The more traditional video games world has been growing progressively more social in recent years. The Nintendo Wii has turned gaming from a solitary activity to a family affair and Microsoft's Xbox Live has allowed gamers to connect with fellow joystick jockeys in ways that haven't been possible before.
Now Microsoft goes even more social with its new gaming device -- Kinect. Formerly known as Project Natal, Kinect is, at its core, a motion sensor camera that connects to the Xbox 360 and then lets your body act as the controller. At an over-the-top event, complete with Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, we saw some of the very first games for this device in action -- almost all of them catering to more than one player.
Kinect has a Wii Sports clone, Kinect Sports, a driving game called Kinect JoyRide and another game named Kinect Adventures, but the one that stands out the most is Kinectimals, an animal simulation game, where you adopt a virtual pet, teach it tricks using motion and voice commands, play games with it -- all using nothing more than this high powered camera. The animal reacts to your movement, and, in general, seems aware of your presence. For instance, if you hide from your virtual pet, it will come looking for you. It's like having a stuffed animal come to life.
Speaking of stuffed animals, those will be integral to the game. You will be able to buy Kinectimals-branded stuffed animals in stores or online, and then scan them using Kinect, and they will magically appear onscreen. Think of it as a Neopets for Xbox 360. There will be 20 collectible animals in all, and you will also have the option to buy virtual items to care for your pet via the in-game store. You'll be able to set up play dates with friends pets online, and your pet will be rewarded with items for exploring the game's universe, unlocking new areas along the way.
The other interesting part of this is how Kinect will be used to navigate through the Xbox menu and other non-gaming apps on the device. Microsoft showed off how you can use voice commands to play a movie, chat with friends via video ad watch ESPN on demand, but we're curious to see how this will apply to the social networking apps on the device -- Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, Facebook games. Right now, there's still no word whether FarmVille or any other Facebook games will be playable on Microsoft's console at any point in the future, but mixing gesture and/or voice controls with tending to a virtual farm or building a virtual city could offer a unique twist to the social games we know and love.
From what we've seen so far, the console world doesn't exactly seem ready to embrace the millions of FarmVille players out there, but we're certainly seeing 'social' continue to be a bigger part of gaming whether it's on Facebook or an Xbox 360.