Bolstered by record sales, Microsoft is betting big on Kinect this year with a slew of new games and deeper integration with the Xbox 360 dashboard. Kinect dominated the discussion at Microsoft's E3 press conference, and was the main attraction at its booth on the show floor, where I checked out some of the upcoming games first-hand.
Microsoft has been tweaking the Kinect software, and that has allowed developers to add more nuance to their motion controls. In Kinect Sports Season Two, players will be able to throw darts with more accurate hand-tracking or put spins and slices on their shots in tennis, according to Scott Henson, studio head of developer Rare. Season Two's E3 demo was also the first example of a golf game working on Kinect.
Another demo, for Kinect Disneyland Adventures, was the first time I've seen open-world movement in a Kinect game. Players are able to roam the entire Disneyland theme park with a control scheme that mimics childhood excitement -- you simply point at where you want to go, and your avatar walks in that direction. Players can turn around by twisting their shoulders, and when full-arm pointing gets too tiresome, players can simply aim from the hip instead. This setup won't work well for fast action games, but it does show that free roaming of virtual worlds is possible with Kinect.
The other big step forward came from Dance Central 2, which will allow two players to bust a move together. If only one player is dancing at the start of a song, a second player can hop in mid-song and raise one hand to get detected by Kinect. The system seemed to work well, though I was admittedly too chicken to jump in while throngs of attendees watched from outside Microsoft's transparent demonstration bubble.
Microsoft wants to show off other possibilities for Kinect without releasing full games, and so it's also launching Kinect Fun Labs, a collection of diversions that use the motion-sensing camera in weird ways. In one demo, an avatar scanner created a lifelike bobblehead version of a fellow writer, and in another, I scanned a real-life plush monster onto a virtual stage by holding its front and back sides up to the camera. Users will be able to scan any object that isn't too large or too small for the camera. According to Microsoft representatives, publishers are already bringing some of the ideas from Fun Labs into future games.
Kinect's new moves weren't all perfect. While I wanted to be excited for Kinect Star Wars, the slow response time between swinging my arm and executing a slash of the light saber made the action feel unnatural. Players can compensate for the lag with slow, smooth motions, but feel like a Jedi this does not. Regardless, this game is going to sell like crazy.