In November this year, the video games industry is set to change in a big way, with the release of the most anticipated video game technology ever, code named – Project Natal.
The device is named after the Brazilian city, Natal, as a tribute to the technology’s origin , and the word Natal means ‘relating to birth’ giving us a sense of Microsoft’s confidence that the project will be the next big step in home entertainment.
Since the first mention of Natal at E3 09, few details have been revealed about this massive advance in game controlling. We know that Microsoft picked up this technology back in 2008, from 3DV Systems. It started life as the ZCam, and was planned for release in 2009 with a modest price tag of $100, but when Microsoft acquired the project, they withheld the ZCam’s release instead opting to rework it for use with the xbox 360.
You may recognize the name from Sci-fi blockbuster, Minority Report, where the tech was first shown publicly. The idea of making gestures to control your User Interface will eventually be how gamers control their Xbox dashboard. Flicking through the dashboard to your movies, checking your Facebook updates, and listening to last.fm will all be easily controlled with simple movements, but get ready because that’s only the beginning
This awesome little device (only 9 inches wide) has a RGB camera, a depth sensor, and a multi-array microphone, enabling full 3D motion capture, facial recognition and voice recognition abilities. The full body motion mapping technology is capable of tracking up to 4 users at once, meaning playing with your friends may become a lot more physical than gamers are used to . . .Girlfriends too – we’ll get to that later.
This device would be nothing without good games to play with it, and already big name publishers are jumping on board. So far, Capcom, Activision Blizzard, EA, THQ, Ubisoft, and others have announced that they are all actively working on games using Project Natal. And why wouldn’t they? This technology gives developers the creative freedom to bring in the next generation of interactive gaming. Imagine Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, with you running about, diving for cover, stabbing enemies in the back, and throwing grenades. This is the type of gaming that Project Natal is making possible.
Microsoft is planning to go all out for the launch later this year, with at least 14 games to be released at the same time, the flagship game being Fable 3. Your favorite sport games, like Madden, FIFA, PES, Virtua Tennis, Tiger Woods are all likely candidates to get the Natal makeover, bringing an unrivaled experience to fans. Steven Spielberg is also working on his second gaming project, specifically for Natal, the first being the highly rated Boomblox for the Wii. The gaming possibilities are endless.
There are also going to be several mini games showcasing the potential of Natal. You can see some of these in action in the Natal trailer. They include Ricochet, an Arkanoid style game where you are the paddle. Paint Party, in which you can draw and splash paint with gestures and change colors with speech. Milo & Kate, where users can interact with a young child and their dog using real-life actions. Another is a Burnout type racing game, where gamers drive using an invisible steering wheel and accelerate by moving their foot forward. You can see these games in action in the trailer. Check out the video below. Its the first of many Project Natal parody videos. Very funny stuff.
When operational, Natal is also going to bring your Xbox to life. When you walk into the room your Xbox will be able to recognize your face, and even talk to you. You’ll be able to answer back, and the Xbox will recognize what you’re saying. From the promotional videos you can see the many other ways to interact with your Xbox, including scanning in your own equipment, like your skateboard, so your gaming experience is as close to real life as you can get.
Still not convinced? How about the fact that you’ll never need to charge battery packs or buy batteries for Natal. Never again will you be in the middle of a game and your controller dies. No more buying endless wireless guitars, drum-kits, skateboards too. You’ll be playing air guitar! and air drums!
Project Natal is going to blow the Wii out of the water! The Wii has outsold both Xbox and Playstation by huge amounts due to the interactivity, and fun party atmosphere it can provide. Natal makes it possible to have these same features but with out the fear of your Wiimote ending up lodged in your 42 inch flat screen. Sony are also planning a new control system, but it will be used with the poor quality Playstation Eye and you will need another Wiimote style controller too. If Sony want to compete with Microsoft, then they are going to have to make something truly amazing to out-shine Project Natal.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as revolutionary gaming goes. Microsoft have already filed patents for several muscle controller systems to follow on from Natal. The technology is known as Electromyography, and is currently being used for military research allowing pilots to control planes with muscle gestures. The future looks so bright for Xbox that it’s gotta wear shades – (just remember though that was a song about a nuclear bomb so . . .)
As with everything, Natal is always going to have critics. There will always be gamers who only want to sit and play with a controller, not to mention the disadvantages to overweight gamers. In the future, gamers are gonna have to be athletes to do well in games! Also, in order to get the most from Natal, gamers are going to need a big area to play in. 4 people playing in a small space is going to have the potential to cause serious injuries. Instead of the Wiimote in the tv, it’ll be your friend’s arm in your mouth and your teeth on the floor!
Project Natal is hitting stores in time for Christmas 2010 and is rumored to cost around $80, which is an absolute bargain for this top piece of kit. Microsoft has planned to ship 5 million units on release day, not including Xbox console/Natal bundles. Expect this to be the biggest item on the lists of the “Gamerati” globally.
With Project Natal, the games made specifically for it, and the other Xbox exclusive games like Halo: Reach, Mass Effect 2, and Splinter Cell: Conviction, 2010 is going to be the Year of the Xbox. Trade in your over priced PS3 now! Check out the Official Project Natal Webpage!
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