Although the E3 electronics expo has seen its share of ups and downs in recent years, for all intents and purposes the convention was brought back from the edge of death this year by a video game industry that learned the hard way last year that saving up all your releases and big announcements for the Christmas shopping season is not always the best way to go. A lot of good games got lost in the Christmas shopping shuffle and underperformed at the cash register.
There were a lot of incredible displays this year, and a few mind-blowing announcements.
Microsoft, which used their keynote to confirm Windows 7 for October 22 - mark that date on your calendars - also showed off a new not-ready-for-primetime peripheral for the Xbox 360 that could actually compete with the Wii's unique wand controller. Third-party companies will be releasing wands for the 360 at some point this year, but the new technology may be a little better than that.
It's called Project Natal at this point, and it's basically a microphone, camera, infrared camera and infrared emitter bundled into a sensor bar setup that can follow your motions and that will recognize faces and voices, etc. The theory is that your body becomes the controller, kicking, punching, bobbing and weaving while the camera tracks your motions in real time.
There are a few demo games that Microsoft showed off for testers at E3, including a game where you bounce balls off a wall with your hands, and a racing game where you steer by moving your hands on an invisible steering wheel, accelerate and brake by moving your feet back and forth, and shift by moving your hands.
The technology is still in early days, but their demo video showed other applications as well. In one a boy pretends to skateboard while his on-screen avatar mimics his moves. In another a family sits on a couch and plays a quiz game, moving arms to buzz in and then using voice recognition to register their answers.
This is revolutionary technology, and it has to be far enough along that Microsoft felt comfortable showcasing it at E3 where no doubt Sony and Nintendo were watching carefully.
Project Natal will never replace the joystick, there are just too many buttons for movements to replace, but I'm curious to see how this technology can be implemented into games like first person shooters or sports games like football, basketball and hockey. As well, game manufacturers Epic and Bungie are reportedly looking at the technology to incorporate it in future games.
It's safe to say that Project Natal stole the show at E3 this year, but other Microsoft announcements - including HD movie downloads, support for Facebook and Twitter, full game downloads, etc. on Microsoft Live were also well received. It didn't come up, but there are rumours that you'll also be able to access your Last.FM playlists through your Xbox 360 in the future - not that I would ever use the loudest console in history as a media player.