The rumors proved true: Microsoft is bringing motion a capture device to the Xbox 360. The company also announced that Xbox Live will support social networking via Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm.
Along with the usual flood of new game details--including Halo: Reach, Left 4 Dead 2, and Metal Gear Solid: Rising--Microsoft announced today during E3 that players will be able to send screenshots from Xbox Live directly to their Facebook accounts. Twitter messaging will be integrated within Live, bringing 140 character trash talk quotient to new levels. And players will also be able to listen to their Last.fm playlists from the Xbox Live dashboard as well as during game play. All of these features will become available in the fall.
Xbox Live will become even more social with a new feature called Live Party where users can watch streaming videos together over the online service, their avatars sitting in a sports-stadium-like venue and chatting as the video plays. Microsoft has also re-named the Xbox Live video service to Zune Video (even though there was no Zune player update announced). The videos are upgraded in resolution from 720p to 1080p, and from downloads to streaming.
Microsoft also revealed Project Natal, the codename for a future peripheral that brings 3-D motion control to Xbox 360--but there was no release date or pricing announced for the phantom peripheral. The device incorporates a camera and microphone that sits atop your television, similar to the Wii's motion bar, and registers a players' movements and voice commands. Unlike the PlayStation EyeToy, which can only read gestures in two planes, the Natal device will be able to sense motion along the traditional two dimensions as well as a third depth axis. This would allow voice and gesture control for both the Xbox Live interface and games--one demonstration showed a player deflecting a ball against a wall of blocks, with the player's avatar moving closer to the wall along with the player himself. A painting game showed similar interaction, as the player splashed paint on a wall, and had the camera take a picture of him (and another player) making the shape of an elephant to use as a stencil.
More impressive, was a game by Fable creator Peter Molyneux. In the demo, which was only shown on video, a player interacted with a young boy named Milo. The player talked to the artificial boy, who understood her words, and then reacted to them. They played together in a pond of fish, then he asked her to draw a fish. She drew a fish on a piece of paper, then held it up to the camera. Milo then reached off screen and held a digital copy of the paper. Molyneux said that this device will change gaming forever. Director Steven Spielberg, who is already working on a game using Natal, said: "The only way to bring interactive entertainment to everyone is to make the tech invisible."
The demonstrations were impressive, with a potential to change the industry. But with few concrete details, such as price, release date, or an actual product name, Project Natal remains science fiction for now.