi game that could check your body for proper form and displays the results on the screen, highlighting the joints you need to adjust. A dancing game took a similar approach, by illustrating the moves, then asking you to repeat them. The party potential for that one is obvious, so long as you can get the right music to go with it.

Then came the baby tiger in what looked to be a cross between Nintendogs and NeoPets. You get a cuddly baby tiger, panther, or cheetah, then pet and play with them by gesturing at Kinect. If you people know me at all, you already know what I think about this one. We were given plushies at the end of the night whose tags will unlock exclusive content in the game; just show the tag to the camera for a few seconds, and presto - the content is added to your game.

Eventually, the demos ended, the performance wound down, and we finally found out why we were all wearing a bunch of dorky white ponchos with enormous shoulder pads. As a young boy passed a ball of light back to the family on the couch - no, I have no idea why - chips in the ponchos made the crowd light up in different colors. Now we were green, now red, now purple, now glittering like the stars above. I felt like I was at the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. And then we danced to "Hella Good" by No Doubt. No, seriously.

Except for the tiger baby, whose tag refers to the game as Project Natal Discovery, though obviously that will change, it's hard to say which demonstrations we saw were from genuine games, and which were just for the sake of showcasing Kinect's abilities. A lot of what we saw was barely worthy of a shrug - we've seen it done already on the Wii, and it didn't blow us away there, either. There were a few tantalizing standouts, but for the time being, I'm still feeling a bit unsure of Kinect's genuine viability. Being able to flick through movies and pictures without a controller is fantastic, yes, as is video chatting, but do I really want to jump around that much to play a videogame? I still don't know.

I hope to have a more solid answer for you before the week is out. Stay tuned.

[I]If you want to see the Microsoft Kinect Premiere yourself, it will be airing commercial-free on MTV tomorrow, Tuesday the 15th, at 3:30 PM. It will be also aired later that night on other Viacom-owned networks: Look for it on Nick at Nite, mtvU, MTV Hits, and Logo, at 9:00 PM (still Tuesday, June 15th).

Keep track of our E3 2010 coverage here.

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Sounds like a hell of a show--and the star wars capabilities sound great, but Nat--Kinect itself doesn't sound like it will be a day one purchase, if at all...

Seems like they're going above and beyond to make their new toy seem worthy of our money, but at the same time failing in the process due to the important factor of what appears to be shovelware.

They should make all these lil minigame things come free or atleast fairly cheap with the components and then make room for real games, instead of trying pose the mini games off as real games. That way they at least try to avoid the issues the Wii is still having after all these years.

Kinect just sounds stupid (the name I mean).

Anyway, if they do a Star Wars game on it (and it's good) I'll buy it, no questions asked.

If Natal/kinect had any chance to win the eternally sceptical public over, this first showing at E3 was it. It seems to me that it failed. I know E3 isn't over but really, why hold back, if M$ genuinly has something big for kinect, why won't they show us? Maybe the cupboard is bare.

Nice show, by the sounds of it, but the device itself seems unconvincing.
Why can't they show any non-minigame type games?
Natal (or Kinect) basically seems like just another Wii.

I want a plushie. :(
Haha, I just realised how witty Microsoft is.

Kinect. Connect. Kinetic energy.

Classic.

snowfox:
Seems like they're going above and beyond to make their new toy seem worthy of our money, but at the same time failing in the process due to the important factor of what appears to be shovelware.

They should make all these lil minigame things come free or atleast fairly cheap with the components and then make room for real games, instead of trying pose the mini games off as real games. That way they at least try to avoid the issues the Wii is still having after all these years.

I'd think it was worth my money if they spent more time making it affordable than they did cash making it look good.

couldnt they just have run a trailer saying "Xbox 360, now with motion sensing shovelware!" it would have been cheaper. hell im not even thinking of getting Move/Kinect until Sony/Microsoft shows me that it wont be another Wii clone.

This kind of thing would do best with a visor-screen as you could do a 180 and be looking behind your character. If they release that with this... it may remain on my radar, but what I ask is obviously too expensive and probably not "worth" it in the long run.

That would be the only way I could play said Star Wars game, otherwise it ends up like a rail shooter. Which is a horrible waste of potential concerning this.

What they need to do is create a life size pink horse controller.

