J JamesGames.com Microsoft Announces Project Natal for Xbox360 at E3

Microsoft Announces Project Natal for Xbox360 at E3

(Originally Posted 6/1/2009)
By: James Oppenheim | Created: 2012-05-22 13:59:35 | (Updated: 0000-00-00 00:00:00)

In the future we don’t type at computers, we interface with them. We talk, we wave, but we do not type. Welcome to the future and Project Natal launched by Microsoft at its 2009 E3 kick-off event.

With Project Natal we’ve warped forward from wired joysticks to wireless nunchucks to controlling a computer with no peripheral in hand at all.

Using a combination of camera and microphone array the Project Natal device senses your presence and creates a skeletal model of your body. From that point on it knows who you are and how you move.

You’ll be able to use it to control the Xbox360 in both gaming (where your body will control the on screen avatar) and while listening to music or watching movies. Want to flip through your photos? Just wave your hand, Minority Report style, and they will move. (It is a bit like Microsoft’s Surface, but without the Surface).

Incredibly, the single controller will be able to sense multiple players simultaneously. In one scenario, for instance, you might be driving a race car by “miming” a steering wheel. When you pull into the pit, the Project Natal device would see all your buddies in the pit stop, and sense their actions as they used “virtual air wrenches” to change your tires and fill you up!

Clearly, Microsoft has heard the marketplace on this one. The popularity of the Wii’s use of body movement, instead of thumb coordination, has expanded the market from its core niche to what are called in polite-circles “casual gamers”.

Those expecting Microsoft to come up with a “me-too” Wii controller are going to be surprised by this device which, at least for now, is not expected to launch this year.

The idea of using whole body movement to control a game is not entirely new. Sony has had several titles that use its Eye-Toy device (a camera) to activate in-game elements, for example.

However, in contrast, that was a very low tech solution. It didn’t have fine resolution of your body parts, instead relying on rather crude recognition that something was moving on the screen. Here, I’m told (and hope to explore in demos later during E3), you can move your foot, and the Natal device will know how far and in what direction from the way the rest of your body shifted!

Project Natal's integration of kinetic control into the entire Xbox360 experience goes well beyond "video games". It has the potential to vault the Xbox360 (and its technology) to the center of the living room/entertainment center experience. Why worry about finding the remote, when you can control the TV with a wave of your hand?

Microsoft credits Kudo Tsunoda, General Manager of Microsoft Game Studios, as one of the prime movers behind the creation of the Project Natal device. I’ve secured an interview with him and will be posting it soon.

For years we’ve railed against the sedentary aspects of video gaming. With Project Natal, Microsoft is bringing us to a new, more energetic future. Ultimately, we'll have to see how the bold claims match up to reality and how software developers are able to creatively (one hopes!) integrate this new kind of gaming control into their games. However, first impressions count, and this one has made a positive impact.

* * * In other E3 News from Microsoft: In addition to the big news about Project Natal, Microsoft announced today that Xbox360 is getting substantial upgrades: Xbox360 will gain instant access 1080p movie viewing along with 5.1 surround sound. That means no waiting for movies to start to stream. Select a movie, click, and start watching - bringing the DVD experience (and quality) to downloaded content. Also new to Xbox360: Twitter and Facebook will be integrated into the Xbox Live experience.
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