Project Natal: The Who, What, When, Where, Why
Written Saturday, January 09, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Whether you’re looking forward to the motion based technology coming to the 360 is moot. Natal is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it... well nothing a sane man would do anyway. Microsoft’s famed and ambitious technology is slipping its way into stores this Christmas, and the questions on everyone’s lips are: what can we expect, what does it do and is it possible that you can baffle me with technological jargon? Our answers are quite simple? Read this article, you’ll see, and prepare to be baffled my friend... I’ve got my nerd hat strapped on and I'm raring to go.
For those of you living under a rock, Project Natal (above) aims to take the major barrier (the controller) out of gaming and open the platform up to a wider audience. The motion controlled technology uses sensors to track your body movements, gestures, facials expressions and can even be controlled by your voice. Microsoft have singled out 4 main functions of their technology:
So that’s Microsoft’s aims, but how will it work exactly? Well Microsoft aren’t ready to announce the inner workings just yet, but they have stated that Project Natal’s sensor combines an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom software to track your body movement, facial expressions and respond to your voice. My inner pessimist tells me that can't come cheap.
The main concern amongst the general populous of the Xbox 360 crowd is that this move towards motion based technology means Microsoft is casting away its core crowd to focus on the much larger casual gaming crowd. Is that what Microsoft are intending? According to the publisher, “Absolutely not.”
Microsoft were keen to point out that Natal is “meant to enhance, not replace, the experiences on Xbox 360” and they state that they will “remain more committed than ever to delivering high-quality core game experiences that consistently exceed expectations.” To prove their commitment to the core crowd, Microsoft continued to cite their exclusive titles that will be available this year. Despite that sentiment being abundantly clear and straight to the point, they’re keen to stress that it’s not a step towards the casual market and state that their “massive line-up of blockbuster games will continue to use the traditional controller.”
Is that clear enough for you? Apparently Microsoft didn’t think so and they continue to drill this point home.
Natal isn't replacing the 360 controller.
“We envision “Project Natal” as a complement, not a replacement for the traditional control system. We can certainly imagine ways that “Project Natal” could enhance more conventional gaming experiences. Imagine scoring a winning soccer goal with your own foot, dribbling full-court in your living room, painting a picture with your index finger, or fast forward a movie with a single word. “Project Natal” has the potential to deliver more immersive gaming and entertainment experiences than the traditional controller can by itself.” So don't expect the Xbox 360 controller to suddenly become extinct over night, it's clear Microsoft still recognises the core crowd as an important part of the overall package.
The answer to whether Project Natal would extend the lifecycle of the Xbox 360, Microsoft responded with an adamant “yes.” Furthermore, Microsoft stated that they’re “not even halfway through the Xbox 360 lifecycle” which surprises even me considering that the Xbox 360 recently turned 4, suggesting a lifecycle of 9 or so years.
Project Natal is their vision for “fully immersive and interactive home entertainment that will capture your body, voice and imagination - transforming social gaming and entertainment forever.” It sounds a little too much like over-zealous PR talk for my liking, but the possibilities of Natal are pretty vast as we await its arrival.
Whilst Microsoft aren’t ready to announce which games will utilize the technology – despite Molyneux saying Fable 3 would utilize it last year – they were keen to point out that “Activision Blizzard, Capcom, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Konami, Namco Bandai, Sega, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive Software, THQ Inc, and Ubisoft” are all actively working on games.
Health warning: Natal can make you prance around like an idiot.
So will Natal work with every Xbox 360? Simple answer, yes. The cost and precise release date currently remain a mystery and all we know is the new Microsoft technology is slated for a holiday release this year. On the whole it seems that Microsoft are keen to push the notion that Natal is there to “compliment” and not replace the traditional controller, whilst also keen to reemphasise their position in terms of growing the core market; a market they fully intend to keep catering for. The beauty with Natal is that it’s not a mandatory purchase. If it takes your fancy, then you can buy it. If not, then stick to your core games and your controller. What will make or break Natal though is not the impressive technology or not even how Microsoft promote it; it’s the software that they create for it.
Despite having attended the two major trade shows last year, Project Natal has eluded us and so we can’t comment on how accurate or impressive it will be. However with the peripheral launching this year, it can’t elude us much longer. Whether the tech works or not is an entirely different question, at current time our only concern – despite the software – is how Microsoft intends to deliver core games that will use the technology, like Fable 3. Will they make Natal a requirement to play the game or are they quite content to not literally force it down your throat and make it totally optional. After all Fable isn’t exactly a casual title – it’s an RPG – and despite what Microsoft say here, actions speak louder than words and this game will set the tone for how much of an impact Natal will have on the core games market.
Project Natal is coming holiday 2010. We're hedging our bets on Fable 3 being a launch title. Bundle anyone?