[E3] Project Natal impressions

1 Jun

Last year, Microsoft’s big E3 announcement was Final Fantasy XIII coming to the Xbox 360. Some Sony fans complained about Microsoft moving in on their system’s coveted franchise, but this year, Microsoft is moving in on Nintendo, and in a much bigger way by introducing their motion controller, or lack thereof, Project Natal.

bold project natal big

“The controller is a barrier seperating video game players from everyone else,” Don Mattrick, senior Xbox VP, said in his introduction of Microsoft’s rumored motion controller. The term “controller” is actually a bit misleading as the motivation behind Natal is eliminating the physical controller and replacing it with the player’s entire body.

While the idea is obviously linked to that of the Wii’s motion controls, Natal looks to expand far beyond Nintendo’s current reach, if only because the technology appears to be far superior to that of the Wii remote and Nunchuk. I’m a bit skeptical, however, that Natal will usher in the revolution in gaming Mircrosoft’s presenters implied.

I was immediately skeptical of the device during the trailer that was showed in the beginning. Kicking soccer balls and swatting airplanes as a giant monster scream I-Toy mini-games, and while simple games shown like Richochet look to actually have fluid, 1:1 body control in a 3D environment, I’m skeptical that some of the more specific motions can truly be reconized as easily as shown. Opening your mouth to blow fire in the monster game or reaching down to shift gears in a racing game are tiny yet specific motions that I can’t imagine will work as flawlessly as previewed.

The demo of Paint Party, a game that has you hurling paint onto a canvas with your hands, seems to show how unwieldy some of the more specific motions actually are. And while the camera was able to recognize the host quickly even with his large sunglasses on, his demonstration of how avatars follow your motions looked off, with his avatar contorting his legs in odd directions.

Peter Molyneaux, the man behind ambitious games like Black & White and Fable, previewed the deepest demo of Natal’s potential. His team has developed a program that has players interacting with Milo, a boy that can recognize faces and voices, allowing players to interact with him in multiple ways. Some of the interactions were interesting such as Milo throwing the player a pair of goggles and recognizing when they accomplish the motion of “putting on” the goggles. The game is also capable of displaying your image seamlessly onto the screen, in this case, a reflection onto the water where you can run your fingers across the surface to create ripples.

At one point, Milo asked the player to draw a fish, but in real life, not in the game. The girl playing drew a fish on a sheet of paper and quickly scanned the image in front of the camera. The motion took only a second, but I doubt the scan was as deep as the preview let on. Milo only commented on the color and nothing more. This scanning feature was also displayed in the trailer, in which a boy scanned his skateboard and immediately started skating around on it.

I’m not doubting Natal is incapable of these features, only that Microsoft is doing exactly what Nintendo did when they revealed the Wii: exaggerating the actual motion controls in an attempt to showcase their potential rather than application. If the Wii is any indication, this will only lead to disappointment.

Project Natal might launch the 360 above even the Wii financially, but I’m doubtful Natal will ever be any more substantial than the Wii. While games on Nintendo featuring motion controls can still be full-fledged gaming experiences, I can’t see Natal games being anything more than a distraction or a fun thing to show off when friends are around.

Natal is being demoed to select audiences at E3, so I’m sure we’ll be receiving first impressions from some of the major gaming blogs in the coming week. These are just my impressions from Microsoft’s showing. I’m glad the company is making the move to bring games to the forefront by combining them with other media, but I can’t help doubting the potential of their latest innovation.

Thankfully, there are a ton of great games coming to the 360 in 2009 and 2010. I’ll be posting more about those later in the week.

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2 Responses to “[E3] Project Natal impressions”

  1. Patrick Murphy June 8, 2009 at 4:04 PM #

    I was talking to my brother about this, and we said the same thing as you; that they could be misleading us like the Wii did. I remember the original Red Steel commercials where there was a human player and a TV screen, and the man did motions that synced up with Red Steel to look like 1:1 controls. The player actually ducked behind a couch in real life, and the character in the game ducked behind a table (when we all know that’s not how the Wii works right now). So it’s a cool idea, but I’m bracing for a disappointing Eye Toy: neat, but only for like ten minutes.

  2. neopoints March 2, 2010 at 1:42 AM #

    Being Novice, I am constantly doing a search online to get articles or blog posts which will guide me. Appreciate it

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