6/14/10 at… Galen Center?

I know, I know.  You’re thinking, “Matt!  They don’t play baseball at–whatever that place is.”

You’re right.  They don’t.  At that place–the Galen Center–it’s where USC plays their basketball and volleyball games.  So, why was I there, right?

Well, it started about a week and a half ago when I was contact by Jason Yeh of MLBlogs (he’s the director of New Media Strategy with MLB Advanced Media).  His e-mail to me included:

We’ve recently been given the opportunity to reward some of our
best bloggers on MLBlogs with an invitation to an exclusive world
premier of Project Natal for Xbox 360.

And I read it and was like… absolutely.  So I e-mailed back and got an RSVP code… I went to the website to RSVP and it was full… I was put on a waitlist.  I told Jason that and he flexed some cyber muscle (I suppose) and got me and a guest (my wife, Michelle) in.  All we had to do was show up.  Awesome!

So, that’s the connection to MLBlogs and why I’m writing about my experience on here.  And I mean experience.  It was a sensory overload and it was a ton of fun.  Here’s how it all played out.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it was a technology free event (for the public) so I didn’t bring my camera or cell phone… but I still have some pictures… I’ll get into that:

We arrived at Parking Structure 2 near the Galen Center at about 6:00pm.  They event was supposed to start at 7:00 but our invitation that we’d printed (with codes to get us in) said to arrive by 6:30 to ensure admission.  They were expecting full capacity.  Sure enough, as we exited the parking structure we saw people with “WAITLIST” stickers on their clothing.  I grinned and was thankful I didn’t need to wait around to find out if we were going to make it in.  There was a line queue set up in the street (Figueroa) and a lot of people in Xbox 360 polo shirts.  We were directed to the queue and asked if we had bar codes.  We did.  We were passed through to another group of event workers.  A guy scanned out tickets and said to the girl behind him, “Two purple.”
purple bracelet 1.JPGWe traded our printout for bracelets to get us into the event.  We snapped on our purple Xbox bracelets and walked down the street to meet the rest of the line.  When we got there I asked an usher what the different colors meant and she said there were three colors: purple, green, and orange.  Orange meant VIP… purple were for seats and green was standing room on the floor of the center.  OK.

flashDrivePage_21.jpgPurple and green stood in line while orange bypassed us.  At 6:10 the line moved/contracted and from our new position near the corner of W Jefferson St. and S Figueroa Wy. we could see a guy in orange body paint standing at a Taiko drum.  Did I mention that this event included a performance by Cirque du Soleil?  That should make that whole previous sentence a little more clear.  So, over the fence that was blocking our view I saw this guy in crazy Cirque garb drumming and I could also see the tops of set pieces–they might have been costume pieces, I didn’t know at this point… but they looked flowery, like big jungle blossoms.  Weird, I know.

I was taking notes the whole time since I couldn’t really take photos.  So, there are a ton of people, including guests, ushers/workers for the event, and police and security folks.  At 6:25 a guy on a headset instructed an usher to fill in the queue to as full as it could be.  At that time the queue was twelve to fifteen feet wide but we had been lined up in the middle of it.  When we heard that Michelle and I crept along the outside to fill in the gaps… so we were now closer to the front of the line.  I noticed a second drummer from our new vantage point.  They were both on towers and at 6:45 their drumming changed dramatically.  A camera crew started filming… we’d been notified that there would be a broadcast of this event (they’d be airing on MTV and Nick at Nite and online).  Some worker for the event started instructing us, “Green on the left, purple on your right.”  So we split to the two sides of the queue.

We were fortunate that the weather was great on this evening.  The sky was blue and cloudless and there was a light breeze.  It was a great evening and we were both pretty glad because we didn’t bring jackets.  We’d been standing in the street near the Galen Center for almost an hour at this point and there were literally thousands of people behind us.  Michelle pointed out that it looked like the flowery pieces on the other side of the fence were moving and that lights started turning on.  Sure enough, at 6:57 the line moved… not forward, but everyone started stirring.  On the other side of the fence we saw guys and girls climbing into the flower set pieces.  They started dancing inside them!  People started holding up their camera phones to get pictures… we were still outside the venue so on one stopped them.
world-premiere_003.jpgSee the drummer up on that tower?  Oh… and the crazy flower dancer… yeah.

At 7:00 they let us in.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a rock concert/baseball game environment where everybody ran and tried to trample everybody else.  We walked in, past the dancing flower people, and were handed neon green bracelets.  They were like the LIVESTRONG bracelets everyone’s seen.
flash drive 2.JPGAnd it turned out that they were USB drives… yay!  Thanks, Microsoft.  2 GB flash drives–and they had some media content on them, too.
flash 1.JPG
So, that’s how I have the photos that I do.  Anyway, we continued on our path to the right… greens had gone left.  And I was pretty excited at this point.  I yelled jokingly over the fence to the people still filing in, “Oh my gosh, it’s so great in here!”  And someone outside yelled back, I believe jokingly, as well, “I hate you so much!”

kataginu.jpgWe went around a corner and up a staircase.  What did we see?  Ponchos.  Yep, “Interactive Ponchos” that we were instructed to take.  So, we put on our white, interactive ponc
hos that had weird shoulder pads… sort of like old samurai outfits.

