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Xbox Motion-Capture Cam

The Wall Street Journal is fueling rumors that Microsoft will be unveiling a motion-cap Xbox camera at next month's E3 vidgame convention in LA.

This isn't entirely new. Sony's EyeToy cam brought a rudimentary mocap experience to the Playstation 2 in 2003. Games like EyeToy Play were compelling, allowing players to, say, pop bubbles and smack enemies just by making gestures. But then, strangely, Sony put EyeToy on the back burner. So when Nintendo came out with the motion-sensing Wii remote in 2006, it stole the show. Microsoft is clearly making a play for the casual gaming audience here, but my question is this: will anyone care? Wii hit big thanks to addictive games like Wii Tennis, which fully capitalized on the motion-sensing controls. If Microsoft is to outdo the EyeToy, the company needs to debut a suitably stunning game at E3 that makes the mocap cam not only cool - but indispensable.

Here's the WSJ piece:

Microsoft Swings at Wii With Videocam

WALL STREET JOURNAL

By NICK WINGFIELD

Microsoft Corp. is developing a new videocamera for the Xbox 360 console that will allow players to control games with the movement of their bodies, people familiar with the matter said, an effort to attract the casual players who have fueled Nintendo Co.'s recent success.

The Microsoft device is a twist on Nintendo's blockbuster Wii game console, which allows users to swing a tennis racket or other equipment in games by holding a plastic wand in their hands.

Unlike the Wii, the Microsoft camera won't require users to hold any hardware to control on-screen action, the people familiar with the matter said. The camera would sit near the television and capture when players move their hands, legs or head.

A spokesman for the Redmond, Wash., company declined to comment.

[xbox]

The camera represents another effort by the games industry to reach out to consumers with more intuitive playing methods than traditional game controllers, with their array of joysticks and buttons.

Microsoft's camera uses 3-D technology, which gives players more accurate control over games than earlier game cameras did, the people said.

The potential move suggests Microsoft is stepping up efforts to gain ground on Nintendo, the leader in the market for the current generation of game consoles. A spokeswoman for Nintendo declined to comment.

Although Nintendo recently signaled that demand for its Wii may start to slow, it sold 601,000 Wii consoles in the U.S. in March, more machines than Microsoft and Sony Corp. combined, according to NPD Group, which tracks retail sales.

The Microsoft camera could be unveiled as early as the E3 videogame industry conference next month, though it likely won't be released until next year, the people said.

Microsoft, which saw revenue in its games division fall 1.6% to $1.57 billion in the latest quarter, is likely to sell the camera first as an accessory and could ultimately bundle it with the Xbox 360, a person familiar with the company's plans said. Pricing couldn't be determined.

The camera is based on technology that Microsoft developed. Microsoft also recently acquired an Israeli start-up called 3DV Systems Ltd., which has developed a 3-D camera and holds related patents, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In an email, Zvika Klier, chief executive of 3DV Systems, said "unfortunately I can't comment on the rumors surrounding this deal. ...We will provide more information when we can."

Duke Nukem's Legacy

As my compatriot Harry blogged about the other day, 3D Realms, the company behind Duke Nukem, has called it quits. Duke Nukem Forever had become the Chinese Democracy of gaming - an epic title from a storied creator that kept fans waiting and waiting and waiting. But while Axl Rose finally put out his album, 3D Realms never delivered - and now we're left with sorting through the remains (videos, images, and assorted parts uploaded over the past week by ex-employees). But there's more to Duke's legacy than this carnage.

3D Realms played an important role in the game industry - a role that has gone largely overlooked. As I chronicle in my book Masters of Doom, co-founder Scott Miller was instrumental in the early days of PC gaming. He was the first to see the potential of and cash in on shareware games - giving away a few levels of a game to hook players into buying the complete program. This ended up fueling the meteoric success of id Software's early hits - Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3-D - and paved the way for the sort of digital distribution common today.

Oh yeah, and the original Duke was really fun too.

First shots of DJ Hero?

Yesterday, I blogged about Activision's announcement of the DJ game - DJ Herol. Today, screenshots of the unique peripheral are circulating online here.

I'm hoping there's greater functionality here than just the buttons. A DJ game needs more of a realistically tactile experience - the spinning, the scratching, etc. The other concern is this: how many chunky peripherals can a gamer stock in his/her living room? I'm having enough trouble storing my Wii Fit balance board and Rock Band gear, now a turntable too?

Another misinformed rant on video game violence

Kari Henley at the Huffington Post connects the playing of violent video games with approval of real-life torture. The attempted relating of a current news event to her obvious dislike for violent video games is extremely awkward: she even undercuts her own point by saying that churchgoers are the main group that supports America's torture practices. I would hazard that churchgoing Americans are likely to also be those that least engage in violent video games, that would most share her position on them.

She cites David Grossman, a favorite of cable news programs, who earns his daily bread excoriating violent video games as murder simulators, desensitizing players into becoming amoral killing machines. His conjectures have been well-countered by, you know, actual impartial studies, but that doesn't make him less appealing as an "expert" for the 24-hour news networks.

