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.
On Monday June 14 I will be attending the Microsoft pre-E3 event titled World Premiere Project Natal for Xbox 360 Experience. It’s described as “a spectacular live performance imagined by Cirque du Soleil.” The LA Times has the scoopt on what to expect at the Natal-themed event. Microsoft rented out USC’s Galen Center for three weeks so a cast including 80 performers “supported by a crew of more than 100 designers, set builders, engineers and seamstresses” could properly prepare for what hopes to be a fantastical and visually stunning performance.
But what does Cirque du Soleil have to do with motion-sensing hardware for a video games console? Though the 45-minute long event is being kept under wraps, show director Michel Laprise had this to say about the theme: “It’s a story about humanity, about a quest and about overcoming obstacles. In history, there have been discoveries that have made us leap forward as a civilization. But those technologies demanded that we master their language, the language of machines. This time, it’s the machine that’s adapting. The human is at the center, doing what comes naturally. Moving, jumping, talking. And it’s up to the machine to interpret what that means.”
Microsoft would not disclose how much this secretive spectacular cost them. Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg said, “This is a massive investment for Microsoft. For us, it wasn’t about the money. It was about creating an experience that would be remembered forever.”
In an FAQ, Microsoft states that “some seating areas of the event are a standing experience” and they “recommend comfortable shoes.” Whether that means the event is part show/part hands-on Natal, I’m not so sure. For those of you not attending the event and want to see how it all unfolds, don’t fret! Check back this space tomorrow evening to read all about what happened at the event. And if that’s not enough for you, MTV will air a commercial-free condensed program covering the event on Tuesday June 15 at 3:30PM (ET). It will re-air on Nick at Nite, mtvU, MTV Hits, and Logo Tuesday, June 15 at 9:00PM (ET). (In related news, SPIKE TV will air an exclusive televised stream of the Microsoft press conference (called “Xbox 360: The Future Revealed”) tomorrow June 14 at 1:30-3:00PM (ET).)
Here’s the scoop, Coop. Details surrounding the anticipatory launch of Microsoft’s codenamed Project Natal has apparently been leaked from a “behind-closed-door meetings in the UK between Microsoft and third party developers.” According to the leak source, Natal will launch in November 2010 from a low, low price anywhere between $50-$80, thus making it quite the “impulse buy.” Natal will come packaged with an initial set of 14 games. Microsoft will manufacture 5 million units (that includes standalone and bundled-with-Xb0x 360s units) for a worldwide launch. Pretty sweet if you ask me.
This week Bill Gates sat down with CNET for an engaging interview about physics lectures that Gates is releasing for the public to view for free. The Richard Feynman lectures are very interesting; they “take notions such as gravity and explain how they work and the broad implications they have in understanding the ways of the universe.” Although this is quite intriguing, the tech-related goodness forms near the end of the interview when Gates is asked to spill his thoughts on Google’s latest announcement concerning their Chrome OS.
Gates: “…there’s many, many forms of Linux operating systems out there, and packaged in different ways, and booted in different ways. So I don’t know anything in particular about what Google is doing. But, in some ways I’m surprised people are acting like there’s something new. I mean, you’ve got Android running on netbooks; it’s got a browser in it. In any case, you should make them be concrete about what they’re doing. It is kind of a typical thing. When Google is doing anything it gets this–the more vague they are, the more interesting it is.”
Later Gates is asked about his views on the current state of Microsoft, a company he left in the midst of a Vista crisis and a potential Windows 7 comeback. Gates says he recently visited the MS Cambridge labs and sees a bright future for Project Natal. Interestly, he lets on that the Natal camera technology will cover more than video games with the Xbox 360; it will evolve the computer interface as well. Exciting stuff. Brilliant man. Click the source link above to read the interview in its entirety.
Microsoft’s Project Natal is SO COOL. I cannot wait to get this thing. For the time being, though, the best we can all experience is watching others play with it as we sit back, jaw-dropped in envy. Watch Jimmy Fallon and his three guests play two demos on Natal, the Richocet game and Burnout Paradise. Microsoft’s Kudo Tsunoda was there to give instruction. [According to Engadget, the red jumpsuits were worn just for fun.]
Johnny Chung Lee is a Microsoft researcher and a recent graduate at Carnegie Mellon University with a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction. He is an insanely smart individual who has influenced the creation, manipulation, and eventual final product of Microsoft’s Project Natal for Xbox 360. He recently said:
“The human tracking algorithms that the teams have developed are well ahead of the state of the art in computer vision in this domain. The sophistication and performance of the algorithms rival or exceed anything that I’ve seen in academic research, never mind a consumer product. At times, working on this project has felt like a miniature “Manhattan project” with developers and researchers from around the world coming together to make this happen.”
To quote Gizmodo‘s Mark Wilson, “That quote’s more than just hype—it’s educated hype.” Back in 2007, Lee created a headtracking simulation with the Wiimote, creating an stunning 3D realm into a different realm (in this case, for video games). The video above is Lee’s creation with a commentary that explains his genious work. The point of all this…Microsoft has managed to employ Lee to help the company create and complete Project Natal, a technology that may forever change the way developers and consumers create and play video games. Exciting stuff. Check after the break for two additional videos of Lee’s past creations, “tracking fingers with the Wii-remote,” and “low-cost multi-point interactive whiteboard using the Wii-remote.” Interesting how Microsoft and not some other company whose console relies on motion controls happened to employ such a marvel in innovation.