Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 demoed

Microsoft has officially launched Project Natal, now called Kinect for Xbox 360, to a star studded VIP audience in Los Angeles.

Over 2000 people (Pocket-lint included) where invited to the exclusive launch party put on by Cirque du Soleil, as the circus troupe attempted to show the audience what the future of gaming would be like through Microsoft and its new gadget.

Ditching the Project Natal codename that has become so familiar, Microsoft has announced that it will be calling the motion-tracking controller for the Xbox 360 "Kinect for Xbox 360" from now on, presumably to emphasise the kinetic movement you are going to have to do to play the games.

The slim black Kinect sensor plugs directly into any Xbox 360 and contains a camera, audio sensors, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body. Oh, and it has the ability to recognise faces and voices.

And those games range from family fun to more "serious gaming" titles including a Star Wars game complete with lightsaber battles, force power, and the chance to duel against Darth Vader.

Keen to show the potential of the new offering, Microsoft demoed a number of games from what looked like its own Microsoft Games Studio and third party developers like Disney, Lucas Arts and Lionhead Studios.

The first game demonstrated was Joyride, a racing game, that will let players use their hands to hold an imaginary steering wheel and then control the game by pulling their hands toward them and pushing back out for an acceleration boost. They will also be able to move their bodies to execute jumps and tricks.

If racing isn't your thing, then Microsoft believes Kinect Adventures might be for you. It will include a river-raft time trial and obstacle course, playable by up to four players with you swaying from side to side to control the movement of the raft. Points are scored by collecting tokens, which are collected by sticking your arms out and generally being prepared to look stupid in front of the telly. Elsewhere there was a flying element as well with members of the family standing on the wings of a plane.

But it is not just about controlling a car or a moving vehicle.

No doubt keen to appeal to parents who are worried their children playing video games is no good for them, Microsoft has created a game based around athletics called Kinect Sports.

Featuring six activities including boxing, bowling, beach volleyball, track and field, football and table tennis the live action demo showed the family running a 100m sprint, hurdles, throwing a javelin, football, playing beach volleyball and playing 10-pin bowling all the while having a cringe-worthy time doing so.

As you might expect with the running levels, the faster you run on the spot the faster you go in the game and we can easily see this becoming your chance to replace the gym in the same way that you thought Nintendo's Wii Fit would let you. There is also yoga for those looking for something a little slower.

Keeping on the exercise front, there will be a dancing game called Dance Central. Created by MTV it will allow you to strut your stuff in time with the beat. Remember those dancing mat titles? This will bring it all back but with arm and leg movements rather than you just having to press on the right square at the right time.

Away from the "pure play" titles, Microsoft is hoping that this will allow you to ditch the controllers altogether and you'll be able to use your own fingers to scroll through menu systems and load up videos to watch.

We didn't see anyone typing, but that would be cool.

Of course with Kinect featuring a webcam to track your movements around the living room, you can also use it for video chat calls from your TV. Details aren't clear as to how this will work, however it looks like for now it will be a proprietary offering, most likely tied into your Xbox Live login. Microsoft showed two school girls chewing the fat and sharing photos of their day out with each other.

But wait there is more. Microsoft also showed off a virtual pet game, it's calling Kinectimals that lets you train and play with 20 different virtual cats, including a lion, cheetah and tiger.

Looking like it has been developed by Black and White creator Peter Molyneux (although this isn't confirmed) the idea is that you can interact with the fierce range of kittens by reaching out to stroke it, throwing it a ball, getting it to play dead by lying down on the floor and generally having fun.

It's very similar in its approach to Sony's Eye Pet offering that came out last year on the PS3, but rather than create a fluffy creature that sits on your coffee table, this one clearly sits inside your screen happy to paw at the screen, and as the demo at the event showed bash its head against the glass from time to time.

Of course all of this was hands-off and because of the involvement of Cirque du Soleil "imagining" the spectacle, it was also unable to be filmed or photographed (MTV got that exclusive privilege).

The Cirque du Soleil show at Los Angeles’s Galan Center included few specifics about Kinect. Instead, it focused on the new experiences that it will enable. Microsoft has said that it will share more details including the release date, and some of Kinect’s initial game and entertainment offerings.

Microsoft has told us that there will be an opportunity to play with the new Kinect when the show opens on Tuesday.

We will be bringing you more details of how we get on later in the week.