Doesn't seem unusual for MS to use bells and ribbons to sell their crap.
I'll be surprised if they released anything that was worth looking at. The Wii wasn't brilliant either but at least it had a few awesome first party games and an actual controller to back it up.

The Star Wars game is apparently on rails which sounds a lot like an arcade game but with fancy body movements instead of a joystick. I'm still on the fence about this Kinect thing and unless this Star Wars game is absolutely fricken mind-blowing and there are some other decent games I won't be buying. Unless its like 50 then I suppose I could afford it regardless, the dashboard/video capabilities do look cool.

I'm a day one sale. This way I can live in the future.

Also: HOLY SHIT IT'S STAR WARS!

PurpleLeafRave:
I want a plushie. :(
Haha, I just realised how witty Microsoft is.

Kinect. Connect. Kinetic energy.

Classic.

i got it too, i just thought it sounded worse that Natal.

and it comes nowhere near to Valve's sense of humour.

RvLeshrac:

snowfox:
Seems like they're going above and beyond to make their new toy seem worthy of our money, but at the same time failing in the process due to the important factor of what appears to be shovelware.

They should make all these lil minigame things come free or atleast fairly cheap with the components and then make room for real games, instead of trying pose the mini games off as real games. That way they at least try to avoid the issues the Wii is still having after all these years.

I'd think it was worth my money if they spent more time making it affordable than they did cash making it look good.

I understand WHY they are trying so hard to make it look good.

This video turns away peoples wallets on a daily basis it seems.

The thing that I find amusing, is that they need to win over the general public.

The general public would be won over by a show such as described, all style no substance, but bizarrely it was exclusively E3 - home to (admittedly in decreasing numbers) industry greats that will be extremely quick to judge.

Granted this helps the event bring in publicity, but seeing as how lacklustre the games seem to be - and the fact that nothing has really changed since unveiling last year; the whole event seems like a "watch the pinstripes" manoveur.

A "please remember the show and not the content" effort.

That being said, I still have faith that the device will prove to be of more use than the Wii - the feature where you can move your hands to switch channels (because for years I've struggled greatly with the effort of a remote control), and the ability to hamper your options within a game because no human can reliably rival scripted button inputs is great.

As long as it stays a focus of shovelware and not staple games I don't care, if anything it'll act like a sink for the crap as gimmicks sell and will draw them away from the "core" Xbox crowd.

Insightful name.

snowfox:
snip

This video turns away peoples wallets on a daily basis it seems.

thats it, im not buying it

Fantastic review. Thank you Susan, for being completely thorough.

vallorn:

snowfox:
snip

This video turns away peoples wallets on a daily basis it seems.

thats it, im not buying it

LMFAO!!!! Glad to be of help. After seeing this video, I can't help but wonder if they actually WATCHED the video before posting it somewhere.

They were at Parade Magazine, which, to my current knowledge, doesn't really deal with games that much? I could be wrong there, but what probably looked like having fun in their eyes, seems completely and utterly silly in the eyes of the gaming world.

Sadly though it's too late, it's posted online and people are already making techno remixes of it.

What makes me giggle the most though, is that kid in the orange shows up and moves a little and then looks back at the lady like "What in the hell is wrong with you?" That says a lot more about Natal than the actual crazy lady in my opinion.

Why do I feel that M$ are trying to make this thing look like a raving party is going to happen in your house, when the reality is that people will more than likely pay money for a little gadget that will more than likely not work right or brick after a few months of play.

Personally, I prefer the boring demo's than the lively ones, I'd actually like to see what the product does rather than get swept along in meaningless hype.

Yep, they got nothin'.

At least when Nintendo unveiled the Wii they had a tech demo of how you could play Metroid Prime with the Wiimote, and I prefer the Wii controls over the Gamecube controls.

If this was anything other than a gimmick to draw in suckers... I mean the general public... they would have a demo of Gears of War or Halo.

snowfox:
snip

Sadly though it's too late, it's posted online and people are already making techno remixes of it.

where? i must see this!

Sounds like worst-case scenario for the technology: it's Wii 2.0! Yay! Give microsoft all your money! ;)

The tai chi thing makes me rage, apart from that, wii for the 360 and the possibility of something good, meeh, roll on move so it can try and do the same

I bet it'll sell well, just to spite my hate of the stupid piece of shit.

