A major game console company announces an all new way for players to interact with their games. The company generates a ton of pre-release hype for the new controller which uses player movements to manipulate and “touch” in-game objects on the screen.
Nope, we are not talking about Nintendo’s Wii controller, but rather the EyeToy for Sony’s Playstation 2. The USB camera got a lot of attention when it was released a few years ago as players participated in mini-games with the camera translating the movement of the person on the screen for simple mini-games like window washing (yep window washing) and dispatching cartoon ghosts. While the Eyetoy sold a lot of units when it was first released, follow-up games for the device failed to deliver on the camera’s promise of revolutionary gameplay.
Now Microsoft is preparing to release its own USB camera add-on for its Xbox 360 console. Unlike the EyeToy, however, the Xbox Live Vision camera is being marketed as being more of a communication device than as a gameplay addition (although it will reportedly be used for that as well). FiringSquad got an early look at the Xbox Live Vision product before its officially release to stores on Sept. 19 (a few store in the US apparently sold a few units of the camera ahead of time).
The camera itself looks pretty much like every other USB web cams that have been marketed for desktop and lap PCs. Like the Xbox 360’s “ring of light” the camera’s lens is surrounded by a green glowing light (something that doesn’t really show up when you photograph the camera). The small flat stand for the white colored camera keeps it upright on flat surfaces (we would have liked to have seen some kind of clip on the back for attaching it to, say, a wall or another flat surface), and the camera itself has a handheld focus lens that allows the person to adjust the focus. The stand allows the camera to rotate and also angle for a few degrees up and down.
The Xbox 360’s user interface already has support for the Xbox Live Vision camera in its last major update so it should be easy for people to begin using the camera out of the box (and for the few of you who don’t have your console online yet, we think you are behind the times). The UI’s set-up menu allows the player to adjust both the amount of lighting that the camera brings in (from its default setting to almost complete darkness) and also can change the kind of lighting that appears in the camera as well. The camera can also be used to replace your gaming picture for your Xbox 360 player profile. All you have to do is go to your gamertag profile, hit the take personal picture button and you are taken to a screen when you can quickly take your profile image. The UI allows you to activate a control for an even more close up profile from within the camera’s image which is adjusted via the Xbox 360 controller. After the gamertag profile picture is taken, Microsoft has got some weird distortions that you can use to make your player face look very odd indeed (mine splits my profile image in two).
The game does support video chat with another player in the main Xbox 360 menu, but it also can support in game chat for the games that wish to support it. Currently the only game that supports such a feature is the Xbox Live Arcade game UNO. However, when the Xbox Live Vision camera goes on sale it will also support another Xbox Live Arcade game called TotemBall that is supposed to incorporate motion sensing gameplay like the Sony EyeToy PS2 games. The camera is also supposed to allow for face mapping that will take your face and put it in games that support it such as the upcoming World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions. Visually, the 1.3 megapixel camera is about what you might expect for image resolution for both still images and for video chat.
Overall the Xbox Live Vision camera is a solid way to communicate for gamers who own an Xbox 360 console but the jury is still out on how many games will take advantage of all the camera’s features. If the camera does catch on we expect more Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade games to support video chat (we though the recent Texas Hold ‘em poker game would support video chat but that is not the case) and perhaps more support for game face insertions. However we think gesture and motion sensing game features for the camera will be few and far between if the experience of the PS2 EyeToy is any indication.
The Xbox Live Vision camera will come in two versions when it officially ships to stores in the US on September 19. A $40 version will include one free month of Xbox Live Gold, a headset and codes to download two free Xbox Live Arcade games (UNO and TotemBall). The $80 version of the camera is the better value; it contains a free 12 month subscription to Xbox Live, the headset, codes for three free Xbox Live Arcade games (UNO, TotemBall and Robotron) and 200 free Microsoft points to use anywhere they wish on Xbox Live.
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