By JOHN GAUDIOSI, special to LTW

Editor’s note: Veteran video game journalist John Gaudiosi is covering the for Local Tech Wire this week in Los Angeles. (Read his )

LOS ANGELES – After an elaborate Cirque du Soleil performance Sunday evening (which MTV will air on June 15), Microsoft showcased a number of launch titles for its newly renamed (formerly called Project Natal) at its annual press conference.

The hardware will ship November 4 with 15 titles. ()

Microsoft also has begun shipping a new Xbox 360 that’s slimmer and features a 250GB hard drive and built-in Wi-Fi 802.11M for the same $300 price point. Microsoft gave a new Xbox 360 to everyone who attended its press conference.

Social media through Xbox 360

The new peripheral, which has yet to be priced, has been designed to recognize your face, respond to your voice, and know your gestures. The camera will even track you as you move around a room during a video chat with friends.

Microsoft demonstrated how the device will work with movies through its Zune channel. A quick wave of the hand gets a gamer into the main hub, where he or she can choose from Zune, games, Netflix, Facebook and last.fm. The voice control allows instant control of a movie playback, pause and search for a particular scene.

Microsoft showed how Video Kinect will open up video chat with friends and family without needing a microphone. This service will work on both Xbox Live and Windows Messenger. Friends can watch a movie together or search the Internet for music, videos and other content, all while seeing each other as they talk.

A new exclusive deal with ESPN adds sports to the mix. Over 3,500 live and on-demand events on Xbox Live, including college football and basketball, NBA, soccer, and MLB games in HD will be available for gamers. And the sports content will work with Kinect to allow fans to interact without controllers with things like real-time polls, trivia, and choosing a side during a game.

Multiplayer, sports top Kinect themes

But the games are the main draw, and Microsoft had a number of exclusive demos on stage at the Wiltern Theater. Kinectimals is a new pet simulation game that has over 40 animals from around the globe and over 30 activities like jumping rope and playing fetch. A child demoed the game and interacted with a pet tiger named Skittles.

Kinect removes any controllers from the equation, allowing a player to use his or her body to interact with games.

Rare Studios showed Kinect Sports, a game that packs a lot of physical sports into one disc, including track and field, soccer, bowling, javelin, jump, table tennis, boxing, and beach volleyball. Every game features multiplayer options.

Multiplayer was a big part of Kinect, as Big Kart Studios showed Kinect Joy Ride, a kart racing game that uses one’s full body for steering, drifting, speed boosts, and tricks in an assortment of races and a stunt mode. The Adventure Company showed Kinect Adventures, which offers multiplayer challenges across 20 different adventures. A train car challenge and a River Rush white water rafting adventure were shown on stage.

Fitness, dancing are popular themes

A big theme with Kinect (and with gaming in general this year) is a continuation of the fitness craze that Wii Fit and EA Sports Active introduced. Ubisoft showed off Your Shape Fitness Evolved at the Microsoft event, a sequel to the Wii game that takes full advantage of the new Kinect. The game offers an assortment of physical workouts ranging from martial arts to yoga for gamers to get in shape with. EA Sports Active 2 for Kinect was shown at the Electronic Arts press conference, although that game is also shipping for Wii, PlayStation 3 and even iPhone.

Dance games remain popular – and an alternative fitness method – at E3. Harmonix, the studio that created Rock Band, uses Kinect to bring Dance Central to Xbox 360. The game, which features the latest pop, hip hop and rap music from artists like Lady Gaga, teaches anyone how to dance step by step. The title includes 600 moves and 90 routines for players to jump into.

While the majority of games shown are shipping this year, LucasArts had a trailer for a new lightsaber-based Star Wars game in which players will take control of a Jedi and use the Force to fight Darth Vader and his minions. Turn 10 Studios showed a short demo of next year’s latest Forza Motorsport, which will take advantage of Kinect to create a radical new car experience.

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