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E3 Expo 2010

LA is a strange place at the best of times, but the 2010 E3 games Expo raised the bar. Dazed Digital went along to witness some future technology

The E3 Expo in LA is a bit like London fashion week, if you replace all the catwalks, models, and designers with 245 synapse quaking videogame stands, hundreds of glamour models, an army of perpetually hungover journalists, and 45,000 overly excited geeks subsisting on a strict diet of cheesy nachos.

It’s basically where everyone in the gaming industry comes to do their best Steve Jobs impression and predict the future. Some were more successful than others. One exhibitor hedged her bets on a plastic bowling ball controller that you swung perilously at your TV, while another tried to sell me a hand held fitness gyroscope by claiming that my masturbation technique would improve. Activision, the makers of Guitar Hero, just decided to have a massive party, blowing over $3 million on a concert featuring Eminem, Rihanna, Soundgarden, and The Black Eyed Peas. Everyone who went said it was a great show, with BEP’s lesser-known members Apl.De.Ap and Taboo pulling out performances that are already being talked about in the same breath as Hendrix at the Isle of Wight. Sadly, Activision didn’t invite me. They’re still mad that I bought the domain for Synth Hero. Instead, I dressed up as Obi Won Kinobi and chased a chubby man on a segway around the exhibition floor. Oh, what japes we had. I then went to check out Nintendo’s new 3DS, which, as the name implies, is a 3D version of the DS. It’s actually quite cool, with a switch on the side that varies the 3D effect, so you don’t need to wear any special glasses to play it, although you do go slightly cross eyed after prolonged exposure. If I were a teenager I’d literally be wetting my bed with excitement about getting one. Not that I wet my bed as a teenager, but, well, you know, umm…

Anyway, the event itself is huge – it took over downtown LA’s Convention Centre for four days and clocked up over 17,000 man-hours just installing the fibre optic cabling. I collected that interesting piece of data from a Mexican dressed as Mario. But for me, the most exciting part of the E3 Expo, apart from the hot zombie girl dancing in a cage, was the launch of Xbox’s Kinect, the fabled controller free interface formerly known as Project Natal. In case you’ve been sleeping under a server for the last year, this is what Bill Gates’s crew are hoping will wipe out the Wii as the family entertainment hub of choice when it gets released in November. Their confidence is well founded – Kinect is a very slick product. You basically navigate through your movie, music and game collections by waving your hand around in the air. Anyone who’s seen that Argos advert or Minority Report knows the deal. To play a game, you stand in front of the sensor and move accordingly – the best example they had on show was Dance Central, a title from MTV which turns couch potatoes into choreographers with professional routines for Lady Gaga, M.I.A, Bel Biv Devoe and more. Whereas there are zero transferable skills to come out of, say, Guitar Hero, Dance Central actually teaches people how to pull some amazing shapes in real life, although you will need to get over the embarrassment of flailing around in front of your friends without the safety blanket of being drunk or in a dark club. Kinect’s tag line, “You Are The Controller ¬– 14 Buttons Replaced by Your Body”, was everywhere – even on the mirror in the men’s toilets, which must have prompted a few geeks to imagine the possibilities of finally being able to put their own joysticks to use. Sickos. I had more productive things on my mind, like asking Marc Whitten, the boss of Xbox Live, what was so special about E3 and his shiny new toy…

Dazed Digital: Marc, describe E3 in three words
Marc Whitten: Fight for attention. You just feel like everyone is in their booth turning the volume up ‘One more click up! Turn it up!’

DD: There’s a lot of killer robots and hot girls walking around
Marc Whitten: What?! Does that work?

DD: Yeah. It’s quite clever, putting hot girls in the same room with a bunch of guys who don’t see the sun very much.
Marc Whitten: It’s a pretty crazy place.
DD: So Kinect is your vision of the future?
Marc Whitten: Totally. There’s a quote - the most advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - what that really means is that the really great technology gets out of the way. If I tried to explain how electricity gets to your house, it’s really complicated – there’s a nuclear reactor, they’re blowing up stuff. There’s millions of miles of cables, transformer stations, but who cares. You just want to put the switch on and for the power come on. The technology has got out the way for you to have that experience. The future is that all of that stuff needs to disappear. The more you can make people’s experiences effortless.

DD: How much did it cost, from the initial idea to bringing it to market?
Marc Whitten: I don’t know how to put a figure on it, but it’s probably around $5 billion. I would have not done this product if I could not have got the voice recognition working well, or get it to identify a person who stands in front of it. These are multiple year and multiple group problems inside of Microsoft, and things went into other products, but this is the beating edge of a lot of technology. We’ve spent a lot, I haven’t gone back and added it up.

DD: One last question. Bill Gates…
Marc Whitten: Who’s he?

DD: Just some guy. What is his favourite song to dance to?
Marc Whitten: Hahaha I can’t imagine. That’s probably the weirdest question I’ve had today. I’m going to say Posion.

DD: Poison? The hair metal group?
Marc Whitten: No, the Bel Biv Devoe song.The only reason I say that is that we did so many rehearsals and I can’t get that song out of my head. I go sleep singing “Poison”

DD: You go to sleep singing some new jack swing?
Marc Whitten: Oh my god, it’s driving me crazy!