Microsoft grabbed attention at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles this week before the event even began. Their Sunday presentation featuring Cirque du Soleil confirmed Project Natal's official name as Kinect. Then, the global media briefing on Monday (June 14) unveiled Microsoft's new motion controller's full range of media capabilities, as well as an Xbox Live partnership with ESPN, an exclusive "Call of Duty" agreement and demos for new games including "Halo: Reach" and an unnamed "Star Wars" title for Kinect, which will launch in the U.S. on November 4.
"A decade ago, we unveiled Xbox to the world, and this year, our 10th year, is the biggest year in Xbox history," Don Mattrick, Microsoft senior vice president of entertainment, proclaimed at the event. "It's the biggest year for blockbuster games. It's the year that movies, music, television and sports all come together on Xbox 360."
The Xbox-centered event featured a long list of guest speakers, just as it has in years past. Among this year's surprises were ESPN hosts Josh Elliott and Trey Wingo. The two "SportsCenter" anchors introduced their network's new face on Xbox Live, which will include a wide range of programming selections and commands made possible by Kinect.
"Sports fans will now have access to over 3,500 live and on-demand events, including college football, college basketball, Major League Baseball, the NBA, soccer and more," Wingo said.
Most of the offerings will be available in HD, according to Wingo and Elliott, who used a segment from last season's USC/ Ohio State football matchup to showcase Kinect's voice commands. Elliott proceeded to select his favored team and then call for instant replays on the fly.
Similar commands will be used for video viewing through Microsoft's Zune movie player on the 360. The E3 demo walked its audience through a series of options, including motion and voice actions that paused, played and otherwise replaced traditional push-button controls. Additionally, Microsoft integrated its movie player into a segment about the Video Kinect chat application that allows users to see each other and watch a movie simultaneously.
"Whether in the same room or separated by thousands of miles, communication with others is central to who we are as people," Marc Whitten, Xbox Live corporate vice president, explained. "It's why we've always believed in voice chat and party chat. It's why we've included a headset with many of the Xbox 360s and all of the Live starter packs we've sold, and now with Kinect, the same magic that allows you to control your Xbox 360 with your voice also allows you to communicate with the people you care about."
Whitten also announced that Xbox Live would be expanding on Microsoft's mobile operating system, allowing more access to many of its features.
"On Windows Phone 7, your friends, your avatars and your achievements will be with you wherever you go," Whitten stated. That news came with a new, smaller Xbox 360 reveal later in the program, as well as a list of exclusive Xbox Live agreements.
The updated Xbox 360 will be black and ship to retailers this week with a 250GB hard drive, internal wireless Internet capability and a $199 price tag.
The lineup of games Microsoft and its partners showed off introduced a handful of the 15 launch titles for Kinect. These included "Kinectimals," an animal-handling game featuring a pet tiger cub; "Kinect Sports," a "Wii Sports"-style collection of soccer, bowling, track and field, table tennis, boxing and volleyball competitions; a kart racing game called "Kinect Joy Ride," which was previously announced without a Kinect association; and "Kinect Adventures," a competition-based title using outdoor activities such as rafting.
Kinect will allow midgame photos to be taken of players while they interact with the motion system. Those shots can then be uploaded to various social-media channels.
"Call of Duty: Black Ops" received the biggest non-Kinect-game spotlight, as Mattrick announced "an exclusive multi-year agreement between Xbox and Activision." "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" recently saw its map packs get an early release on the 360. According to Mattrick, that will be the standard approach for all "Call of Duty" content in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
"Starting with the release of 'Black Ops' on November 9, all 'Call of Duty' add-ons and map packs will launch first on Xbox 360," he said.
The remainder of the program premiered demos of "Halo: Reach," "Metal Gear Solid: Rising," "Gears of War 3," a new Forza game, Harmonix's new Kinect-ready "Dance Central" title, Ubisoft's "Your Shape: Fitness Evolved" and finally an unnamed "Star Wars" game that will involve lightsaber combat using Kinect.
The new Xbox consoles will be the first of Microsoft's announced release to reach the general public this week, though most of the announcements won't fully test the gaming market until November. Nevertheless, Microsoft made a lot of friends in the audience, closing the event by letting everyone in attendance know that brand-new Xboxes were being shipped to their homes and offices.
Don't miss "World Premiere of Project Natal Experience, Imagined by Cirque du Soleil," airing Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET on MTV!