For my coverage of Microsoft's E3 highlights, let's just shine a spotlight on the elephant in the room. We all saw this coming, we just weren't sure how. The Xbox is getting motion control. In a promo video that looked suspiciously like a Wii commercial, Microsoft revealed Project Natal, the code name for their new motion and sound sensing technology. The video showed a typical American family (or at least what marketing execs like to assume is the typical American family) gathering around the TV, playing a variety of games, from racing and fighting, to sports and trivia, without using any controllers.
The trick is a device by the TV that looks like a Wii Sensor Bar with cybernetic enhancements (which leads me to wonder where I'm supposed to put this thing when I already have my Wii hooked up). This device contains a stereo camera and a microphone. Apparently the device has facial and voice recognition abilities, and only sees objects that are moving (like a T. Rex?). The binocular vision allows it to perceive depth and therefore, distance. It also can read body movement and position, creating a form of motion capture. No word yet on release date or price, but I'd wager this holiday season for $50-75. I can't say I'm wholeheartedly for or against this move, but if it works the way they claim it does, it could be interesting to say the least.
Microsoft also announced partnerships with Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm, plus long-overdue enhancements to their NetFlix app., including a movie party mode. Of course, these are all geared towards the casual/non-gamers (most of whom, I'd argue, probably already own a Wii and are not interested in throwing down $200-300 for another game system). For the hardcore gamers, we get two Halo games from Bungie: the previously announced and indefinitely delayed Halo 3: ODST, and a new game entitled Halo: Reach, which looks to be a prequel to the existing Halo games. They also released a trailer for the long-awaited Alan Wake. I know very little about this game, execept that it's from Remedy Entertainment, the developers of Max Payne and Max Payne 2, and I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be an Xbox 360 launch title.
Aside from Project Natal and Halo: Reach, Microsoft didn't really drop any megatons as far as I'm concerned, but it certainly wasn't a bad showing. I'll wait and see what Natal has to offer before passing judgement. Like anything else, it's not the technology that's important, but how it's used. Motion controls in recent years have been hit or miss. Just look at all the crap we've seen for the Wii and the EyeToy/PlayStation Eye.
So that will wrap up my Microsoft E3 highlights. I'll hopefully be back tomorrow with a new post on Sony's big announcements.