Microsoft revealed its push into casual gaming on Sunday, in the shape of its Kinect motion detecting toy - which comes complete with a focus group-approved name that suggests both physical activity and connecting with people. Very clever, that.
And at its E3 keynote last night, Kinect was a large part of its presentation - in fact it was pretty much the only part bar the usual Halo and Gears of War trailers, with not much to impress those who aren't already paid-up members of the waggle gaming club.
The biggest news for Xbox fans was the redesigned console. In glossy black with an Alienware-style case design that's heavy on macho angles and vents, it's marginally smaller than the existing 360 - but little more than a cosmetic update.
Microsoft claims the new 360 has a "whisper quiet fan" which could in itself make the console worth upgrading to even if your existing 360 has yet to die in a red haze, plus the promise of a smaller PSU is another reason to upgrade - if you're the person who ended up with all the money the world lost recently.
We're a little confused by the new aggressive design, though, which seems to be completely at odds with the happy families vibe of Kinect. The original 360 was meant to be bright and inclusive, so why the switch to teenage musclebox fantasy goth machine now MS has its most mum-friendly games of all?
SHHHH: Now 25% quieter than a vacuum cleaner
The Slim Xbox 360 comes with a 250GB swappable HD, although Microsoft is yet to summon up the courage to put in a Blu-ray drive. That particular wound is still weeping a strange yellow substance. But after five long years of stuffing Ethernet cables under carpets to avoid paying the ridiculous price of an Xbox 360 Wireless Adaptor, the company has finally stuck an 802.11n Wi-Fi radio inside the console.
Well done on taking that financial hit, Microsoft. We're sure the extra 50p per unit it adds to the build cost will be repaid many times over in additional customer loyalty. The lack of Wi-Fi in Xbox 360 was the equivalent to Sony's failure to put an HDMI cable in the PS3's box, so this is nothing to be proud of. Just a minor wrong righted.
The Slim Xbox 360 price? The same as the Xbox 360 Elite, which is £199 or €249. It's shipping now in the US, while UK buyers have to wait until July 17. Current Xbox 360 models will drop in price to accommodate this meaner machine, before hopefully being axed in favour of a one console future - and an end to the ludicrous number of Xbox 360 variants we've seen over the years.
Before the new hardware announcement last night, the crowd had to endure what seemed like eight solid hours of tedious Kinect demos.
We saw Kinect letting users sign-in to Xbox Live with a wave of the hand, which then took them to the Kinect Hub, a simplified UI page that's a controller-free quick launcher for Xbox 360 apps, with voice-activation, too.
The thought of waving our way through Xbox 360 menu screens then shouting "FACEBOOK" at it sounds infinitely harder than pressing a d-pad a couple of times, plus we don't buy Microsoft's claim that "having to remember which button is pause" is much of a hindrance to the current Xbox 360 movie-playing setup.
Video Kinect will bring Xbox Live and Windows Live Messenger video feeds together in one Xbox 360 window with support for collaborative film viewing and web-chatting, so a group of people can watch a film together. Just like in the old days before we all firewalled ourselves off from actual human contact.
KINECT TWO: Microsoft, bravely targeting the lady gossip market
The E3 crowd cheered for the Star Wars-based Kinect demo, because it made the Star Wars music and you get to pretend you're holding a lightsabre like you're a child who hasn't yet seen the prequels, but the game itself resembled the very model of gimmicky, motion-control rubbish we've endured since... whenever Wii launched.
Do we need to be able to interact with our consoles without headsets and controllers? Has that been a barrier to the world's adoption of video gaming thus far over the last 30 years? Nope, and with a US price of $149 we have absolutely no idea who's going to be buying it when Kinect launches on 4 November (in the US), alongside 15 games.
Trailers that end on a predictable cliffhanger
Happily, Microsoft did bring some toys for the non-novelty crowd, in the shape of Metal Gear Solid: Rising - the latest from Hideo Kojima. He brought along the Xbox 360 version, revealing an insane action game packed with what can only be described as futuristic robot ninjas and a style more akin to arcade slashers like Devil May Cry than the oft-dull Metal Gear franchise.
The lead character cut a van in half with a sword. It's going to be quite a sudden key change for the stealth specialist.
Epic's Cliffy B showed off Gears of War 3, if you like your dumb shooters even dumber than microwaving your own feet, while Peter Molyneux kept the British end up with Fable III - and revealed it'll launch on 26 October. Plus the Halo juggernaut continues with Halo Reach, offering more side-stepping alien combat. Reach will be out this September, if you haven't grown out of it yet.
Also for Xbox Live users came news that Live will soon be a component of Windows Phone 7, which will offer access to your Friends, Avatars and Achievements in your pocket. Our notes of the event don't mention the crowd cheering that one.
YOUR SHAPE? We think the average Xbox 360 user is perhaps a little more solid
Apart from the few stalwart Xbox titles and the easy win of the hardware reveal, there was simply too much emphasis on Kinect last night, with Microsoft trying way too hard to shoehorn it into everything.
The poor old Forza Motorsport developer had to pretend it was great that you could walk around a pretend car and reach out to touch its pretend headlights, and although the ten-to-two invisible steering wheel play system looks interesting, it's likely to be something you try, once, then forget, surely?
Later tonight it's Sony's turn to unveil its gaming products for the rest of 2010, and all it has to do to beat Microsoft's bizarre collection of arm-waving, shark-jumping novelties is turn up with that well-worn demo of Gran Turismo 5 it's been lugging around in a special briefcase for the last three years.
Liked this? Then check out Hands on: Microsoft Kinect review
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