Then we walked into the venue… and it was surreal.  The floor had a strange covering on it with projections of pools of water.  There was a huge rock pile set piece to our left with one performer seemingly meditating on it.  There were projection screens all around us and Cirque performers creeping along the floor.  A couch, suspended fifty feet over the playing space, with a family sitting on it was to our right and above us.  The projection screens were broadcast the characters/avatars you can create on Project: Natal’s interface (sort of like the Mii you can create on Nintendo’s Wii).  Michelle and I sat in the second row, dead center.  Above us there was another projection screen dead center over the floor–like where the scoreboard would be for a basketball game.

We then saw the folks who had received green bracelets begin to file in to the floor/playing space.  The Cirque acrobats were contorting themselves and doing various bits with the audience.  At first we were kind of bummed that we couldn’t be down there… but then we realized we were very glad to be sitting… the greenies had to stand.  At 7:12 the music, which was a calming jungle soundscape mixed with recorded chanting and techno rhythm, picked up and the performer that had been sitting on the rocks started moving.  There were a bunch of performers that flooded the floor and the stands at that time.  Near us, the sort of “clown” type performers were doing little things like playing with lights and tin cans… making animal noises and interacting with the crowd.  On the floor there was a trio of male acrobats, a guy doing Capoeira style martial arts, and some female contortionists… and then they all started a sort of parade at 7:23.  They marched through the crowd on the floor and there was a strange didgeridoo (holy crap I spelled that right!)-looking prop they were using to make noise.  I tried to piece a story together out of all of this.  It reminded me a bit of the part with the apes in 2001: A Space Odysseybg-home.jpgAlong with the Natal characters on the projection screens, we started seeing photos of normal people that had attended the event up there as well.  A performer near us started a “fire” that was red lights with a prop she carried around.  At 7:45 the Cirque folks divided the crowd down the middle and enlisted the help of some audience members to play telephone… with strings and tin cans.  You remember that game?  Anyway, I started to get what was happening.  This preshow stuff was showing us the evolution of communication.  From primitive sounds to language to ways of communicating that language via technology.  OK… there’s a story going on here.  Cool.  I get it… I think.

8:00 came and the real show started.  A new screen flew in to the space and we saw the word, “PROLOGUE.”  An announcer’s voice boomed through the arena talking about communication and humans versus machines.  It concluded by saying that in the past, mankind had to change to adjust to what computers needed.  But now it would be the computers that would adjust to us.  Oooh…

Then four drummers, one in each corner of the arena, started drumming away and the lights changed, the scrims (see-through fabric) on each edge of the venue flew up and away and an elephant entered the room.  Not a real elephant… some sort of puppet thing.  At this point I know you’re dying for a photo.  Here you go:
world-premiere_001.jpgAre you with me now?  Like, this thing was crazy!  There was so much going on that I didn’t know where to look!  People with ponchos, acrobats, elephant puppet, HD projection screens, and BTW–the elephant had digital TV screens on it… and it was carrying a small boy up toward the rock pile where most of the performers were waiting.

When the kid got there he got down, climbed the rocks and pulled a controller out of his bag.  There were four screens hanging in front of him, each showing a different game.  He beat the levels on each screen and as he did there would be a digital explosion and the screen would quickly fly out of sight.  He climbed the last rock… which was covered by some sort of sheet thing… and then the last screen went blank…

Then the rock started to move.  It ascended and as it did the sheet covering it fell away and revealed the Xbox logo which lit up.  Bright green light poured from it and then I noticed the green light extended across the auditorium… but it was because our shoulders were lit up… literally every poncho in the room lit up bright green.  I look around and everyone was freaking out… but this opening sequence wasn’t done yet!  The kid tried to use his controller on the last screen but nothing happened… so he put it down.  Then an avatar of him showed up on the screen… and he put his hands out to the sides… and so did his avatar!
world-premiere_002.jpgHe moved, leaned, jumped, and so did the character on the screen.  We were then introduced to Project: Natal’s new, official name.
kinect_001.pngIt was dramatic.  For reals…

And the boy stepped into a set high above the floor that looked like a living room.  With a couch and a TV, all the projection screens around us showed similar environments (ie this could be YOUR living room).  The whole set piece started rotating… like, these people were upside down in their house… then another family walked into the room.  OK, so one upside-down family and one rightside-up family.  I think this was supposed to be like–anyone all over the world can do this.  Meanwhile, all the Cirque performers are standing on the rock pile watching this play out and still acting, like, “Ooh, this is crazy!”

