• Microsoft's E3 2010 Keynote, Pt. 2

        Making your avatar wave goodbye to your hobby

        Microsoft's new favorite child, Project Natal, was officially renamed "Kinect", a move which makes Sony's choice of "Move" seem positively brilliant. The concept was no doubt to create a name that would give you the sense of "connection" between you and your Xbox 360; all I can think of is 80's products and children's toys. I also can't help but think there's some sly connection between this name and Redmond's new portable wireless thingamajig "Kin"; no doubt, somebody in Microsoft thought that was an especially clever idea.
        The very first thing I notice is something most people didn't even give a second though to: a revised user interface! It's the current interface, but different. Instead of the floating boxes of content and ads being in a weird skewed row, they're flattened out and placed side-by-side. These are the little surprises that I love the most. There wasn't much time to see the new interface - we were quickly whisked over to the Kinetic-specific UI - but I'm eager to see what revisions Microsoft has come up with.
        Before we're shown what we'll be playing, we're given a taste of how Kinetic will help change the interface experience. Now, you can wave your hands around like you're in Minority Report, and talk to your Xbox 360 like you've got a Mac Quadra running System 7! What I start to notice, however, is that either Microsoft is shit at user interface - and, to be fair, we have countless years of Windows as perfect examples of that - or Natal isn't quite the wunderkind we've been lead to believe it is. Why am I moving "pages" left and right by virtually grabbing a button on the side of my screen and pulling it? Why are so many option selections done by hovering my hand over an item for a set amount of time? If the biggest selling point of gesture-based interfaces is being how natural and easy it is to use they are, why does this feel more like something I'd expect on a pen-based tablet?

        From here, we're shown "stuff". ESPN is coming to Xbox Live. Free, huh? That makes me think we won't be getting much of real value. Girls can video chat while watching the Avatar: The Last Airbender, or, judging by the options on the screen, browsing for porn on Bing. Gaming colleague Heather noted on Twitter that MS brought out girls when they could be shown doing "non-gaming activities"; I noticed how wonderfully stereotypical gamertags like "Lollip0p" and "Velveteen" were, and then cursed myself for not having snagged them first.

        I'm too lazy and uninterested to go into detail concerning the Kinect-powered games, but what I do want to briefly touch on is the overall feeling the cavalcade of waving and jumping produced inside of me. Microsoft promised that Kinect (I swear every time I try to type that name I want to call is something different) would be something beyond the efforts of the other two console makers, and that this hot new technology would allow for drastically different methods of gameplay. And yet, as I watched the videos and demonstrations, I swore I had been here before. I wanted to see the ways in which this dual-lensed camera system could bring me gaming experiences unlike those I've had; the crazy possibilities and potential of a game that can track my exact moments and do... well, I don't know what, but something with them. What did we get? An hour that felt eerily like a Nintendo conference that would've taken place years ago, and gameplay that I was able to take part in back on the god-damn NES Power Pad.

        Microsoft has positioned Kinect as such a defining moment in gaming that it'll be the relaunch of the Xbox 360 platform, and they officially kicked it off with what has to be some of the most utterly uninspired and well-worn gaming experiences I've ever seen. As much as my BS meters went off as Peter Molyneux promised I'd be able to interact in amazing ways with a virtual orphan, at least we were being shown something that dared to dream a little! Almost every game we were shown today felt like a glorified tech demo or mini game collection; or, in the case of the Kinect-supporting Forza tile that was featured, a combination of both. No "core" gamer in his or her right mind walked away from this briefing with a burning interest in Kinect, and the folks at Microsoft have to be out of their minds if they think this is going to have the Wii market busting down store doors to get a peripheral at launch.

        Wii was new, it was different, it gave non-gamers something to talk about and have fun with, and very importantly, it was extremely cheap compared to the rest of the gaming options that were out there. Microsoft didn't let the final price for Kinect slip today - not a good sign, by the way - but talk is that not only will it not be under $100, but that it could be as much as $150 or more. With the cheapest Xbox 360 model at $200, unless we're going to have some seriously bundling going on, the price between a fully-Kinected (HAHA!) Xbox 360 and the Wii is going to be substantial.

        Not that I have any internal information at Microsoft that would at all support this crazy theory, but the recent departures of both Robbie Bach and J. Allard from Microsoft make me wonder. The direction of the Xbox 360 seems to have changed recently, and I can't help but think there's possibly been a shift in mentality on how it all should be handled. This conspiracy theory is supported by the one legit "big surprise" today, the new Xbox 360 Slim (or whatever they're going to officially call it). After getting teased mercilessly for the design of the original Xbox, the Xbox team put a large amount of time and effort into creating a console design for the 360 hardware that would look stylish and sophisticated. With the new Xbox 360, all of those ideas seems to have been tossed out the window in exchange for something that looks "leet" and "xtreme" and which comes sponsored by Alienware. In conjunction with the release of a new add-on meant to target the casual and "grandma" segments of the population, Microsoft reveals a new console design that looks even less like a living room lifestyle device. Brilliant.

        (Microsoft then, in a very strange Oprah-esque moment, announced that they were giving everybody in a crowd one of the new Xbox 360s for free. As ugly as it is, my taste in design will always be trumped by my love for free stuff, thus my dismay at not having gone. Oh, and for the people crying and moaning about journalists getting a free Xbox 360: shut up, seriously.)

        The reason the Wii worked is that Nintendo has creativity and imagination, and can make magic happen where there's no way it should. (Hell, look what they did with a portable device that was little more than a GameBoy Advance with a Palm Pilot screen glued onto it.) Microsoft, on the other hand, has time and time again shown that they couldn't innovate if their life depended on it; which is funny because, looking at the technology market today, one might say it now does. Today was Kinect's moment to shine, and watching its moment on stage was quite like watching Bob Dole take a nosedive into the crown on an endless loop.

        If Microsoft wants Kinect to be the next big thing, we need to be shown experiences that can only happen thanks to Kinect and which truly take advantage of its space-age NASA technology.

        ...yeah, okay, so that fitness thing could be pretty cool, if for no other reason than to fulfill my dream of losing weight while pretending to be a flaming orange human blob. Other than that, though, seriously. Yawn.
        This article was originally published in blog: Microsoft's E3 2010 Keynote Part 2: Making Your Avatar Wave Goodbye to Your Hobby started by shidoshi
        Comments 1 Comment
        1. Detour's Avatar
          Detour -
          You summed up my thoughts on the whole thing perfectly. I ride the line between casual and core, so I was willing to be open minded and hoping that Nat... I mean, Kinect, would offer something unique, something that I had never seen before. Unfortunately, what I got was a series of tech demos and a suspicious feeling that the tech may not be quite as revolutionary as they had originally made out (WHAT A SHOCK!). It really does remind me of the Wii remote - getting it home, firing up Zelda and realizing that my flailing sword swings weren't being translated to the game, but merely emulating a button press.

          I had thought of shared-video-bing-porn-parties though, so maybe I will still pick one up.
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