Xbox Kinect - gaming without a controller

By Matt Greenop

Microsoft has finally revealed the branding - and some tricks - of its new "hands-free" motion control system for the Xbox 360 console.

At a gala event in Los Angeles featuring Cirque du Soleil, Microsoft revealed that system will be called Kinect.

It comes just a day before the game industry's E3 conference kicks off.

Previously known as "Project Natal", the bleeding-edge control system uses a camera and microphone peripheral to map players' bodies in order to interact with games and various Xbox applications.

On show at the grand event, which saw all attendees - including red carpet-crawling celebs - made to wear ponchos with Dynasty-quality 80s shoulder pads that lit up on cue - was a selection of games that showed the versatility of the new system.

A Star Wars game showed a player using body movements to control a tight third-person fight - swinging both arms saw the character slide forward and simple sword-fight movements controlled a light saber being wielded in a perfectly natural fashion.

One family-focused multiplayer game - name as yet unknown - saw players controlling a raft on a fast-moving river with platform-style rewards picked up by jumping in the air or positioning their bodies to pick up matching power-up sets.

A yoga game saw the Xbox bending its way into the yoga space, with players movements monitored on screen, showing up with green dots to show that the particular position had been achieved.

A sports combo game was a little less ground-breaking, coming off more like a Wii Sports title without truly accurate controls. It showed athletics, bowling, javelin and soccer in its line-up.

There was even a cutesy animal "game" allowing players - presumably young and female ones - to interact with a digital tiger, panther, cheetah or leopard cub on screen. This targets PlayStation's EyePet and the very popular Nintendogs.

An interesting feature was the Skype-esque "Video Chat", which hits the web-communications giant where it hurts. The Kinect camera offers a very wide angle, allowing groups of people to confab online without having to swap positions in front of a standard webcam. If this ability is coupled with a web app - to allow non-gamers to connect, maybe via Windows Live - it will be a game changer for the online communications world.

More will be revealed tomorrow as Microsoft's Xbox 360 team unveils more details - including pricing and international availability - about Kinect and its impressive range of abilities.

From what was hinted at during tonight's Cirque event, there is something for everyone and there will be tight integration with Zune HD, Netflix (regrettably not available in New Zealand) and other Xbox Live applications.

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