So now we get glimpses of the software and how you actually play the games on Kinect.  Basically, there’s a family and they all take part.  Like, “Look, this is fun for the whole family!”  First there’s a Wii style generic game like Wii Sports was… you stand on platforms, rafts, etc. and you try to reach, jump, and move around to get tokens/coins/whatever they are.
It looked cool…  we see the kids play with Tinkerbell from Disney… then dad uses a lightsaber for a Star Wars style battle.  This got a great reaction from the crowd.  If you can really do cool lightsaber moves like that–lots of Star Wars nerds will be all over this game.
anteater lightsabers.jpgMOAR LIGHTSABERS PLZ!

It’s about 8:30 at this time at I peer to my left.  In the aisle there’s a girl just standing there with a box of popcorn.  I lean to Michelle and say, “Why is there a creepy child standing over there?”  I then instantly get jealous because I’m like–“I didn’t know they had concessions here!”  Michelle and I were starving!  Then I show Michelle… and notice there’s a whole family in the aisle, lined one by one, each about fifteen feet apart.  They are clearly an “Indian family”  on the other side of us we see a “Hispanic family” and across the way are other “families.”  I put them in quotes because they’re obviously actors… just like the boy on the elephant and the family hanging out on the couch fifty feet above us.  I’m in the industry–people don’t just get to do those kinds of things.  They’re performers and they know choreography and stuff like that.

Anyway, they all are watching as mom does some yoga game (snooze)… but the message is, “There’s something for everyone–all over the world.”  Next, the family up on the big set piece takes part in some track and field stuff and there’s an in-game announcer… a really excitable one.  And it’s boys versus girls!  Ooh… and they participate in running, bowling, javelin, volleyball, etc.  At one point, the girl from the upside-down family comes back and plays volleyball against the rightside-up girl.  Like, we can play against each other even if we are on different continents!

flashDrivePage_13.jpgAt 8:41 the little girl plays a game where she plays with a virtual tiger.  This part was most interesting to me because it involves a player interacting with stuff that is on the screen.  Like, outlines of hands pet the little tiger cub as the girl reaches/moves forward.  She “picks up” a ball and throws it and the tiger cub catches it and brings it back.  She plays with a rope and the cub responds to it, jumps over it, it trips the cub at one point.  Pretty cool stuff.  Oh… but don’t click on that picture because you can’t really connect/share anything with anyone–it’s just a picture in this case… I just wanted to show you the tiger… he’s so darn cute!  You should see him jump rope.  Yeah, that’s right.

Then I notice that the elephant puppet thing has come back.  It’s wandering around the venue floor… and tiger-time is done and the young boy starts playing a Dance Dance Revolution game… but instead of just stomping down on arrows you actual match up dance moves with the guy on the screen (all to the funky beats of No Doubt’s “Hella Good”).  These dance moves are named things like “swing” and “seduce” among others… which struck me as odd.  Go ahead, Tommy, do the seduce to beat this level.

The whole family joins in for some dancing fun before they all go back to the couch to look through the apps and programs that Kinect can utilize.  These include Facebook, Netflix, and a bunch of others.  They browse through DVDs and reminisce about photos that they can view and share.  The girl activates video chat… upside-down girl comes back and they share photos and videos.  At one point they literally say, “Let’s connect to Julio in Mexico.”  OK, I get it–you can do this all over the world, right.

So, on cue, Julio from Mexico and a dozen other performers in different satellite performance spaces around the venue–above where all those projection screens are–appear and they all dance to the dance game together.  They are all connected, that’s the message.  As they all dance the upside-down girl gives a ball to the rightside-up girl.  Then, the whole house starts to rotate again… here I noticed the one hiccup in all this multimedia, high-tech event–a lamp that was upside down came loose and fell into rightside-up land and almost hit the girl… ouch.  Just a tiny thing, but I’m a stage manager by trade and I notice that kind of thing.  So, everyone dances, then we, in the audience are connected to the performers because our ponchos (interactive, remember?) light up… different colors this time.  Red, green, blue, white… and they want us to dance, too.  Some little kids do… but Michelle and I just stand p in preparation to leave as the little boy from the “house” is harnessed up and flies away as the final music comes to a flourish!  People are already out of their seats and exiting before the lights come up–which is inconvenient for the fake families in the aisle–who are performers–still performing–dancing along.  It ends… people clap… and we head up the steps to the concourse.  When we get there, we turn over our ponchos… AWW–I DON’T GET TO KEEP IT?!?

And we are each handed a little plush toy.  It’s an animal like the tiger the little girl played with.  I saw a black panther, a tiger, and a leopard.  I ended up with a tiger, Michelle got a leopard.  Here they are:
natal animals 2.JPGCute… Yay for swag!  We headed out, in a good mood except for our hunger, and once we grabbed some sandwiches we were all set for the ride home.  It was a pretty cool night.  Sensory overload!  Cirque du Soleil + Xbox = fun.

Thanks to MLBlogs and Jason Yeh for the chance to go!  And thanks for reading.  Here’s a site, article, and video for those that want to know more:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/kinect-success-or-failure-down-to-the-games/8628

It’s out in November–it’s an add-on for the Xbox 360… if you want to know more… well just Google it.  It’s not a secret anymore.

Kinect.

I promise I’ll have another baseball entry up soon!

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