E3 has yet to officially begin, but Microsoft has already completed its E3 2011 press conference, and if there was any distinct theme to glean from the entire presentation, it was this: Microsoft is serious about the Kinect. With the exception of new demos for previously announced games (Modern Warfare 3, Tomb Raider, Halo Anniversary, and Gears of War 3), nearly every game highlighted at the press conference pushed its Kinect functionality into the spotlight--even games that weren't actually demoed at this year's conference.
EA Sports president Peter Moore kicked things off by announcing that Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods, and an additional (yet to be named) EA Sports game will all feature Kinect functionality. He also stated that other EA games, such as Sims Pets and Hasbro Game Night, will carry support for Microsoft's motion control system. None of the aforementioned games were shown at the conference.
Things picked up when Dr. Ray Muzyka took to the stage to show off a demo of Mass Effect 3 for the Xbox 360 and its Kinect features. Players will be able to speak the lines shown in the dialogue trees to select them as opposed to just using the analog stick. Moreover, squad commands are issued via the Kinect's built-in microphone, so players can tell teammates to move or perform specific attacks during firefights. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot then took to the stage to show off a quick trailer and Kinect support for his company's upcoming third-person shooter, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The game features a weapon customization option where players can speak to assemble specific types of weapons or use hand gestures to sort through parts.
It didn't stop there. Forza 4, a version of Minecraft for the Xbox 360, Kinect Star Wars, Fable: The Journey, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster, Kinect Fun Labs, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Kinect Sports: Season 2, and Dance Central 2--they all feature Kinect support in a big way, and this list doesn't even take into account new dashboard functionality or the individual minigames found within Kinect Fun Labs.
It's a lot of Kinect, and it's obviously a direct response to a distinct lack of support and planning for the device in the early months of its life. It's clear Microsoft wants a piece of the casual pie baked by Nintendo and the Wii, and it's going out of its way to get it. But where the Wii threw most of its eggs into one casual basket, neglecting much of the core audience in the process, the Xbox 360 is not. Getting games like Mass Effect 3 and every future Tom Clancy game to support the Kinect is huge because it simultaneously gives the core audience what it wants while giving Kinect owners what they want. Of course, the Kinect-only games are a different story. Microsoft is leveraging huge brands to draw attention to them, and it doesn't really get any bigger than Disney or Star Wars.
But was it all too much? The problem with the press conference is that some of the Kinect features in the core games are just predictable (rail shooters) or they're an obvious extension (voice commands) of what the Kinect is capable of doing. There were no surprises. There was nothing to make us stand up and say, "That's the reason to own a Kinect or to buy one if you haven't already." There was nothing that showed us what the Kinect is capable of beyond what we've already seen, and that's disappointing. And the Kinect-only game segments (complete with child actors) were the usual saccharine affairs with child actors performing their best exuberant impersonations.
The Microsoft press conference started with a bang. Modern Warfare 3 is obviously a huge game, and Tomb Raider looks great, but ultimately, the focus on the Kinect made the Xbox 360 seem like a one-note platform, overshadowing these games as well as additional announcements for YouTube, UFC content, and a new Xbox dashboard. Even the excellent Halo 4 trailer at the end of the presentation left us wondering what that game's inevitable Kinect support will be like.
It wasn't as bad as some of E3's more infamous press conferences of years past, but Microsoft's press conference gave us nothing memorable, so which is worse?