Tag Archives | Project Natal

A $150 Project Natal Wouldn't Be So Terrible

Edge probably sunk some hearts today by reporting a rumor that Microsoft’s motion-sensing Xbox 360 camera, codenamed Project Natal, will cost $150.

The “trusted source” who spoke to Edge pegs Natal at a much higher price than previously rumored. MCV reported in November that Microsoft would aim for roughly 50 pounds in the United Kingdom. Because both stories are based on anonymous sources, I don’t fully trust either right now. For all I know, someone inside Microsoft is priming the press for a higher price only to announce something shockingly reasonable at E3, a la the iPad.

Still, I don’t think $150 for Project Natal would so bad. The important thing to remember is that with Project Natal, the camera is the entire controller. There are no remote controls, wands or nunchuks, just human arms, legs and torsos. Beyond the initial sticker shock, there are no additional costs.

With the Wii console, you get one remote with a MotionPlus attachment and one Nunchuk for $200. Each additional remote/MotionPlus/Nunchuk combo costs $70. Accommodating three or four players on the Wii is equally or more expensive than Project Natal. Sony hasn’t announced pricing for its Playstation Move motion controller, but I’m guessing the cost of additional wands could also get pricey.

Even though I think the rumored pricing for Natal is fair, I agree with my pal Brad Gallaway of GameCritics, who said he’d need to see a “stupefyingly, mindblowingly awesome game” to even consider spending so much money on a peripheral. That’s always been true, and it’s true for the Playstation Move as well. The Wii is good enough to carry out motion control as a novelty. But novelty won’t cut it in motion control’s next generation. We need to be floored.


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Project Natal Tech to Appear in Other Products

This year, Microsoft will release a camera that tracks 3D motion as input for the Xbox 360, but the same technology will also be used in other consumer electronics.

Primesense, an Israeli chip designer, today confirmed its partnership with Microsoft on Xbox’s 360 motion controller, codenamed Project Natal. And at CES 2010 last January, Primesense showed off the technology in applications besides video games. At the time, the company couldn’t say it was working with Microsoft (Microsoft reportedly acquired an Israeli maker of 3D cameras last year, but no relation to PrimeSense there). Finally, everything’s out in the open.

What that means is the company that played a role in Project Natal’s birth is taking its 3D-sensing technology elsewhere. One use, confirmed back in January, is Cyberlink’s PowerCinema movie player for Windows, which lets you navigate through menus with a wave of the hand, Minority Report-style. Harry uploaded a demo last January on YouTube, and despite what some of the commenters on that page say, the technology works in real life, too. We’ve both seen it up close and in person.

The camera can detect gestures, so in a virtual remote application, you’d flick your hand or make some other pre-defined motion to activate the controls. Once your hands fall to the side, the remote disengages. Primesense’s technology could also be used in set-top boxes, on computers and even in biometrics, such as facial recognition for PC profiles or age-restricted video content. One other application Primesense demonstrated in January was a green screen without the green screen, as the camera can easily superimpose images behind the user without erecting a sheet of colored paper in the background.

I’m still most excited to see how 3D sensing plays in video games, but it’s good news that Microsoft isn’t hogging the technology. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more after Microsoft puts on a big show for Project Natal at the E3 video game expo in June.


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Project Natal Meets a Stopwatch, Lags a Little

Last week, Microsoft brought some of the east coast press up to speed on its 3D motion-tracking camera for the Xbox 360, codenamed Project Natal. It was essentially the same demonstration presented at E3 last year, but Russ Frushtick of MTV Multiplayer used the occasion to time Project Natal’s responsiveness with a stopwatch.

The lag between movement and action on the screen floated around a tenth of a second. That’s not huge, but it’s enough to notice. Microsoft could improve Natal’s response time before it’s released this holiday season, but Frushtick notes that even Hollywood motion capture cameras aren’t lag free.

The report ties in nicely with a think piece by Kotaku’s Brian Crecente, who compares motion control to the uncanny valley — a theory in robotics that the more a robot resembles a human, the more people are repulsed by the resemblance. The uncanny valley has also been used to describe eerily realistic video game characters.

Crecente argued that Natal is so accurate at tracking motion, its flaws are hard to ignore. Compared to the Wii’s “good enough” approach, which still captures the essence of motion control, Microsoft could stumble despite having a technologically superior product. Even with the Wii’s MotionPlus accessory that attaches to the Wii Remote to make it more accurate, games have avoided “one-to-one” controls — where your actions are duplicated precisely on the screen — because they’re too realistic, diluting the fantasy of play.

That issue of fantasy versus reality is bound to come up as game developers experiment with motion control, not just for Project Natal, but for the Wii MotionPlus and the Playstation 3’s upcoming motion-sensing wand. I’m reminded of Tony Hawk: Ride, a game that used a skateboard-shaped peripheral, but flopped because it too closely duplicated the frustration of learning to skate.

