On the Xbox 360 Kinect experiment and the future of motion controls

Microsoft has been busy over the last year. It was during E3 2009 that Microsoft blew everyone away with what was then dubbed Project Natal. It promised to bring full body motion control to the 360. We’re getting our first real look at the system at E3 today after last night’s theatrical reveal and, well, it’s keeping that promise.

That’s not what’s surprising, though. Project Natal, now called Kinect, was demoed extensively over the last year and most of the media had a chance to play with the early demos. The real surprise today is that Kinect isn’t a Wii clone like it previously seemed. It’s something entirely different that doesn’t target just families or casual gamers. This thing is for real.

There are of course games for little girls (Kinectimals) and groups (Kinect Adventurous & Kinect Sports) that will no doubt be popular at launch. But then there are games for adults as well from Konami, Lucas Arts and Turn 10 Studios, which clearly show that the big boys are fully embracing the next-gen controller system. Yeah, Metal Gear Solid and Star Wars Kinect games in development. How awesome is that?

It gets better, though. Microsoft has worked the Kinect to be an alternative Xbox 360 dashboard interface controller. To log-in, you wave your hand. A swipe of said hand moves the on-screen cursor to make selections and browse through media. Kinect even recognizes voice commands. This could be start of something big and *might* be the closest thing to the fabled Minority Report computer yet.

Microsoft’s taking a lot more forward-thinking approach to motion control than Sony or Nintendo. Not having a controller per se definitely has its drawbacks for gaming, but is far superior for an user interface if done properly. If the Kinect experiment — that’s what it is and don’t think anything different — pans out, Microsoft will be well positioned to take motion control to a whole new level on both the gaming console and computer.

Now my post could be premature because we haven’t actually spent any time with the final hardware. Plus, I am writing this coming off of two high-energy Microsoft press events, but so far Kinect is exceeding my expectations. Microsoft is positioning this add-on to reach a broad spectrum of customers, and while die-hard gamers might find it corny, there seems to be something for everyone else. But I don’t think I’m alone. The buzz here at E3 is that Microsoft nailed Kinect.

We have some face time lined up with Kinect in the coming days. Let’s hope that the demos weren’t deceptive and the motion tracking is as good as it seems. If it is, I’ll officially be on the Kinect bandwagon.

Update: Some guy from our hotel just put this sticker on our bathroom mirror. I took a couple of pics before I tore it down.