Microsoft were the first to bat at this year’s E3 videogame expo, before its official Tuesday opening (following Nintendo and Sony’s own presentations), with both the bacchanalia of Sunday night’s Cirque du Soleil-headlined event to reveal the final form of its motion-control system now known as Kinect, and with this morning’s press conference to show what the next year has in store for their flagship Xbox 360. Here’s a quick rundown of what we learned:
1.) Microsoft are releasing a new, slimmer Xbox 360 model this week.
The new model, simply being referred to by Microsoft as The New Xbox 360, will be sold at the same $299 price-point as the current Xbox 360 Elite, but will increase the hard drive size from 120 to 250gb, and come standard with a built-in WiFi adapter.
2.) Microsoft are banking on motion-interface Kinect to make the Xbox 360 a new “family console” choice.
Previously known as Natal, Kinect is a motorized camera and motion sensing bar that adds a controller-free gestural interface to the Xbox 360, due for release in North America on November 4th for a yet-unannounced price. On the console level, Kinect will add both voice and virtual touch controls to the 360′s interface, as well as face recognition — selecting your profile amongst the many on your console was demonstrated by simply facing the camera and waving.
Their hope, it seems, is to further expand the role and the image of the 360 as a “hardcore” game console, make it a necessary center-point of the living room by adding more content partners like ESPN (no sign of the previously much-rumored Hulu), and become a true rival to Nintendo’s all-ages-marketed Wii, though:
3.) Microsoft do owe at least a small debt to Nintendo’s foundation family lineup.
The initial lineup of software for Kinect will sound vaguely familiar: bowling, boxing and track and field events in Kinect Sports, and the motion-controlled mini-games in Kinect Adventure all follow closely in the footsteps of Wii Sports/Resort and Wii Fit.
Kinectimals, a virtual jungle-cat pet sim developed by Elite & LostWinds creators Frontier, contains more than a few traces of the paws-on-the-screen virtual affection of Nintendogs (though, having brought a child on stage to show off its pre-teen appeal, it did come off as the most honest and genuinely affecting demo of the entire presentation).
Other games demonstrated included Ubisoft fitness package Your Shape, racing games both casual and core with Kinect Joy Ride and Forza, and Dance Central — a full-body dance-battle game from Rock Band creators Harmonix (no strangers to dance games, having previously added Dance Dance Revolution steps to Konami’s Karaoke Revolution Party), set to feature music by Lady Gaga and M.I.A.
4.) Microsoft want you to know that despite all this they haven’t given up on the “core” gamer.
Having rested much of their E3 presence on pushing the 360 as a mainstream device, Microsoft spent the rest of the presentation on triple-A titles: new Gears of War, Call of Duty, Halo and Fable sequels, and Metal Gear Rising, Konami’s sword-play focused side-story that provided the only true moment of levity to the lineup, as franchise star Raiden carefully sliced and diced a watermelon with the same sword he’d previously used to cut a van (and numerous soldiers) in two.
Not so much as a word came on Xbox Live Arcade or Indies, nor whether the latter will have access to the Kinect SDK to come up with their own gestural games, though presumably we’ll see much more of that on the show floor when the E3 expo properly opens tomorrow.
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