During Microsoft’s E3 2009-launching press conference, IEB VP Don, Mattrick started the Project Natal presentation quite simply: “People ask me, can we add a motion controller. I tell them of course we can. Can we make you the controller? We can.”
Dropping wires and even the need for an object to hold, Microsoft’s Project Natal utilizes what appears to be a special video camera (with microphone) that works in cooperation with motion sensing and video technology. Movements are then reflected within the Xbox 360 environment including games.
At the press conference the controller-less game control scheme was touted as a way to bring non-gamers into gaming, removing the need to learn crazy button combinations (and help them to look silly jumping around their family room).
The conference stage video and following demonstration indicated that Natal will recognize voice commands for game and media controls (“Play movie.” “Off.”) and facial recognition software will log you into Xbox Live when you turn on the system and show your face to the camera. Hand motions can be used to navigate menus and partake in full-body video games. A woman was shown playing a 3D version of Ricochet where she knocked back balls to break blocks and all of her motions – including independent arm and leg movement – were being replicated by an in-game avatar.
Natal will also allow you to scan gear (eg a skateboard) so it can be used in certain games or to customize game avatars.
The hardware for the setup was not shown very clearly in the demo – likely because the company wanted to focus on the lack of hardware in your hands – but a closer look at the conference footage reveals a sensor bar-like object or box that sites under the TV screens. It features the Xbox 360 logo and three circles. One is a green light (likely a power indicator) and the other two are likely cameras (for distance detection). Best guess is that it connects via USB. The box will recognize multiple gamers, as was indicated in the game demo video.
The company brought out film director Steven Spielberg to help promote the project, explaining, “The goal is to make the technology invisible” and bring more people into gaming. “It’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about no wheel at all.” Game designer Peter Molineux chimed in with, “This is true technology that science fiction has not even written about. And this works. Today. Now.”
Although it may work “now,” the release date was not given (though they did indicate will will not be available in 2009) nor was the product cost or final name released.
Here’s a video that was shown at E3: