Let’s start with the coolest bit of news straight from Redmond. Microsoft is pushing out a Star Wars-themed Xbox 360 bundle to celebrate to release of Star Wars Kinect. The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars bundle includes an R2-D2-themed Xbox 360 console with custom sounds, a C-3PO-themed golden wireless controller, a white Kinect sensor, a 320GB HDD, a wired headset, and copies of Star Wars Kinect and Kinect Adventures. The bundle’s price: $449.99. It’s available for preorder today, comes out this fall.
Next up is the Xbox 360 Wireless Headset with Bluetooth. The sleek new headset connects to the Xbox through the console’s standard radio frequencies, and since it packs Bluetooth functionality it can double as a regular old BT headset and pair with your mobile phone and computer. The communication device goes on sale early November 2011 and will cost $59.99. Jump after the break to watch Major Nelson give a quick tour of the packaging.
Also announced was the Xbox 360 Media Remote. Media playback controls include play/pause, skip forward, fast forward, skip back, fast back, and display to control DVD, CD, or streamed media. The TV controls include power on/off, volume up/down, mute and TV input. The Xbox 360 Media Remote’s menu navigation controls include A, B, X, Y buttons, D-pad navigation, back and select. Live TV, if provided on the Xbox 360 by your TV service provider, can also be controlled with the remote. It’ll cost $19.99 when it comes out alongside the wireless headset this November.
And last, but certainly not least, is Avatar Kinect. Explains Microsoft: “Avatar Kinect is a new social entertainment experience that brings your avatar to life. Avatar Kinect captures your facial expressions and voice so when you smile, nod or speak, your avatar does the same. Invite up to seven friends to join you in 24 imaginative virtual stages – discuss the latest celebrity gossip or news on the Talk Show Stage, try out your hysterical comedy routine on the Performance Stage, or wager who will win the big game in the Sports Party Stage.” The experience gets even more social as the Kinect sensor can record your sessions and you can upload them to KinectShare.com, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. After the break you’ll find a short video demonstrating the software’s abilities.
Also out is Kinect Sparkler, a fun Kinectified app that “transforms simple finger painting into an aerial light show” using advanced finger tracking. Kinect Avatar and Kinect Sparkler are out now; the former is free to all Xbox LIVE Gold members (it is unlocked for all Xbox LIVE members (Free or Gold) to enjoy from 7/25 to 9/8) and the latter costs 240 Microsoft Points. Both can be found in Kinect Fun Labs section in Xbox LIVE.
On Monday June 14 Microsoft hosted a pre-E3 event called World Premiere Project Natal for Xbox 360 Experience. It was described as “a spectacular live performance imagined by Cirque du Soleil” and that’s exactly what it was. Sort of. Here’s what went down.
So we get there and wait in an enormously long line. But that didn’t matter much since our tickets guaranteed entrance into the event. While waiting outside we could hear the faint sound of heavy drums, and as we neared the front doors “Cirque” people were there to greet us with exotic dancing. People in line received green and purple Xbox-branded wrist bands and we were eventually split up into two lines according to wrist band color.
As we start heading inside the jungle-themed Galen Center at USC we are handed yet another wristband; this time it’s an Xbox 360 USB band. Inside it’s rather dim when we’re welcomed by Xbox reps who are handing out white ponchos with over-sized shoulder pads (I felt like Lady Gaga). After bringing fitted with the ponchos, we are instructed to walk towards to large auditorium. On our way into the auditorium we are startled by an Indian “family” who is sitting in a couch inside a mock living room. There is a large square cut out in the wall and the family invites us to walk through the wall opening (which symbolized walking out of a TV and into reality). The two parents and their children said hello to us in some Indian dialect and then directed us into the main auditorium. You can say we were dazed and confused at this point.
The large auditorium housed all the white poncho-dressed guests; it looked like we were all part of some nerd cult. Before the main event, we all just stood around and watched a bunch of Cirque people bizarrely dance around us and interact with others. People with purple bands sat in the seats, those with green bands stood on the center floor. Around us were large screens populated with Xbox avatars walking around a virtual jungle.
After a bit of a wait the lights went down and the main event began. Three screens fell from the ceiling and a Cirque man introduced a “Prologue”. The first part of the show featured a child riding in on Cirque elephant, climbing up on prop rocks, and using an Xbox 360 controller to play through three undisclosed games. When he reached the top of the rocky structure a curtain was removed from the top rock and a bright green Xbox logo was revealed. Then our shoulder pads lit up bright green. Big applause. When the child turned his back to us the screen projected his avatar that copied his every move. When an arm was raised, the avatar lifted his arm in the same fashion. Since there was some lag, you could tell this was all pre-recorded, but the effect was still impressive. Then the big reveal: Project Natal is now Kinect.
With only a few hours left until Microsoft’s press conference at E3, USA Today managed to get a hold of (and leak) the final name for Project Natal. It’s called (drum roll please…) Kinect. Microsoft’s Major Nelson confirms it via Twitter. A number of casual games have been outed, too. Kinectimals lets you play with over 20 different virtual animals; Joyride lets you race with your avatars, controller-free of course; Kinect Sports features boxing, bowling, beach volleyball, track and field, soccer and table tennis; Kinect Adventures is a river rafting game with various obstacle courses to flail your arms and legs through; and MTV Games will make Dance Central. Disney and LucasArts are planned to unveil games featuring characters from their arsenal. In addition, the LA Times outed four games this morning (including Richochet, River Rush, Obstacle Course, and Living Statue) and spilled that “about a dozen more” Kinect-supported games will be unveiled by other developers during E3. It look like release date and pricing details will have to wait until tomorrow’s press conference.
Update: What appears to be a legit Italian Microsoft ad is boasting a new slimmer Xbox 360 console. It was originally spotted at Console-Tribe. The thirteen second spot lists features like a 250GB HDD, built-in WiFi (woot!), and compatibility with Kinect. That last sliver of info makes this ad feel all the more authentic. How could an imposter know about the Natal-to-Kinect transition when news of it just leaked out from USA Today? Interesting, I know. Well good news is that we won’t have to wait too long to see if this manifests itself into something tangible. Look after the break for the commercial.
Update #2: Official press shots of Kinect are out! So sleek and black and shiny. Go ahead, take a closer look in the gallery below.