At E3, Xbox Lets Kinect Lead the Charge on Gaming, Live TV Ambitions

Microsoft is at E3 today in Los Angeles to tell us how it expects the Xbox to turn from a gaming console into an entertainment hub in the living room.

Microsoft’s announcement is going head to head with Apple’s iCloud strategy being unveiled simultaneously at WWDC in San Francisco.

Follow our live blog here to find out how Xbox will be the centerpiece of Microsoft’s entertainment strategy.

9:29 am: Five minute warning, everyone. Get in your seats. The show is about to begin.

I’ve been hearing about Apple’s line for its announcement at WWDC all morning. Microsoft had a fairly impressive line snaking around the block as well.

9:31 am: Here we go! The concert hall is packed, and the front of the room has several large screens. A man on stage is playing a game, where he’s navigating under water.

9:33 am: We can all sense that something huge will happen. The entire theater is shaking from all the bass in the game that’s being generated from a submarine under water.

There are some pretty intense battle scenes going on. Microsoft may be going up against Apple’s news today, but it still knows its primary audience: Hardcore gamers.

Right about now, I’m probably supposed to be saying something about how great all the graphics are. It’s true. They are amazing. Battleships are blowing up, blood is splattering on the screen, and you can see the wreckage of a major city in the background.

Folks, that’s the new Call of Duty.

9:41 am: Don Matrick from Xbox Entertainment steps on stage. “Thank you for making last year the biggest year in Xbox history. This is an incredible time in history.”

Technology is the way we play, interact and have fun. Families and friends are flocking to this kind of entertainment.

He says they are going to show off new Kinect titles, new game titles and the big one we’ve been waiting for–a new way to enjoy TV.

9:44 am: First, we’ll hear and see a lot more new game titles. First up is Tomb Raider.

All of these demos appear to be live with a couple of players down in the front of the stage playing what we are seeing up on the big screen.

This one has a main female character, which is pretty rare. Lots of high-pitched screeches as she stumbles around in a cave and gets hit by falling rocks. So typical of women to be gasping and screeching, right?

9:49 am: Next up, Peter Moore from EA Sports.

He’s here to say that four of its Sport titles will be Kinect-enabled. They are only naming three of them for now. There will be FIFA, Madden and sorry, I missed the last one.

Moore says that in addition to using Kinect to play games hands free, you will also be able to use voice commands to call plays from the line.

Beyond sports, other games will also be supporting Kinect, including Mass Effect 3. Up until now, most Kinect games have mostly included two genres: family-friendly titles and dancing games. By making Mass Effect 3 Kinect enabled, players will be able to use their voices to control game play.

In a demo, they show how a player reads subtitles at the bottom of the screen. Voice commands can also be used in combat, by saying things like “move up” and “take cover.”

Those commands get a round of applause from the audience.

9:56 am: No live demo of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, but a short video plays, showing off the graphics and precision gaming.

Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot enters the stage. Looks like we’ll be getting a demo after all.

Kinect will enable players to gesture and create and build a gun, picking and choosing components to build the ultimate fighting device by using a combination of waving your hands in the air and voice recognition.

The player demonstrates how you can even pretend to hold the gun with your hand and shoot the weapon.

The audience collectively gasps.

All future titles in the Tom Clancy franchise will leverage Kinect, Guillemot says.

10:02 am: Taking the stage is Marc Whitten from Xbox Live.

He says they are introducing an innovative new way to experience entertainment using your voice.

He says the new Xbox gives you access to 11 million songs, games and videos, including movies, sports and TV shows.

Everything is controlled by your voice and gestures.

We’ll increase the number of partnerships by a factor of ten. The content will increase from hundreds of thousands to millions.

A new partner is YouTube.

He says the next big challenge is discovery. With millions of pieces of content available, can you find it?

Whitten said that Bing is coming to Xbox, which will search Hulu Plus, Netflix and other marketplaces to find exactly what you are looking for.

Simply say “Xbox Lego,” and a list of all the Lego games pops up. Say “Xbox X-Men,” and both games and movies will appear on the screen.

10:06 am: Central to the vision is TV, Whitten says.

He’s announcing that Live TV is coming to Xbox as they sign on with partners around the world. Partners listed are in the U.K. and Australia. Sounds like nothing yet in the U.S.

The new Xbox experience is coming in the Fall.

10:07 am: The tagline for this is letting the technology get out of the way.

Another live TV partnership is with Ultimate Fighting Championship.

