When I saw Project Natal being demonstrated at E3 2009, I honestly didn't know what to make of it. The biggest thing that stood out in my mind was the stage demonstration of a paint game. Not because being able to "throw buckets" and splat a virtual canvas with the video game equivalent of paint could be done with nary a controller in hand, but because of a funny little skit in which the guy demonstrating the game called out a young woman to help him create a shadow puppet elephant to be inserted into the demonstrator's masterpiece. A funny moment, indeed, but this is the only thing about any Project Natal demonstration from E3 2009 that actually caught my attention.

Fast forward to E3 2010 and Project Natal, now called Kinect, was something that ended up leaving a good impression on me. Not right away, though. Of course, my initial thoughts about Kinect were plagued with remembrances of the horrid stage acting of a video chat session and the complete lack of anything I felt toward the fitness game which I still don't recall the name of because, well, I still don't care about it. But as those bad memories faded and I really thought about the good stuff that was shown, and went back and looked at videos of single demonstrations, something strange happened: Kinect started to grow on me.

Of course the first demonstration that I recalled was of the adorable little girl playing with her virtual pet tiger. She did a fantastic job going through a number of activities Kinectimals will allow, and doing it with such a cute and delightful manner, that she made me want a virtual pet tiger of my own that I could pretend to pet and play with. And use the jump rope so I can watch him get his Matrix on. Another demonstration I liked was Kinect Sports. Yeah, sure, bowling. But I made the mistake of underestimating how fun bowling on the Wii would be. I won't make that mistake again. And with Kinect, there's no controller, no button presses, and no risk of breaking my TV screen. I'm also diggin' the idea of being able to make a crowd cheer for me as was shown in the E3 stage demo. That won't be good for my already inflated ego, but I think I'll enjoy it nonetheless.

Then there was Dance Central. At first, I dismissed it as just a dancing game. Why would I care about one of those? I can't dance. But then I watched the demonstration again and it struck me that if this game can teach a white and nerdy guy how to dance with some level of competence, maybe there's a small sliver of hope for me. Then again, maybe not. But it still looks like a blast to play and I now can't wait to give it a try...in the privacy of my living room with nobody watching. Okay, maybe my future totally hot girlfriend can watch. Maybe. I'll have to make sure there are no video cameras in the room or on her person. A mandatory strip search may be involved.

But anyway, what a difference a year, and better demonstrations, make. Never did I imagine, one year ago, that I would seriously be looking forward to buying into no-controller gaming. Not when I had not one ounce of caring for the formerly named Project Natal. Maybe it's simply that I felt like paying some attention to Kinect because of how much closer it is to being on store shelves as of this year's showing. Maybe it's because Kinect felt more real to me this time around. Or it could be that the games looked much better than a simple paint demo.

And next year, at E3 2011, I expect to see games that take better advantage of Kinect's controller-free concept. While this year's Kinect games didn't have too much to them, next year's offerings will be much better. As Sega West president and CEO Mike Hayes put it, "We're not going to be able to develop something [for the core audience] in under a year, which is frankly what we've had…We've got one good idea and hopefully something will be out the back end of next year, perhaps early 2012, which we think will use the aspects of Kinect a lot more originally and in a more sophisticated way." (Gamespot)  Sounds good to me. That also gives me hope for the Star Wars game Microsoft showed off. To me, it didn't look like an actual game, but rather just a target render of what the developers are shooting for. Hopefully they take their time with that one and give us a game worthy of the tail end of that Mike Hayes quote.

It took some time for Kinect to grow on me, but grow on me it did. The idea of putting down the controller and moving myself around sounds like a blast. At least, it does now. There was a time when I was every bit as skeptical about Kinect as anyone else. There was a time when I thought this thing was for non-gamers only and wouldn't appeal to someone like me. There was a time when I laughed hysterically at Kevin Butler making a joke of pointing your finger like a gun and saying "pew pew pew." In fact, I still laugh when I see that. But I recently remembered that it wasn't too long ago when Microsoft made that exact activity look like a whole lot of fun.