The "meat" of the show was a series of short game demos for products mentioned in the USA Today story, Kinect Sports, Kinect Adventures, and Kinectimals. The first two games are mini-game compilations with sports like soccer and javelin or races on rafts or cars. Kinectimals, meanwhile, appears to be like Nintendogs, only with jungle cats. Other games included an unnamed Star Wars game where your lightsaber swinging motions translate directly to your character in the game, a car racing game, a hip hop dance game, and a yoga/Tai Chi simulator. The non-game demos were for video chat, interactive Xbox Dashboard menus, a Disney Tinkerbell interface and a random video of Xbox avatars flying through the air like the toasters from that old Windows desktop application, After Dark.
The unnamed Star Wars game got the loudest cheers, while Kinectimals won a few coos from the audience. The longest demos were for the Kinect Sports and Kinect Adventures games, but these titles seemed to suffer lag and the presentation of the games made it difficult to understand how the controls worked (especially for the team sports like soccer). The hip hop game seemed promising, as did the yoga simulator, winning some speculative noises.
The larger part of the Natal/Kinect event, however, was the "experience." This is where the product suffers skepticism from audience members who weren't into the whole performance art thing.
Here's how it went down:
The event began with audience members filtering through a line of bellydancers and drummers dressed in tropical-themed costumes outside the theater. Each member of the audience in both the sitting and standing room sections was given a white smock with flared shoulder pads containing hidden lights. Audience members progressed through a hallway into the theater area two-by-two so that each group could experience a surreal haunted house-style encounter where you stand before what appears to be a TV where you're watching a family on a couch, only they're actually watching you and they invite you to step through the "TV" and into their living room. From there, audience members proceeded into the arena area to wait for the show to start. While waiting, members of the Cirque du Soleil troupe dressed in the jungle outfits moved among the audience, encouraging cheering, dancing with groups of willing participants or performing contortionist stunts in marked off spaces. Off in a corner of the room, a couch dangled over the heads of the audience with a similar family group reclining to watch the people mill around below them.
Right about then, the skeptical Tweets started. The event was supposedly no-media-allowed, but individuals in the standing room only sections were able to snap photos or access Twitter to express frustration or discomfort with the performance element. When the show actually started and the Cirque du Soleil performers physically pushed the audience apart to allow a giant elephant prop to move through the crowd, the grumbling moved off of Twitter and into real life.
People got quiet when the suspended couch lowered and the child in the family was escorted to the stage by the elephant. Three wall-to-wall screens lit up around the theater and a main stage on the fourth wall lit up to reveal a second family that welcomed the child actor into their TV space to play the Kinect game demos.
This is where things got difficult for the audience, they were not sure where to look. Each of the three screens showed either the game being played or video of the family onstage doing the motion controls. The main stage, meanwhile, kept changing, turning upside down, removing and adding rotating panels containing other suspended couches with actors. During the entire demo sequence, the Cirque du Soleil performers balanced on set pieces in front of the main stage, performing short skits or dance moves, sometimes upstaging the Kinect demos on screen. On top of all that, the flared shoulder pads in the smocks would light up or strobe during certain parts of the performance.
Love it or hate it, everyone left the event having seen their first real Natal experience if not a real Cirque du Soleil performance. Some of the skeptical Tweeters were optimistic about Kinect, most were still annoyed about having to wear a light-up smock. Everyone is primed for Microsoft's press conference tomorrow, however, when the company will hopefully reveal a release date and a price point for Kinect.