Thursday, 17 June 2010

E3: Microsoft

I'm gonna have a look at each of the big manufacturers in turn, starting with Microsoft and their hardware announcements.

With 70 million units sold worldwide, the Nintendo Wii has regularly trounced its competitors in terms of consoles shipped since it's launch in 2006. The console tapped into a market that hadn't been given serious attention up until then, namely the casual gamer. It seems that Microsoft and Sony have decided to wade into this territory and take the biggest bite they can out of the Wii's target market.

At E3, Microsoft took the opportunity to officially announce their motion controller project, hitherto known as Project Natal, officially called Kinect (see, its a play on the word Kinetic and Connect, because it has motion and social interaction capabilities. Clever marketers.)

It seems that Microsoft looked at the Wii and wondered how they could come up with something even more innovative than the Japanese motion controller. And innovate they did.

Kinect is a "controller-free gaming and entertainment experience" according to Microsoft, the important words there being 'controller-free'. That's right, Kinect will read your entire body motions and allow you to interact with games without the need for any wand, nunchuck, or funny remote control-type thing with a bubble on the end of it.

Using motion sensors, camera and a microphone, as well as a powered 'motorized tilt mechanism', Kinect allows users to interact with games using gestures, spoken commands and software-specific objects. Incidentally, if you purchase the new model XBox 360 (see below), you won't need an independent power source as Kinect will use the new, dedicated USB port.

The potential for this tech is astounding. So far the number of features it offers is quite staggering, and would seriously tempt me into purchasing both an Xbox 360 and Kinect.

For example, the built in microphone allows you to turn on your Xbox using your voice. It also functions as a voice activated remote control for the XBox DVD functionality, allowing you to stop, pause, rewind etc. Imagine the potential for annoyance if your family is watching High School fucking Musical 3 on a Kinect-enabled Xbox 360...

One thing Kinect can't do very well apparently is detect sitting down gamers, which doesn't surprise me, seeing as it uses digital skeleton mapping to work. The flip side, and a really nifty ass feature, is that the Kinect can look at the bone structure of a player and ascertain whether or not they are a child and adjust the difficulty of a game on the fly. Kneeling down won't work, because the system will be able to notice you're missing a leg joint. As I type this I can hear DUH-DUN DUN DUN, DUH-DUN DUN DUN playing and I imagine this was how SkyNet began...

There's very little decent video of the system at work on the interwebs, but I'm sure this will change as the November 4 release date approaches.

Yes, you too can be a jumping woman with the power of Kinect

There will be 15 games available at launch:

Kinect Adventures -
A game about adventures, like kayaking, mountain biking, and Nazi war crime re-enactments
Kinectimals -
Kind of like Nintendogs, except with bigger animals, and much more fulfilling, intimate relationships
Kinect Joy Ride -
Steal a car! Drive it around! Now burn it out! Predicted to be very popular in West Belfast
Kinect Sports -
Wii Sports
Dance Central -
A dancing game, very different to the Wii's Let's Dance
Your Shape: Fitness Evolved -
A game about personalised geometry. An alternative version for Creationists will be released called Your Shape: Fitness the way God made it
EA Sports Active 2 -
An imaginitively titled sequel to the first game, Sports Active
Deca Sports Freedom -
Allows you to simulate hurdles with your bollocks hanging out like a baboon
Dance Masters -
Very different to Dance Central
Adrenalin Misfits -
I honestly don't have a fucking clue
Sonic Free Riders -
Hedgehog-based orgy game
Zumba Fitness -
Apparently Zumba is a dance program designed to make exercise fun. To me, Zumba sounds like some sort of OAP sex aid
The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout -
For those who like to pump 'ron and share showers with members of the same sex
Motion Sports -
Another fucking sports game
Game Party: In Motion -
Dunno about this one, but its title makes it sound awesome. 'Game' and 'Party'? I love to do both those things. What's that? AND it's In Motion? £40? Shit, I should be paying you for this.

Ok, so those titles do sound a little bit Wii, no? I was hoping for something a bit more original. But I suppose they shot all their innovation spunk with the controller and only had a dribble left for the games. Ah well, hopefully Child of Eden will be special. Oh, and I don't think there is enough sports games in that list, make another dozen will ya?

Whilst I will be interested to see what happens with this thing, Steve Ballmer
has already referred to it as the 'next Xbox'. Hey Microsoft, don't get so caught up with this motion-controlled casual malarkey that you forget the gamers that made the Xbox a success. We like to play games sitting on our asses.

The Kinect will launch in the US on November 4, with a somewhat ludicrous price tag of $149.

The other big announcement for Microsoft was the launch of a new, slimmer XBox 360.

Normally, dolled up re-releases of existing tech piss my tits right off, but I'll forgive Microsoft because they don't rip the piss out of it like Nintendo and Sony do, likely because they don't cater as heavily toward the Japanese market.

But maybe Sony and Nintendo should pay a bit of attention to their Yank counterparts, because this version has some nice little upgrades.

First off, it comes with a 250 Gb hard drive. Now that isn't anything completely fucking out of this world, but it is a fairly decent size. Also, the hard drive is a lot smaller and sleeker but still a proprietary add-on, so if you want to upgrade in the future expect to pay through the nose for it. Also, with the new model, support for proprietary memory cards has been removed.

More importantly, the new model will feature built in Wi-Fi, something Xbox owners have been banging on about for ages. The existing Wi-Fi adapter, like all Microsoft accessories, is extremely expensive.

To boot, it will also feature a HDMI output(but no fucking HDMI cable will be supplied. Again.), be much quieter and will also have a powered USB slot, designed exclusively for use with Kinect, removing the need for an independent power supply for that semi-sentient device.

The new model is due to launch immediately, priced around the $300 mark, with $50 being taken off the old style model.

On a final note, every person who attended the Microsoft E3 press conference received a new style Xbox 360.

For free.

Motherfucking free-loading, schmoozing games journalists.

How I wish I could be one.

Next blog post will be on Sony's E3 offerings. Bet you can't wait.

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