Monday, 14 June 2010

'Project Natal' Evolves Into Kinect

At last year’s E3, Microsoft gave us a tantalising glimpse at their entry into the world of motion control gaming with ‘Project Natal’, a control system which foregoes the actual use of a physical controller and instead places you, the user, as way of directly manipulating the action on-screen. The demos for the unit showed members of the associated press and readers alike just how much further the concept of motion could be pushed, taking the game literally into the living room. Finally that concept has been given a name.

Last night at their Cirque-du-Soleil event in Los Angeles Microsoft pulled back the curtain on ‘Project Natal’, revealing the final name for the device as the ‘Kinect’ referencing both motion and the idea of bringing people together for new gameplay experiences. They also showed off the final ‘Kenect’ hardware, which looked smaller, and slightly sleeker than the early prototypes demonstrated at previous events.

A list of titles for the ‘Kinect’ was announced, with games varying from family sports titles, a multi-game action title, a racing game, and a virtual pet simulator of sorts.

First was Kinect Sports, in which MS showed off bowling, tack and field, soccer, and volleyball. It appears to be direct competitor to Nintendo’s Wii Sports, but somewhat more advanced, although not always completely accurate with some journos sighting a lack of 1:1 movement and lag as the main cause.

Next up Kinect Adventures. This looks to be a compilation of on-rails action mini-games, and both a rafting game and mine-cart ride were shown. The aim of the title appears to be collecting various goodies by reaching out to grab them whilst maintaining the speed of the raft or cart. Jumping speeds up the raft, and at certain points in either game players have to strike a pose for the camera adding to the fun.

Kinectimals is the resident virtual pet game for the device, featuring an array of big cats instead of cute little pooches and bizarre fictional critters. Users were able to pet and play with the on-screen cats, along with trying to teach them tricks and throwing them a ball. It looks like a glorified Nintendogs-meets-Invisimals from what I can see, definitely something that could catch on with younger gamers.

Kinect Yoga & Tai Chi was Microsoft’s answer to Nintendo’s Wii fit. The demo shown saw an avatar guiding you through how to do certain moves, and an outline of yourself next to it demonstrated how well you were doing. From what we’ve heard, the Kinect’s full body tracking will allow far more precision in the game’s monitoring of your movements compared what is available with the Wii fit and balance board, although only a sample of stuff was shown.

Joy Ride was the obligatory racing game, though apparently one of the least impressive of all the titles showcased. A simple arcade racer, you hold your hands out like you would when holding and real steering wheel and turn them to move left and right. Leaning in either direction pulls off a powerslide of sorts, and waving your arms around makes you do tricks.

Dance Central: Self-explanatory really. The game uses the camera to track your moves as you attempt to follow the prompts on-screen.

By far the most interesting title revealed though (and the one likely to be most wanted by hardcore gamers at the event) was non-other than a compatible Star Wars game.

Kinect: Star Wars visually looks much like the Clone Wars CG series aired on Sky, and is an on-rails light sabre battling experience. The player looks to be moved around on-screen automatically whilst they wave their arms around to perform Light Sabre slashes, (blaster shots can be repelled like in the films) and can use force powers by thrusting their hands back and forth. The demo ends in a cool duel against lead villain Darth Vader.

Outside of compatible games, Microsoft also revealed a brand new Dashboard interface that used the ‘Kinect’. Various applications such as Facebook, Twitter and a program that allowed both photo sharing and video chat with friends were shown. Icons on-screen showing the different programs could be selected by simply pointing at them, and control once in the selected program was handled using motion and gestures with the ‘Kinect’

Lastly, Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda announced that the ‘Kinect’, along with six separate software titles would see a release on 4th November in the US with a worldwide launch thereafter. No indications of pricing structure or a hardware and software pack were revealed, with such information likely to be forthcoming closer to launch.

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