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Spielberg, Cameron Put On Their Game Faces

Microsoft unveils controller-free gaming, and social network functions; Cameron unleashes ”Avatar“ game

As if the Beatles were not enough, E3 got rolling on Monday with James Cameron and Steven Spielberg providing some marquee Hollywood star power.


Microsoft showcased its growing Xbox 360 features, which will soon come complete with social networking, a new way to watch TV and the ability to control a game with one’s body movement.


The 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo officially opens Tuesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, but the computer technology giant revealed that it is developing a controller-free system that would enable players to participate in a game by kicking, jumping, catching, or even speaking.


The capability is enabled by a sensor — code named "Project Natal" — that is developed to track full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions or even a shift of emotion in a voice.


Steven Spielberg was on hand at USC’s Galen Center to help Microsoft preview the technology. "The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear,” he said. “With Project Natal, we’ll see games that bring everyone together through technology that actually recognizes us."


According to Microsoft, the sensor will be able to recognize a face and “understands what you’re saying.” The company did not reveal when it plans to bring the technology to the market.


Microsoft also introduced new Xbox Live network services, as well as premiered new games including "Forza Motorsport 3," "Alan Wake" and "Halo 3: ODST.”


Using Facebook Connect, Xbox 360 users will be able to post updates and screenshots from supported games directly to Facebook, starting with an upcoming version of "Tiger Woods PGA Tour."


Last.fm, part of the CBS Interactive Music Group, will give Xbox Live subscribers access to millions of songs streaming through Xbox 360.


Microsoft also plans to offer 1080p resolution movies and TV with 5.1 surround sound, instantly and direct to consoles connected to compatible HDTVs through Xbox Live.


Starting this fall, a selection of movies and TV shows from Zune video on Xbox 360 will be available on demand.


Microsoft intends to extend the number of markets where Xbox Live offers its TV shows and movies from eight to 18. Plans are to add Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.


Also Monday, James Cameron made an appearance at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, at the Los Angeles Theater, to help the game developer promote its upcoming 3D title “Avatar,” based on the director’s wildly anticipated 3-D sci-fi epic of the same name, which opens in theaters Dec. 18.


The helmer said the game would be released prior to the film, but it was created so as not to include any movie spoilers.


The game was created while the movie was in production, and Cameron related that the goal was to “to create the ideal model for how a movie and game can be co- developed.”


Finally, Electronic Arts announced on Monday that its EA Sports relaunched easports.com, a new online destination in public beta, which combines existing sites easports.com and easportsworld.com. The new site was developed as a central hub to connect the sports gaming community. EA made the presentation at the Orpheum Theater.


Features include: An ‘Inside EA Sports’ blog, media lounge for trailers and the like, and a place where gamers can customize their experience.


EA also announced new games including ”EA Sports MMA” and “Crysis 2.”