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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 6, 2011 at 9:28 AM

E3: Microsoft Xbox gets Kinect action games, Disney, TV, YouTube

LOS ANGELES — Microsoft’s huge press event opening E3 this morning began with a demo of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” revealing a scuba sequence that was briefly interrupted by a “reconnect controller” message from the console.

The billion-dollar franchise is likely to be the biggest title on all consoles this year, but Microsoft followed up with a collection of new exclusives that are likely to keep the momentum of its Xbox and Kinect business going through the rest of the year.

Highlights of the event included a new Disney game that lets players explore a Disney theme park and take “rides” via the Kinect motion sensor. Players hold their arms out to soar through the Peter Pan ride and hop and sway through an Alice in Wonderland adventure.

A new “Star Wars” game for Kinect coming in November will let players swing their arms to fight with a light saber. Sci-fi fans are also getting a new version of “Mass Effect,” a polished up reissue of “Halo: Combat Evolved,” and, late in 2012, “Halo 4.”

Microsoft is updating its Kinect console to add more voice controls, including a new voice-controlled Bing Web search feature.

“The world’s greatest storytellers are redefining our industry,” Xbox boss Don Mattrick said. “Technologies that see us hear us and connect us all together are changing the way we interact and have fun.”

Apparently, the company is confident enough in the lineup of new content that it isn’t yet lowering the price of its console, which starts at $200, or the $150 Kinect controller. I’d thought a price cut was likely, given rebates of $25 to $50 that some retailers have been offering on the hardware. But there was no price discussion, and Mattrick said he expects the Xbox 360 will become the world’s best-selling console this year.

Mattrick also announced that new live TV services are coming to the Xbox, expanding on the ESPN service that’s already on the console, but there weren’t many details. Afterward a spokesman said the company will announce the TV providers later this year and the service will be available in the U.S. by the end of 2012.

In the “Modern Warfare” sequence shown, you swim up from below a ballistic missile sub and attach a mine to its hull, then shoot your way on board after it surfaces.

After the mission, the commandos zoom through a bay full of exploding ships and race their inflatable boat into the back of a waiting helicopter.

Then another demo began, for “Tomb Raider,” with a more realistic version of Lara Croft moaning and writhing in pain after a fall into a mine, then panting as she battles her way out through tunnels filled with water and lurking bad guys.

The cinematic game launches in fall of 2012.

Peter Moore, president of EA Sports and a former Xbox executive, came on next, joking that it “feels vaguely familiar.”

Moore talked up new Kinect versions of its big franchises, “Tiger Woods,” “Fifa” and “Madden” then started a demo of sci-fi blockbuster “Mass Effect 3,” which will work with the Kinect controller.

Gamers have been waiting to see how action games will work with Kinect.

The player demonstrating the capability in “Mass Effect 3” held a controller during the play and used voice commands to prompt dialogue — choosing which line to read from two options — then barked out voice commands to advance an assault.

Then Ubisoft showed how Kinect will work with “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.” The game has a feature called “gunsmith,” which lets players use gestures and voice controls to modify weapons. With gestures, a weapon can be disassembled and modified, and voice commands can be used to activate options such as “close combat.”

No action sequences were shown, but the player used hand gestures to aim and test fire the customized weapons. Ubisoft said all future versions of the game will be Kinect-enabled.

Microsoft’s Marc Whitten then showed updates to the Xbox Kinect console, including more voice controls for activating music and games.

Whitten announced one of the new partners but it’s a big one: Google’s YouTube is going to become a channel on Xbox Live.

Whitten said the company’s adding live TV services in the fall, controlled by voice commands via Kinect. Microsoft already works with some European cable companies that offer the console as a set-top box to customers. In the U.S., the TV services will be offered as applications on the console, like the ESPN streaming app that debuted last year.

Actor Ice T came on stage to demo “Gears of War 3,” in which he provided voice talent.

Microsoft is also releasing a “remastered” version of the original “Halo” game that it’s calling “Halo: Combat Evolved, Anniversary.” It’s going to be released Nov. 15.

The fall will also see the release of Microsoft’s “Forza Motorsport 4,” a hyper-realistic racing game that uses Kinect voice and headtracking controls. It’s going on sale Oct. 11.

Microsoft’s Peter Molyneux previewed “Fable: The Journey,” a new version of the company’s Middle Ages fantasy franchise that’s getting Kinect controls. In a sequence with a horse-drawn wagon, the player uses gestures to control the reins. To create magic fireballs, the player rubbed hands together to activate a glowing ball that was thrown at goblins with a tossing gesture in front of the sensor.

Maybe the company’s saving the best for last.

It just showed “Disneyland Adventures,” an Xbox exclusive that lets players explore the theme park and interact with characters via Kinect. It includes “rides” such as the Peter Pan ride at the park, which you fly through by extending yours arms in front of the controller.

“Kinect Star Wars” was shown next. The near realistic game is controlled with a mix of gestures, including swinging a light saber to fight, or holding up hands and using the force to levitate objects.

Continuing the family-friendly theme, the company demonstrated an interactive book/game called “Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster” that’s coming out in the fall.

A page in the book displayed on screen launched an action sequence with Elmo and Cookie Monster encountering a scary monster. Players wave their hands and mimic the monster’s stomping action to turn it into a cute and friendly creature. Then little pixies floating around the screen were “caught” with gestures, sparkling and poofing when caught.

Xbox Creative Director Kudo Tsunoda showed “Fun Labs,” a new addition to the Kinect menu that will showcase “innovations” by game companies and Kinect experiences created by users with Kinect development tools.

It’s a sort of sandbox for new Kinect activities, including “Kinect Me,” a tool Microsoft developed to create new Xbox Live avatars. Instead of assembling predrawn features to create a cartoon avatar, “Kinect Me” takes your photo and cartoonifies it.

Other features include a finger-tracking demo and a scanning tool that lets you scan items such as a toy car or stuffed animal. Once scanned, the item is animated on the screen. In a demo by Microsoft’s Shannon Loftis, a stuffed animal scanned into the system jumped and moved around when Loftis moved in front of the sensor.

Microsoft’s best-selling Kinect game, “Kinect Sports,” is getting a new version called “Season Two.” It adds new sports, including football, skiing and darts. During a demo of its golf game, the system tracked “full body gestures” during swings and had voice controls for switching clubs.

A new version of “Dance Central” is getting simultaneous multiplayer dancing, so two people can play against each other at once, instead of taking turns.

The event ended with a peek at “Halo 4.” Mattrick called it the first part of a “new trilogy” for the game. It’s being developed by Microsoft and its 343 Studios, since the company parted ways with Halo creator Bungie, and is expected to go on sale in the 2012 holiday season.

During the sequence shown, Halo’s Master Chief used a jet pack to zoom through a passageway in a spaceship, catching a floating pistol en route. He grabbed onto a portal before flying out into space, then watched a big iris close on a Death Star-like planet nearby.

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