Microsoft kicked off its E3 tour with a bang and announced a slew of new additions for its Xbox 360 platform -- a platform which just recently surpassed the 30 million mark in sales. Microsoft was the first out of the gate with its keynote today while rivals Nintendo and Sony will get their chance tomorrow.
Given that the Xbox 360 is first and foremost a gaming platform, there was no shortage of new game announcements including Halo 3: ODST, Alan Wake, Forza Motorsport 3, Crackdown 2, and Metal Gear Solid Rising. In addition, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were on hand to promote The Beatles: Rock Band.
"Today with cultural visionaries at our side and controller-free gaming on our horizon, Xbox 360 authored a new page in home entertainment history," exclaimed Don Mattrick, Microsoft's senior vice president for the Interactive Entertainment Business. "For us, this E3 is about breaking down barriers -- between generations, between games and entertainment, and most important, between video game players and everyone else -- in a way that only Xbox 360 can."
Microsoft went on to announce updates to its popular Netflix support on the Xbox 360 platform. Users will be able to queue movies directly from the Netflix interface on the Xbox 360 without the need of a PC. Also new is the ability to share movies with up to seven friends via Xbox Live Party.
Other changes/additions include the renaming of the Xbox Video Marketplace to the Zune Marketplace to coincide with the upcoming Zune HD. All pay-per-view movies will also get a nice upgrade from 720p to 1080p with the change. These movies and TV shows will be available for viewing instantly.
For those into the social networking scene, Microsoft also announced support for Facebook and Twitter integration with the Xbox 360 UI.
Perhaps the biggest news of the event was the announcement of Project Natal which takes direct aim at the Nintendo Wii's motion controls. The Project Natal accessory includes an RGB camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone to provide full body movement and tracking in 3D. The can recognize voice commands and identify faces (the latter which can be utilized to logon to an Xbox 360 console).
The accessory plugs into a free USB port on an Xbox 360 console and can be mounted in below your television set (think Wii sensor bar). Project Natal not only allows you to navigate through the Xbox 360 interface using hand gestures and voice commands, but it also allows you to control games and applications using your whole body as a "controller".
“The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear,” said Steven Spielberg during the Project Natal demo. “With Project Natal, we’ll see games that bring everyone together through technology that actually recognizes us.”
It will only be a matter of time before developers start taking advantage of this new accessory to enhance upcoming games. We've already seen what Nintendo was able to do with the Wii Remote controller and the Wii Fit, so it will be interesting to see what Microsoft and developers can come up with for Project Natal.