Years from now — probably decades, possibly centuries — humanity will likely look back upon the early years of this decade with regard to fully immersive holographic entertainment (i.e. the Holodeck) as we today look back upon the first Victrolas or the ENIAC with regard to the iPod and iPad.
That was the thought that kept running through my head during Microsoft’s Xbox 360 press conference at the Galen Center near downtown Los Angeles that unofficially inaugurated the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo (a.k.a. E3), which kicks into full gear tomorrow through Thursday, June 9. While the event provided more glimpses at highly anticipated games like Gears of War 3, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 — an a tantalizing first look at Halo 4 — it was pretty much entirely about the Kinect, the voice-and-motion controlled gizmo that first arrived for the Xbox 360 last year. Microsoft proudly trotted out demos or first looks for at least 15 titles that are either Kinect exclusive — like Kinect Star Wars, which you can read about here in EW’s exclusive first look — or Kinect-enabled, i.e. capable of being controlled at least in part just by voice command and body motion, as well as with a traditional button controller. The overall effect was a fascinating glimpse into the Holodeck-like possibilities of the future — a lot of mind-expanding promise, and a lot of rudimentary kinks to still work out. Here are the highlights:
— The presentation began with an extended demo of Modern Warfare 3, in which our heroes blast inside a Russian sub parked in the waters just south of Manhattan in the middle of a (typically) massive naval battle. With every new peek at this game, its scope seems to keep on getting wider and wider.
— The highly anticipated Mass Effect 3, due March 6, 2012, will be enabled for the Kinect through voice control. You can now speak your dialogue options instead of select them, although Commander Shephard won’t be parroting your words back at you, thankfully. Cooler still, you can now issue voice commands to your crew, saving precious time amidst the battle. As for the story, the basic outline we were given isn’t exactly groundbreaking: Earth’s been taken, and needs to be saved. Hope we win!
— Ice T (pictured, right) joined Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski (pictured, left) presenting Gears of War 3 — Ice T’s a cast member as well as apparent gaming enthusiast — for a sequence in which a ginormous sea monster attacks your freighter and you’ve got to blast it back. The thing was pissed, and also very, very, very loud; the demo itself reinforced the feeling that these games look far more intimidating to play than they actually are.
— It was the newest Tom Clancy title, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (these titles are more unwieldy than a Bruckheimer sequel) that best showed off Kinect’s possibilities — and limitations. Publisher Ubisoft has gone whole hog, integrating voice command and motion control into everything from weapons customization (“optimize for range”) to firing said weapon via a complex set of body movements. You stand roughly as if you’re holding the rifle, expand your clenched palm to fire your weapon, throw your arm back to reload, etc. It looks somehow both cool and kinda silly, and I detected at least a half-second lag between the movement and the action on the screen. Of course I’ll reserve final judgement until I’ve had a chance to try it out myself, but I’ll be very interested to see how much gamers are keen on remembering all the motions required to fire their weapon successfully — basically, miming warfare — over the course of several hours of gameplay. Ubisoft seems bullish they will be — all Tom Clancy games moving forward will be Kinect enabled.
— Other Kinect enabled games included Forza Motorsport 4, Fable: The Journey, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Madden NFL, Fifa, and Minecraft, the highly addictive world-building PC game debuting exclusively on Xbox 360, further thrilling non-gaming significant others everywhere.
— Several Kinect-only games also debuted, and it was telling that many of them were seemingly geared towards the youngins. Tour Disneyland in Disneyland Adventures, including game-like “rides” like Peter Pan’s Flight. Play with monsters in Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. And use the mini-gams in Kinect Fun Labs, like “Kinect Me” which makes your avatar for you, or “Kinect Sparkler,” which lets you draw in 3-D. Kinect Sports Season Two, meanwhile, now offers skiing and tennis, while Dance Central 2 holds even more songs and dances.
— Microsoft also announced an ambitious expansion of the offerings on Xbox Live, coupled with Kinect and Bing search engine integration that lets you find stuff you want to watch by simply asking your Xbox 360 to look for it. Where there are now hundreds of thousands of titles, we were promised millions more, and soon you’ll be able to watch live TV via just your Xbox 360. But only Disney/ABC programs were featured (especially Castle — geeks lurve them some Nathan Fillion), and the only partnership that was officially announced were Ultimate Fighting matches.
— Hmm. What else. Whaaaaat else. Oh, right! The presentation ended with the “dawn of a new trilogy for Xbox 360” — a little game called Halo 4. The trailer itself was quite vague on specifics: We start with the image of a single neuron firing, finally expanding out to see a full brain, and further still to see the iconic helmet of Master Chief, emerging from a stasis chamber of some sort into a gravity-free, run down space station. He floats his way out to a hatch, and sees, well, my best guess is a glowing, moon-sized, robotic alien eye. Boom. Title card. Holiday 2012. Earlier in the presentation, Microsoft also announced a remastered version of the first Halo that will be available this November via Xbox Live, but this teaser stole all its thunder.
And that is that. Check back on EW.com for our full report on Sony’s sure-to-be-interesting E3 presentation tonight, and Nintendo’s hotly anticipated presentation tomorrow, as well as full reports from E3 itself, and EW’s best games of the conference at the end of the week. In the meantime, what excites you most from Microsoft’s virtual dog and pony show? Are you excited by the prospect of firing an imaginary weapon with just your body?