Around a year ago, we got our first look at Microsoft’s latest innovation for their Xbox 360 console, their motion controller; Project Natal and a lot of people have been wanting to see just how well this works, well I recently got the chance to have a hands-on (so to speak) preview!
Ever since Project Natal was announced, I’ve been very keen to see quite what it’s capable of because the potential it holds for future games could be substantial as shown in the videos at E3 2009, especially the Milo interactive artificial intelligence that Peter Molyneux’s developers created in just a short time of having access to this in-development Xbox motion controller accessory.
Anyway, here’s what I thought of my preview session…
Party Gaming With Project Natal Instead of Nintendo Wii?
Having played a fewgames in the past, I’ve never been hugely impressed by them to be honest, however I’d perhaps be more inclined to play party-style games (such as the one I played at the demo) using Natal since it means you don’t need to hold a controller like with the Wii Remote. Why do I say this? Well at least you don’t need to buy several more controllers to use with your console and if nothing else, you no longer have the risk of throwing your motion controller straight at your TV.
The sports/party demo game seem to involve or force whole body movement so will probably make for a better exercise system than the similar Nintendo Wii games that you can ‘trick’ with simple motion controller movements. The system does kind of remind me of the Playstation EyeToy kind of concept, just taken to a much better level — at least in terms of this one particular game. Will this help to seal the end of the Nintendo Wii?
The party-style game I played also has social networking integration (which many if not all Natal games will feature), which basically means you be able to share your gaming scores or simply showing people pictures of you playing Natal…that make you look like you’re doing a weird dance!
Just take a look at this video that Microsoft has shown at one of their Project Natal preview sessions — interesting to watch, not sure if it’s the best way of selling it though!
Project Natal Motion Tracking
During my Project Natal preview, I only got to play with a single game (the one shown on stage at last year’s E3 demo) in which the outline of your body is shown on screen and you move to hit a ball against blocks, however I was quite impressed by the actual motion tracking software seemed pretty good. It looked to me as though it was tracking one-to-one and seemed very accurate, certainly in terms of the dimensions I was using for the game I got to play.
How does it work in 3 dimensions? Well, the game I played meant I was mainly moving left, right, up, down, so it will be interesting to see quite how well Natal picks up on movements towards and away from the screen. Although, during the menu screens, it did seem to pick up the fact that I was reaching forward with my arm/hand to select options, so that bodes quite well for dealing with picking up when you move backwards and forwards from the stereoscopic camera hardware.
That said, it’ll be interesting to test the depth of field with games that don’t rely on just 2-axis movement. How would it fair with a golf or bowling game? Hopefully we’ll find out soon!
Project Natal Connectivity
What I was able to see during my preview session with this Xbox 360 motion controller was that it was connected to Xbox console using one of the front USB ports. Also, there shouldn’t any need to have plus it into a power socket as it should get enough power from the USB port, especially since it was announced that Project Natal will be software-based, so there is no specific hardware chips that require large amounts of power.
Overall, I think that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 motion controller has some interesting potential and look forward to finding out more about it, hopefully this system will be used for more than just “party games” though.
There will be a lot more details at this year’s E3 2010 gaming expo, hopefully including answers to some of the questions below, given when I asked them at the Project Natal preview session, they couldn’t answer them and said further announcements would be made at E3. Either way it’s hopefully not long to wait until we get more information!
- Any news on the Project Natal release date/price?
- Will the Project Natal product simply be called Natal at launch?
- Will there be a new Xbox 360 console model being sold that has Natal more integrated into it?
UPDATE: At E3 2010, we got answers to the above questions as well as finding out a lot more about Natal; renamed Kinect, the Xbox 360 motion controller!