Home > 1, Video Games (Main) > Project Natal: Worth a Look or Mostly Hype?

Project Natal: Worth a Look or Mostly Hype?

At this point after seeing it in action at various trade shows in the past year, Natal is supposedly coming out towards the end of 2010 or possibly the spring of 2011.  No one knows for sure, but in the meantime Microsoft gave us a lot to think about with all the information and demos of Natal that are now accessible.  Or did they?  It seems like from last year’s E3 to now we don’t really know much more concrete evidence about the Natal that we didn’t know before.  Piecing together whether or not this concept is going to draw Wii lovers towards Microsoft or if it’s just a frivolous add-on is more difficult to determine than what the hype would indicate.

We know that Natal is a motion control system that’s kind of like the Wiimote on steroids.  You don’t just use a stylus-like device to control the action on the screen, you use your entire body.  Natal’s motion capture and sound system sit neatly atop your television much like countless peripherals in the past.  It maps your body accurately and has an exact representation of your living room in its little noggin.  Through this technology it’s able to track your every move and that translates to a completely unique experience.  

Sounds cool, but is it really something to get excited over?  For all the hype I don’t think Microsoft has given us much to go on past the initial wow factor.  Reports about the demos were better than average but with some questions marks.  First there was a simple game called Ricochet which allowed you to bounce oncoming dodge balls back into a stack of blocks you had to knock over: 

Pretty impressive for the first ever demo.  Obviously we’re not storming a castle and posing as if holding sword and shield, but the demo gets your mind thinking of those possibilities.  Then you have the demo for what Microsoft calls Paint Party:  

Okay let’s be honest:  Paint Party sucks.  Aside from the update in technology it’s no less tedious than Mario Paint and the handful of others paint simulations the industry has tried over the years.  You could also tell that the user’s motion wasn’t always registering well.  This being an early demo we’ll give it a pass, but when a demo designed to get people excited looks like this there’s not much to write home about.  It’s a paint program and a pretty mediocre one at that (unless your artistic vision is on the level of that guy’s).  Points for the voice activation at least.

Finally we have Milo, now known as Milo & Kate.  This is an interactive simulation with a virtual little boy that’s kind of open-ended at this point given the little we know so far.  Milo reacts realistically to your voice, facial expressions, and supposedly your words.  It’s perfect in a demo environment and creator Peter Molyneaux seems to think it will be a full-fledged “game” in the future.

I was really impressed when I first saw this.  I mean I would even venture to say that with technology like this I wouldn’t even care if there was any sort of game or objective involved.  Just interacting with it would be incredible.  The worrisome thing though is that the more you read about Milo the more skeptical you become.  The demo was presented in a pre-recorded state up on the big screen at E3.  Some people have indeed interacted with Milo themselves with less mind-blowing results than what’s shown in the video above, and there’s also been a little speculation as to how spontaneous Milo really is at this point.  Nevertheless Milo does exhibit some real potential (able to recognize colors, tone of voice, etc.) but what’s been shown so far doesn’t come close to matching Molyneaux’s enthusiasm.  

It might seem like I’m being hard on Natal but keep in mind I was floored upon seeing the initial demos.  That being said I think everyone should be cautious of the fact that not much more was revealed about Natal since its initial demonstration.  It would have been nice to hear one solid bit of new information come out of this year’s CES but that didn’t happen.  Then we could have at least known that the developers were making real progresss.  They could be regardless, but the initial hype is worn off without much else to go on.  At least we know that developers will have a good year or so to grasp its capabilities.

Speaking of which, one very positive note is that there are a ton of heavy hitters developing games for Natal including: 

  • Activision Blizzard
  • Bethesda Softworks
  • Capcom
  • Disney Interactive
  • Electronic Arts
  • Konami
  • Microsoft Game Studios
  • MTV Games
  • Namco Bandai
  • Sega
  • Square Enix
  • THQ Inc.
  • Ubisoft

That’s about as good a list of developers as you can realistically get.  There’s a lot of questions about the technology but at least we know the companies most likely to harness it are involved.  It also tells us that Microsoft is taking Natal seriously as opposed to treating it like a throw away peripheral designed to drag a few Wii owners over to the Xbox 360.  

The last reason we know Natal will be a major addition to the 360 is that Sony is coming out with their own motion control device.  Stay tuned for when I compare them both to see which one is currently ahead in this new and interesting video game arms race!

  1. January 20, 2010 at 3:06 am

    What about all the games that people realy play like Halo and Gears of War? Are they going to be able use this. I think it is just going to get the Wii users on the 360. It is the Eye Toy all over again.

    • January 20, 2010 at 5:44 am

      At this point I tend to agree with you. Like I mentioned in the article it’s too early to make a final judgement, but at the same time who even wants to play Halo or Gears of War by flailing their arms and legs all over the place?

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