Microsoft is one of the youngest competitors in the video game console industry, yet it seems to be the smartest player. While other systems struggled to put together a strong online network, Microsoft made it look all too easy with Xbox Live. Powered by franchises like Halo and Fable, the company has released a steady stream of successful games.

Announced at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, the company has now officially launched Kinect (formerly Project Natal), a motion system that captures a player’s full body movement and translates it to the screen.

Microsoft is not the most original company by any means; its successes are largely based on others’ ideas. Yet so too does the Xbox make seemingly vast improvements. Microsoft did not invent motion capture technology, but Kinect is worlds apart from the Wii and Sony’s Move technology.

Take, for instance, ‘Dance Central.” This game’s 2010 E3 demo allowed players to choose one of six songs and a difficulty level. Then they danced along to the game, using hips, arms, hands and legs. The game is sleek, polished and gives everyone a shot at being Lady Gaga (‘Poker Face” was by far the most popular choice of songs).

Kinect does not yet have any games for the ‘hardcore” set the kids (and adults in arrested development) who play ‘BioShock” and ‘Mass Effect” and spend Saturday night killing Nazi zombies in ‘Call of Duty.” It’s hard to tell if that’s even a concern and, if so, how it will be addressed.

In the wake of the Wii revolution, such game enthusiasts are no longer as much of a major concern. The Wii rocked the industry by making video games accessible to the masses that once just thought of the games as something dreadful like ‘Grand Theft Auto III.” In addition, the Wii also made the biggest stride forward since ‘Dance, Dance Revolution” in fighting the image of video games as a leading cause of obesity, now that players have to occasionally get off the couch.

Kinect, then, is Wii’s younger, hipper brother. You cannot play sitting down. You do not need controls. It is the second revolution, if applied correctly (and the Xbox division of Microsoft has done well enough so far that they have earned some credibility). One can almost envision the inevitable karate game where kids can actually learn a modicum of self-defense without having to pay for weekly lessons.

Indeed, just as Nintendo’s DS is now marketed as a book reader, the applications of Kinect span far and wide: Consider, for instance, having an iPad without the pad itself surfing the Internet could become something akin to Tony Stark’s home computer in ‘Iron Man 2.”

Not that all video games will be forced to adapt to Kinect. Without an intuitive system for the most basic human method of transportation walking it’s not likely you’ll see ‘Mass Effect Kinect” (as catchy as the title would be). A demo of a paintball game, for instance, yielded frustration when players had a hard time controlling their walking speed (you step to the front of the Kinect scanning range to trigger forward movement) and pivoting ability (not nearly as precise as a controller’s movement). Similarly, the lack of a controller means there’s a lack of rumble shooting games will never feel quite the same.

Nevertheless, Microsoft has made its console adaptable to the tastes of the entire household, since the Kinect games shown so far are the ones that technologically inept parents and grandparents can get behind river rafting, archery and the like. The emphasis on indoor exer er, ‘fun,” will probably help.

And Microsoft probably needs to push that point if its target audience is going to grow. As of yet, the company has no real catalog of light, kid-friendly and fun-first party games no answers to Sony’s ‘LittleBigPlanet” or Nintendo’s, well, everything but “Metroid.” To wit, the highlighted games on the Xbox website include ‘Crysis 2,” ‘Medal of Honor,” ‘Deadrising 2,” ‘Crackdown 2,” ‘Gears of War,” ‘Fallout New Vegas” and ‘Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.” None have quite the same tone as ‘Kirby’s Epic Yarn.”

Brenneman graduated in 2010.



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