In the world of electronics, they say competition is good for the consumer. I'm happy to report that after a tireless week of running around the show floor at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, competition is alive and well. Nowhere is that competition more apparent than among the big three: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
Since we like to pick winners in this country I'm going to say that Nintendo hit the biggest home run this year with the announcement of the first viable 3D gaming system, the 3DS. The hand-held 3D experience is stunning on two levels: first, you don't need glasses and second the graphic abilities add a depth that greatly enhance both video games and movies. You can't appreciate how incredible it is until you hold it in your hands.
Nintendo might have also figured out something else with the 3DS, that a 3D experience may indeed be a personal experience better served in the palm of your hand than on a 42-inch flat screen. I can easily Imagine a parent handing a 3DS to his child in the backseat so he can watch How To Train Your Dragon in 3D. You won't hear a peep out of that kid for two hours. Inviting 5 friends over to the house to watch a 3D movie while wearing funky glasses still seems gimmicky to me.
Meanwhile both Sony and Microsoft debuted their respective versions of motion capture technology. Sony with Playstation Move, and Microsoft with Kinect (formerly Natal).
My impressions of Move haven't changed much since I got some hands on time a few months ago. However this week I spent time with a few new games that use Move's glowing orb motion controller and companion nun chuck.
For games like golf, the precision of the controls felt deadly accurate, maybe too accurate. A slight rotation of my hand had me opening the club face and hooking a ball off into the trees. For a boxing game called Fight the controls felt a little imprecise but the 3D graphics were nice. Take a look:
The big wild card is Microsoft's full body motion capture Kinect. Last year at E3 I was stunned by the announcement, it seemed like the future of gaming. No controller to play games? I can interact with my TV just by talking to it? How can that work? Well it does work, just not as well as it does on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Sony kept making the point that you simply can't do everything you want to do in a game without some kind of controller. I tend to think they're right. You can't do it all. With Kinect your body is the controller so it's great for for sports titles that feature volleyball, running, jumping, throwing, etc. But slicing a virtual golf ball into the woods because your hand is turned an inch outward doesn't seem likely.
The power of Kinect will come from developers and what they do with the controller-less technology. One title stole the show, Dance Central by Harmonix and MTV games. I can't believe I was actually excited to try my hand at some choreographed dancing moves, but I did. Take a look:
One big Kinect question I still don't have an answer to is whether any games will let me sit on the couch to play. Every demo had us standing up to play. That's fine for aerobic games, but what about hardcore games like Halo? Kinect recognizes your skeletal structure and calibrates accordingly. Perhaps there are still some unresolved issues about figuring out your skeletal structure when sitting on the couch with a bag of chips on your stomach.
One Microsoft spokesman told me that's something they're still working on. That's good, because I don't want to stand up to drive a race car game.
I can rest easier knowing the hardware won't be ready for primetime until the holiday season. However, with all of these companies duking it out for video game supremacy, one thing is clear, we are getting some great products.
Clayton Morris is a Fox and Friends host and the tech godfather behind the Gadgets and Games show. Follow Clayton's adventures online on Twitter @ClaytonMorris and by reading his daily updates at his blog.