Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, formerly known as Project Natal, is the Xbox 360's foray into motion-sensing gaming. But whereas the Nintendo Wii and Sony's Wii-like PlayStation Move both use motion-sensing controllers, Kinect senses limbs, other objects, faces, and movements, using a camera.
This weekend at E3, the year's biggest gaming convention, Microsoft revealed the renamed Kinect and showed off some of its launch titles. "Kinect" is a sort of combination of "connect," "kinetic," and possibly "kin," the name of Microsoft's new not-a-smartphone line of phones. Gaming nerds are reacting poorly to the new name, at least immediately following the announcement, but given the ludicrously named Wii's success, it's pretty clear that naming won't matter in the long run.
The games shown off are fairly tame, really; most Wii-like is Kinect Sports, with soccer, track, bowling, and javelin-throwing (javelining?). There's also Kinectimals, which is a virtual animal training game, a bit like Nintendogs but with lions and tigers instead of miniature dachsunds (because Xbox 360 is for real men), and a dance game from MTV. The most exciting announcement is probably that of a Star Wars game from Microsoft and LucasArts; it'll include lightsaber fighting and "force push," whatever that means.
Microsoft is also showing off video chat, creatively named Video Chat. It's an obvious idea but a great one--Skype has been working to get video chat into the living room for years now, and Microsoft can just snag that burgeoning market with a simple app.
The hardware is simple enough, just a black bar of cameras that sits on top of or under the TV. It's significantly bigger than the Wii's sensor bar, but still quite small, hardly bigger than the Xbox 360's controller.
I'll continue to update this post as more announcements spill out--we're still waiting for a price and release date.