Kinect?

Hmm, I was hoping they'd announce an actual controller (something to match Move's promised precison), this all seems far too casual party game stuff. Was any video taken of this even or will we just have to go by journalists descriptions?

I've just been watching e tv spots for "this". The expression reflected in my iPad said it all to from me. Utter horror. Kinect must die....same goes for move.

snowfox:

RvLeshrac:

snowfox:
Seems like they're going above and beyond to make their new toy seem worthy of our money, but at the same time failing in the process due to the important factor of what appears to be shovelware.

They should make all these lil minigame things come free or atleast fairly cheap with the components and then make room for real games, instead of trying pose the mini games off as real games. That way they at least try to avoid the issues the Wii is still having after all these years.

I'd think it was worth my money if they spent more time making it affordable than they did cash making it look good.

I understand WHY they are trying so hard to make it look good.

This video turns away peoples wallets on a daily basis it seems.

My eyes... They bleed...

Also, I think kinect is going to be a spetacular failure.

snowfox:

RvLeshrac:

snowfox:
Seems like they're going above and beyond to make their new toy seem worthy of our money, but at the same time failing in the process due to the important factor of what appears to be shovelware.

They should make all these lil minigame things come free or atleast fairly cheap with the components and then make room for real games, instead of trying pose the mini games off as real games. That way they at least try to avoid the issues the Wii is still having after all these years.

I'd think it was worth my money if they spent more time making it affordable than they did cash making it look good.

I understand WHY they are trying so hard to make it look good.

This video turns away peoples wallets on a daily basis it seems.

I would rather burn all my money, quit and never handle currency of any kind ever again then pay for that.

I'll go farther, I'll start living in a cave and Shun all technology for e rest if my life then be in the same room as that.

Treblaine:
Kinect?

Hmm, I was hoping they'd announce an actual controller (something to match Move's promised precison), this all seems far too casual party game stuff. Was any video taken of this even or will we just have to go by journalists descriptions?

A "Controller" is just to make you feel good about it. The controller serves absolutely no purpose that couldn't be better served with an LED or brightly-coloured dot.

RvLeshrac:

Treblaine:
Kinect?

Hmm, I was hoping they'd announce an actual controller (something to match Move's promised precison), this all seems far too casual party game stuff. Was any video taken of this even or will we just have to go by journalists descriptions?

A "Controller" is just to make you feel good about it. The controller serves absolutely no purpose that couldn't be better served with an LED or brightly-coloured dot.

and the all important Kinetic Feedback and precision, which are a necessity for good games.

RvLeshrac:

Treblaine:
Kinect?

Hmm, I was hoping they'd announce an actual controller (something to match Move's promised precison), this all seems far too casual party game stuff. Was any video taken of this even or will we just have to go by journalists descriptions?

A "Controller" is just to make you feel good about it. The controller serves absolutely no purpose that couldn't be better served with an LED or brightly-coloured dot.

Well I never gave a damn about rumble if you're talking about haptic feedback.

I'm talking about having, you know, a depth trigger for precision acceleration/braking, ACTUAL buttons for precise triggering of things like firing your virtual weapon.

I wasn't expecting them to COPY Move, maybe they could re-introduce the good old Xbox 360 controller, only have a special clip-on battery pack with lines on it so the camera is ultra precise at detecting it's position in space.

I mean I don't want to play through ANY shooter or platformer having to keep my arms elevated in the air making desperate gestures

And I'm not interested in dancing or "whack the ball in the hole" games. If I want to dance, I'll rock out to my own tune.

While I'm at it, when it comes to dancing games I don't like the concept behind Kinect as in "dance the WAY we expect you" as restrictive. I prefer the Dance Dance Revolution mechanism, you have the OBJECTIVE of hitting your feet but the CONTROL of how you do that is up to you.

Susan Arendt:
NeoPets.

Man, I used to be so obsessed with that site... I had this adorable little green dragon-thing, I think it was called a Shoyru.

Sounds like an amazing show but the way you put it it sounds like Wiitoo much. Well, I reserve my judgement 'till it comes out. Unless it's 150 in Europe, then I rather buy a Wii for that.

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