Step away from the controller. Microsoft this week is unveiling a set of video games that don't require people to navigate their way around a complex controller with more buttons than the cockpit of a Boeing 747.
Microsoft's technology, code-named Project Natal, ditches the controller altogether. Instead, the games will rely on a device the size of a stapler that perches on top of a living room TV to recognize faces, obey voice commands and track body movements. No more mashing 14 different buttons in endless sequences. Though Microsoft won't reveal which games will launch with the device until Monday, last month it did show off four "tech demos" to journalists at its campus. One can only assume that those games will become part of the package, including:
• River Rush: What Shaun White would want in real-life river rafting, players instead can indulge in the vicarious thrill on their living room rug. Steering a virtual raft past waterfalls, rocks and other obstacles requires lots of jumping and leaning. The graphics are similar to what you'd find in snowboarding games, with giant visual cues telling players where they can go so they won't get lost.
• Ricochet: Prepare to break a sweat. Players use their arms, legs, feet and head to block a frantic barrage of soccer-sized balls. Microsoft showed an early version of this game during last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. The latest iteration lets two people play simultaneously. Using facial recognition software, the camera checks who is playing and pulls up their personal avatars on the screen. The feature would, for example, let parents control which games their kids can play.
• Living Statue: One small step for Xbox, one giant leap for Microsoft's social media strategy. This game lets players record their avatars dancing and singing karaoke-style, then e-mail the video masterpiece to their friends. The company has long nurtured its ambitions for its Xbox Live online game service, which has 23 million active users, to become a virtual watering hole for people who play video games.
• Obstacle Course: Players pull, dodge and jump their way through a series of levels resembling what you would find at summer camp, sans mosquitoes.
In addition, there will be about a dozen more Natal-licensed titles from other developers unveiled, but Microsoft has forbidden the publishers from uttering a word about them until after its news conference Monday.
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