LOS ANGELES — Typically, motion and 3D aren’t a great combination, but motion- sensing game control and 3D graphics stood out as the top trends to emerge from last week’s 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
Microsoft started the early buzz by introducing a slimmer version of the Xbox 360 console and by demonstrating its long-awaited controller-free motion-sensing gaming system called Kinect (formerly codenamed Project Natal).
The new Xbox 360 went on sale this month at a $300 suggested retail.
In other show highlights, Sony said the motion-control system for the PlayStation3, called Play- Station Move, will be available in the U.S. on Sept. 19.
Nintendo, meanwhile, unveiled its glasses-free 3D handheld video game player — the 3DS — and said it will be released by the end of the fiscal year, concluding in March, at a price to be announced later.
Features in the slimmer Xbox 360 console include a removable 250GB hard drive (up from 120GB), 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity, five USB slots, touch-sensitive power buttons and backward compatibility with all games.
The new unit is also said to be quieter than previous iterations, using one fan instead of two.
A Kinect-Ready port on the console hooks up directly to the new Kinect motion-control system. The Xbox 360 accessory, which will be released later this year, uses multiple cameras to track a player’s body movements and translate them into game controls.
New titles that make use of the system were announced by several developers, including Konami and Activision.
Kinect will also connect to legacy Xbox 360 consoles, but through a more cumbersome series of connections. Kinect is Microsoft’s attempt to compete with Nintendo’s Wii, which has used motion control in games for several years, and Sony’s new motion wand accessory called Move.
Like Kinect, Move uses a motionsensing camera called the PlayStation Eye (successor to EyeToy), which tracks the motion of a handheld wand.
Microsoft’s system, on the other hand, does not require a wand or controller, cueing only on a player’s hands and gestures.
Sony’s Move system has a special camera that connects to a PlayStation3 and comes with wand controllers that let users control games with body movements. The main controller will sell for $50 and a navigation piece will sell for $30. A bundle with the main controller, the eye camera, a Sports Champions game and a demo disc will sell for $100.
Sony offers a combination of optional and mandatory motion control in new Move-enabled games, which will sell for $40 each, for Sony published titles.
In addition, Sony said it will offer two PlayStation Move controller peripherals: a PlayStation Move charging station for up to two controllers at a time ($30) and a PlayStation Move shooting attachment ($20) that will allow the Move controller to be placed horizontally so players can hold it as if they are holding a gun, Sony said.
A special PlayStation3 console bundled with a Move controller will sell for $400, Sony said.
Another big part of the Sony’s announcements were its plans to develop a full library of 3D titles for the Play- Station3, which was made 3D compatible following a recent firmware update. The company said the long-anticipated Gran Turismo 5 — the next iteration of its popular racing game franchise — will be released on Nov. 2, and will be among the platform’s 3D offerings.
Sony also will introduce later this month a premium online service called PlayStation Plus, requiring a $50 a year fee ($18 for three months).
The service will be in addition to the PlayStation Network’s current free online play system, but will offer gamers discounts on PSN games, free content, early demos and other exclusives.
Nintendo said it is hoping its 3DS will help it cash in on the current 3D mania by offering a self-contained system that doesn’t require the purchase of a 3D-capable TV set or special glasses to see 3D images. The company also acknowledged it is looking to add 3D capability to the next gaming console system it introduces.
As for the Wii console, Nintendo said it will be releasing new titles, including a new version of Zelda, to compete with motion-controlled games coming for the Xbox 360 Kinect and the PlayStation3 Move systems.
In other news at the show, Game developer Ubisoft announced a game for both the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation3 that has players sing and dance like Michael Jackson. Versions will also be available for the Wii, DS and PSP.
Players are supposed to sing and dance like Michael Jackson and are then scored on the quality of their performance. It is slated for a November release.
The game will join Harmonix’s Dance Central and Konami’s Dance Masters in the category of dance-centric games designed for Microsoft’s Kinect.
Meanwhile, Richard Branson’s Virgin enterprises announced its return to the gaming industry by unveiling a new online platform designed to track multi-player gaming for the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 and offer players the ability to compete for cash, points and prizes.
The Virgin Gaming platform, which launched this month, uses a “game verifier” technology that was originally developed for partner WorldGaming of Toronto based on an algorithm that reads player skill levels and ranks them.