If developers try to create lifelike simulations with Natal, they’ll fail if there are any flaws in the technology, such as lag. But if they can somehow translate motion into a more idealized version of itself (e.g., your sloppy karate kicks gain black belt form on the screen), Natal could be a hit.


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Wii Price Drops, Sony and Microsoft Beat Chests

Nintendo WiiNintendo finally responded to the pressure from Sony and Microsoft, cutting the Wii’s price to $200, effective this Sunday. There were plenty of warning signs — store circulars, retailer’s internal e-mails, and plain old common sense — but now it’s official.

I’ve said my piece about the Wii’s holiday prospects, but I had to chuckle today at the indirect responses from Sony and Microsoft, who individually offered the same message. To paraphrase: “Hey, we’re making motion controllers too, you know!”

Exhibit A is Microsoft’s brag-laden press release about Project Natal, an upcoming 3D motion-sensing camera peripheral for the Xbox 360. Microsoft name-dropped a dozen publishers who are “actively working on games” for the motion controller, and spoke of a “high-powered panel” at Tokyo Game Show, in which a few top game designers will talk about how they love the new technology.

The message is that Microsoft loves third-party development, and wants to get publishers on board early on. That’s a not-so-subtle dig at Nintendo, which has a reputation for putting its in-house work on a pedestal. I’m still waiting to see whether the accuracy-boosting Wii Motion Plus will be adopted by more than a half dozen brave publishers.

Not to be outdone, Sony revealed some concrete information on its remote-like motion controller. Resident Evil 5, which was released earlier this year, will get a “Directors Cut” with motion controls, and 13 other titles are in development now. Some are existing games, like Flower and EyePet, while others are mysterious working titles, such as “Champions of Time” and “Eccentric Slider.”

I’d say Sony has been far more open about its technology than Microsoft, which makes sense because the Playstation 3 motion controller isn’t that revolutionary. It’s merely a ticket for the motion control bandwagon, and Sony’s trying to get on board by next spring.

Will the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360 beat Nintendo at its own game? We’ve barely seen either in action, so it’s hard to tell on quality alone. But the Wii’s price cut, combined with undying interest in franchises such as Mario, will ensure Nintendo’s success for a long time.


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Xbox 360 Slim? How About Xbox 360 Natal?

xbox360_slim_mockupWith the Playstation 3 looking slimmer and cheaper than ever, all eyes are on Microsoft to retaliate. Rather than speculate on its own, IndustryGamers polled some of gaming’s crystal ball-holding analysts to find out what they thought.

The question: Do you think Microsoft will release an Xbox 360 Slim?

The response was mixed, with a few strong “yays” and “nays” on each side. That’s to be expected, but what surprised me was how only one analyst, Broadpoint AmTech’s Ben Schachter, flat-out predicted a redesign to complement the upcoming “Project Natal” motion-sensing camera. I think that’s the most likely scenario of all.

Earlier this year, it was rumored that Microsoft would do this, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer goofed up and said as much. The PR backlash that followed left a lot of mixed messages — designed, I think, to squash the notion that Natal wouldn’t work on existing Xbox 360s — but ultimately a redesign wasn’t left off the table.

It doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to redesign its console in the near future, because it would smack of copying Sony. But it does make sense for Microsoft to reshape the Xbox 360 into something less hulky when Project Natal comes around. After all, the casual, non-gamer demographic is what Microsoft is going for with Project Natal, and a slimmer console would look less intimidating in the average living room.

I’ll admit that my opinion is tinged by the mock-ups that started floating around the Internet (pictured above) long before this story came to light. Sure, it’s totally fake just a rebranded PS2, but it kind of looks like the Wii, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Wii-esque” is the strategy Microsoft adopts if it does plan an Xbox 360 Slim.

Then again, I don’t own a crystal ball.


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Bill Gates Sees Project Natal in Windows’ Future

xboxnatalMicrosoft tricked us by revealing its 3D motion-sensing camera at E3. At the game industry’s biggest trade show, we all assumed Project Natal would be a console peripheral for gaming, but Bill Gates says the camera will have other uses in Windows.

As part of a lengthy interview with CNet, the Microsoft chairman said Project Natal is not just for games, “but for media consumption as a whole, and even if they connect it up to Windows PCs for interacting in terms of meetings, and collaboration, and communication.”

Gates stayed pretty vague when describing how Natal might be used away from the Xbox 360. He noted that motion control could come in handy when managing movies, music and “home system type stuff.” He also said “there’s incredible value as we use [Natal] in the office connected to a Windows PC,” but the rest is left to imagination.