In addition to watching the games live, you’ll be able to get additional information on the side of the screen, including fighting and match history of the fighters.

10:10 am: Phil Spencer of Microsoft Studios enters the stage.

He says they are leading the way of changing the definition of entertainment. At the core, it will always be about games that you can’t find anywhere else. “We deliver better entertainment for everyone,” he says.

The next few announcements are EXCLUSIVES to Xbox, meaning that no other console will have these games. So, maybe the console wars are still alive and well, eh?

The first exclusive is Gears of War 3.

Guest appearance from rapper Ice-T, who comes on stage to help show off the game.

Ice-T had definitely played this game before.

Ice-T says he has a gift for us. He’s decided to reunite his rock band to because the game is so awesome.

10:22 am: Next exclusive is Forza Motorsport 4, a new racing game.

Lots of beautiful photos of red race cars, but no live demo. So not much to say about that one.

Next up is Fable: The Journey.

Another video, but instead of blood and guts, this is a little more fantasy-like with horse-drawn carriages and pretty blue skies.

But, as with any good game, there’s darkness, too. The end is coming, and you must escape on the carriage. A player is demonstrating how you use Kinect to ride the horses and attack enemies using beams of light.

Amazing how many games are trying to use Kinect. Looks like there will be a big learning curve. To start a fire, the player had to rub his hands together. Other motions control other movements, but it’s unclear how you would know what to do.

10:28 am: Xbox’s Spencer comes back on stage.

This year he says Minecraft, an indie hit, is making its console debut on Xbox 360 and Kinect.

So far, 10 million Kinect devices have been sold, but with all these new games, you can imagine that will rise.

Spencer announces a partnership with Disney, building off Kinect’s reputation as a family friendly extension to the console. With Kinect you can experience Disney attractions, including a game called “Peter Pan’s Flight.”

Two kids come on stage to demonstrate flying through the air to collect coins.

10:32 am: Sorry, folks, I just finally got my photo feed up and running. The picture above is a demonstration of how Kinect is being used to build weapons in Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon.

10:33 am: Next game title being showed off is Kinect Star Wars–to major applause in the audience. That’s obviously a huge cult classic.

In a demonstration, a player uses his whole body to fight with a light saber, lift things and throw them off the side of a building. Leaning forward allows you to propel.

The one downside of having no controller in your hand is that there’s no haptic feedback to let you know that you’ve made contact with the enemy. A controller actually allows you to feel more connected to the game.

10:37 am: Next family friendly game is “Once
Upon a Monster,” a Sesame Street title. Very cute fantasy land with Cookie Monster and Elmo.

10:39 am: Kudo Tsunoda says it’s been two years since they’ve announced Kinect, and now today they are announcing Kinect Fun Labs, which will fuel the next wave of Kinect-enabled gaming on the console.

One way to use Kinect is to create your avatar instead of creating one by navigating an endless list of menus. After taking two pictures, it captures your finer facial features and clothing and replicates you instantly.

Another new feature is Kinect with finger tracking, which allows you to draw in 3-D. That’s sort of hard to explain with words, but it was pretty cool.

10:46 am: Another new feature allows you to scan in real objects, like a stuffed animal. You scan the front of the animal and the back, and then presto! the stuffed animal is now on the screen. Other examples allow you to scan in your skateboard and skate in a virtual world.

Kinect Fun Labs is live today.

10:49 am: Another new title, Kinect Sports Season 2, which will have six new sports, like skiing, golf and tennis. There will also be new Kinect gestures and voice controls.

While playing golf you can change your club by using you voice, and use your body to line up the putt.

In the demo of football, you actually have to run in place to the end zone and say things, like “hike” to get the play started.

10:52 am: By far and away, Kinect Sports was one of the most popular titles because it came packaged with the Kinect.

The other really popular title has a sequel as well: “Dance Central 2,” which will have the ability to let two people dance at the same time.

Xbox’s Mattrick is back on stage. “With the power of Xbox and the simplicity of Kinect, it will change living room entertainment forever.”

He says that living rooms will be turned into sports arenas, race tracks and other innovative new experiences.

“Combine all we offer with great partners and a growing audience, Xbox is poised to have another record-breaking year,” he says.

He hopes it will go from a best-seller in the U.S. to a global leader.

10:57 am: Things are wrapping up with a sneak peek of yet another game.

10:58 am: That’s all, folks. Xbox press conference is now done.

We’ll have follow-up today or tomorrow on what all the announcements mean for the industry, but right now, the live TV announcements are a little thin for it to be considered a global leader.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

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