When will we stop mistaking distaste for something with actual information about something? When every Grand Theft Auto player takes to the streets for non-stop mayhem, I'll eat my words. In the meantime, we must deal with these ill-informed editorials with reasoned debate and politely presented evidence to the contrary.

More "Heroes" On the Way

As if the billion dollar Guitar Hero franchise wasn't enough, Activision today announced three more heroic titles for the product line: DJ Hero, Guitar Hero 5, and Band Hero.

The most intriguing of the mix - DJ Hero, which includes a vintage turntable style controller. DJ games aren't new. Beatmania took a stab at this years ago, and became something of a cult icon. My guess is that a DJ game won't have nearly the same broad appeal of Guitar Hero. You don't see many people air-DJing, while just about anyone who has listened to Zeppelin at some point has dreamed of playing the ax for real. It's the delivery of this wish-fulfillment which has made Guitar Hero and Rock Band such potent forces, and any new innovations will need to harness that same kind of power.

Duke Nukem 1991-2009

[via shacknews] 3DRealms has shut its doors. The Duke Nukem developer has closed due to "funding issues", which is understandable, given that its anticipated title Duke Nukem Forever has been in development eponymously long.

Duke3D came out shortly before I joined Valve. This was 1996. Duke Nukem Forever was to be the next title in the line. It is 2009. This is not how you develop a game. Fish or cut bait.

I never really liked Duke Nukem: Doom and Quake were so much more pure expressions of the genre. Duke was Doom, covered in christmas tree ornaments that did nothing to help the essential game. Ever since 1999 came and went, I have been operating under the assumption that 3DRealms just didn't have a third act for old Duke, and thus, it comes to pass.

DNF, we hardly knew ya. But then again, we moved on, oh, maybe a decade ago.

Barbie's Virtual World

Virtual worlds aren't just growing for gamers and Second Lifers. One of the more popular ones for kids is from Mattel. The BarbieGirls.com site launched in the shadow of Webkinz with a very Webkinzy model. The virtual world was free, and kids would be a little plastic Barbie doll music player with a USB port to boot it up and unlock special content. Once on the Barbie Girls site, kids found the default Webkinz milieu â'' dress up, dollhouse, games â'' made-over Barbie style, of course.

The world is bright with purples and pinks, lime-green sofas out of an Ikea catalog and puffy pink egg shaped chairs. They click around glossy apartments with shiny wooden floors, and play outside with tiny dancing owls in the Tail Shakinâ'' Treehouse. And, oh yeah, when you earn B Bucks money from the virtual games, there are lots and lots of clothes to buy for your almond-eyed avatar â'' from lace-up pink boots to expensively ratty jeans. There are supposedly 2.64 quadrillion ways to dress up your character.

A surprising thing happened because of that â'' the plastic dolls lost their appeal. In the first 28 days, Barbie Girls attracted one million members, by 90 days, 3.5 million, all the way up to 13 million today. The kicker - and added surprise for Mattel - is that the majority of the girls on the site would never be caught dead in meatspace playing with a real Barbie doll â'' theyâ''re too old. Turned out, the virtual worlds attracted a massive new market of pre-Facebook kids. The majority of the audience â'' 65% of the users â'' are girls age 9 â'' 12, kids who older than the core toy-buying crowd.

Mattel decided to find a way to monetize them in some other way instead. Barbie Girls became the first virtual toy site to go entirely subscription-based. For a sliding scale, girls sign up to become VIPs on the site, with special access and privileges. A free â''basicâ'' membership is still being offered but a nine-year-old told me â''thereâ''s nothing to do unless youâ''re a VIP.â'' VIPs get tiaras, others don't. Some things never change - even online.

Sony's Wii-tastic Controller

Variety's "Cut Scene" blog reports that Sony will be showing a new Wii-like motion sensing controller at the E3 videogame convention next month in Los Angeles.

Of course, Sony already has motion-sensing capabilities in its PS3 controller, but this always felt like more of a "me too" afterthought than a real innovation. Supposedly, the new controller will be more advanced - and of course comes years after the Wii, with all that time to make it even better. But hardware is never enough to win the console wars. Sony needs to introduce compelling games to support the controller, or it's a waste of time/money.

Game Addiction Debate Rages On

The debate over a controversial study on videogame addiction continues.

Edge magazine has an item about Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, who is questioning the findings of the study.

This comes just after Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News, wrote this long piece taking issue with the findings.

Stanford Boots Up Machinima

Last July, I wrote a feature story for IEEE Spectrum magazine about machinima - the do-it-yourself animation movement. Creators use videogame software to make their own homemade (and surprisingly impressive) movies, shorts, and sitcoms.

On Friday, Stanford University held the Play Machinima Law Conference to explore this further. In addition to hosting machinima artists, the conference included law professors sounding off on the copyright matters. Kotaku was there, and has an interesting round-up on the event here.

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IEEE Spectrum’s gaming blog was retired in 2010, but it is preserved here for archival reference.

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