Playing around with some of the games designed for the Xbox 360's controller-free Kinect earlier this week I discovered the game of the show that I think could have the biggest impact on gaming.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the game is the product of developers Harmonix, the folks who created Guitar Hero, Rock Band, worked on Karaoke Revolution, and, long ago, created the best Eye Toy game to hit the Playstation 2.
It sounds like a silly concept: A game that can teach you to dance.
But when Guitar Hero hit stores it sounded like a bad idea too: A rhythm game you play with a piece of plastic shaped like a toy guitar.
What makes Dance Central so meaningful is that it's real, it keeps an eye on your movements closely, carefully and tells you when you're hips are out of sync, your hand out of rhythm, your legs out of position. And those are real dance moves it's showing and teaching you.
More importantly, though, is that the game is fun.
It makes being a bad dancer fun and overtime it looks as if it could actually teach you to dance, but do so in such a light-hearted, amusing way that you won't realize that you're learning a talent until you have it.
I ran into Alex Rigopulos, CEO of Harmonix, at the event, held in a top floor loft of some trendy downtown LA building.
Do you think this could do for dance games what Guitar Hero did for rhythm games, I asked. Could Dance Central make games like Dance Dance Revolution vastly mainstream, wildly cool?
Yes, he said. But of course he's going to say that, it's his company making this game.
I do agree with him though. You only need to try the game once to realize its power. I tried it three times. I may not seem like it, but I'm a pretty reserved person, not one to play Guitar Hero or Rock Band on stage, sing karaoke in front of a crowd or dance, ever dance in front of an audience.
But there I was, standing in very public place trying to learn how to dance to Lady Gaga. And it was fun.
The game uses the Xbox 360's Kinect to detect your motions, but not just general movement. Kinect uses its tech to make educated guesses about your anatomy, calculating where your bones and joints are and then using that data to figure out if you're moving the right way, at the right time.
All of this happens in the background, but the results seem amazingly precise. As I stomped my feet, shifted side to side, waggled my hips and moved my arms, the game told me how off I was, essentially turning my body into the controller.
I saw two modes for the game. In one Dance Central breaks down the moves for a particular dance. Going over it several times to make sure you've got it. Once your get it you can go into the full gameplay mode.
Most of the screen is taken up with images of dancers performing the moves your perform as you stand in front of Kinect. Rectangles move up along the side of the screen telling you which dance move you should be doing and are going to be doing next. There are even little modifiers that can pop up in those boxes next to the move icon, to show the number of times or in which direction you're doing a move.
It sounds technical and difficult, but it's no more confusing than was Guitar Hero the first time I played that game.
As you play through the game you build up star power, just like you would in a music game, and there are even freestyle moments when you can do whatever you want and the game replays your moves on the television screen.
While Dance Central only supports one player at a time, people can stand next to you performing the same dance. It doesn't seem to through the technology.
Rigopulos believes the game will teach us all to dance, will get people out of their chairs and on the dance floor.
I think he's right, that this could be the next phenomenon to sweep bars nationwide.
I just hope they can one day tie this all together, delivering an experience like what you'd find with a big stage production, but peopled entirely by gamers.
You could have backup singers, a band and now dancers, all performing, all gaming.