The video game community is buzzing after what was shown at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) convention in Los Angeles in early June. Microsoft unveiled Project Natal, a system that allows players to play the Xbox 360 without a controller. Incredibly, the player’s body becomes the controller!
This revolutionary system, an exclusive add-on for the Xbox 360, is contained in a bar that sits above or below your television, similar to the sensor bar used for the Nintendo Wii. But Natal goes way beyond what anyone has seen from Nintendo, or any other video game console for that matter. Contained within the bar is a camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone. In essence, it captures the player’s body in 3D and uses changes his or her face, body and voice to control the game.
The demonstration of Project Natal at E3 was highlighted by a video of a family playing a racing game, where the daughter raced a car, one hand holding and turning an imaginary wheel in front of her while the other hand changed gears. When she cruised into a pit stop, her father jumped off the couch and used mime-like hand movements to unscrew, remove, and replace a damaged wheel.
The system was not reacting to a controller, or a touch of the screen. Instead, the camera, sensor and microphone reacted to the player’s movements and voice, allowing the family to interact with the game in a way that hasn’t been seen in gaming.
Last week, Project Natal was featured on Jimmy Fallon Live where two games were shown. The first was a breakout-style game where Jimmy used his entire body to hit balls and destroy coloured bricks on a wall. The camera responded quickly and even tracked the changes of his hand position as well as how hard he was swiping at the ball.
The next featured game, the driving adventure Burnout Paradise, was used to show how Project Natal could be used with a game made before the Natal’s technology. Jimmy used his hands as the steering wheel and the movement of his foot to control the gas. The different players were able to switch easily without the need of re-calibrating the system and it responded as quickly as it would with a handheld controller.
Microsoft should be applauded for seeing the direction gaming was going, for building on what the Nintendo Wii did for interactive gaming, and bringing yet another innovation to the industry. Unfortunately, a release date for Project Natal hasn’t even been hinted at and game developers have only recently been sent development kits. My guess for when the Natal will hit store shelves? Holiday season 2010.
However, Microsoft was smart to showcase it now. For it wasn’t the tantalizing line-ups of sequels like Bioshock2, Crackdown 2 and Mass Effect 2 that stole the show at E3, nor was it Sony’s new motion-sensing controller, which seemed like a more updated copy of the Wii remote than an actual innovation. It was the aptly named Project Natal, the unlimited potential it reveals, and the re-birth of video gaming it foreshadows.