It’s easy to see some common ground with the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. The obvious use is gaming, but one of the things shown during Natal’s E3 demonstration was motion-controlled menus. Instead of using a joystick or remote control, the demonstrator moved through the Xbox 360 dashboard by flicking his hand in the air. That functionality might be useful for PC entertainment hubs, so maybe Natal will be integrated with Windows Media Center.

Beyond that, I’m at a loss for ideas. The key to Natal is that it senses three axes instead of two, but what office uses or collaborations would take advantage of that? Are we looking at a reinvention of the wheel, or just tacky gimmicks? Natal is an exciting prospect for gaming and entertainment, but I fail to see how it’ll work as an office tool. It could fail miserably in that regard if it doesn’t change everything.


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Fun With Microsoft’s Xbox Rumors!

xboxnatalAt the risk of beating this story to death, I’m going to dip back into the Xbox 360/Project Natal hysteria to parse out what’s actually been established over the last week. As 1Up wrote after the most recent-back-and forth, Microsoft is “creating reasonable doubt until they unveil their plans.” Here’s how, using the original 1UP story and Steve Ballmer’s remarks along with official comments that followed:

Rumor has it that Microsoft’s Project Natal will be released in 2010.
Microsofs official statement says “we have not confirmed a launch date at this time.” That could mean anything. It certainly doesn’t rule out a release for next year.
Rumor has it that Microsoft’s Project Natal will be sold as a standalone device for the Xbox 360.
Microsoft’s official statement says “Natal will run on Xbox 360 so no new console investment will be necessary.” This wasn’t much of a rumor to begin with, as the technology was showcased on the Xbox 360 at E3, but here’s the confirmation.
Rumor has it that Microsoft will also launch a new console with Project Natal built-in.
Microsoft’s official statement says “We’re not going to be launching a new console any time soon.” This is vague, I suspect deliberately. It’s like that scene in Spaceballs: “When will then be now?” “Soon.” “How soon?”
Rumor has it that Microsoft’s Natal-integrated console will have slight hardware upgrades from the current Xbox 360, though publishers will be able to support both platforms simultaneously.
Microsoft’s official statement says there will be “no new console.” It’s all in how you interpret it. A slight CPU/GPU upgrade with the same interface, running the same software, could constitute a new console. Or it could be considered a different model in the Xbox 360 family, kind of like how some Xbox 360s have HDMI support and bigger hard drives.

Rumor has it: Project Natal, Microsoft’s 3D motion-sensing camera, will be released in 2010.

Microsofs official statement: The company says “we have not confirmed a launch date at this time.” That could mean anything. It certainly doesn’t rule out a release for next year.

Rumor has it: Project Natal will be sold as a standalone device for the Xbox 360.

Microsoft’s official statement: “Natal will run on Xbox 360 so no new console investment will be necessary.” This wasn’t much of a rumor to begin with, as the technology was showcased on the Xbox 360 at E3, but here’s the confirmation.

Rumor has it: Microsoft will also launch a new console with Project Natal built-in.

Microsoft’s official statement: “We’re not going to be launching a new console any time soon.” This is vague, I suspect deliberately. It’s like that scene in Spaceballs: “When will then be now?” “Soon.” “How soon?”

Rumor has it: The Natal-integrated console will have slightly better hardware than the existing Xbox 360, though publishers will be able to support both platforms simultaneously.

Microsoft’s official statement: “There will be no new console.” Okay, but that could be interpreted two ways. A slight CPU/GPU upgrade with the same interface, running the same software, could constitute a new console. Or it could be considered a different model in the Xbox 360 family, kind of like how some Xbox 360s have HDMI support and bigger hard drives.

Despite Microsoft’s supposed debunkings, there’s plenty of careful wording in the company’s statements, with wiggle room for everything 1UP reported to come true. Or not. Give Microsoft’s PR department a hand for “clarifying” this ordeal — with a smokescreen.


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New Xbox 360 in 2010, Ballmer Says

xboxnatalMicrosoft’s motion-sensing video game controller will be integrated with a new Xbox 360 model, due to arrive in 2010, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer, quoted by TG Daily at an Executive’s Club of Chicago event today, said the console will have a “natural interface” with a built-in camera that can detect movement and voice. That sounds like Project Natal, the 3D motion-tracking camera announced at E3, to me.

Ballmer’s comments confirm — in a roundabout way, perhaps, as TG Daily’s report doesn’t mention Project Natal by name — at least a portion of earlier rumors. 1UP had reported that Project Natal will be integrated into Xbox 360 hardware in 2010 as a rebranded console, along with some minor boosts to the hardware. The motion camera will also be sold as a standalone product for existing Xbox 360s, 1UP’s story said.

This week, the Xbox 360’s director of product management, Aaron Greenberg, halfheartedly debunked the rumors, telling Eurogamer that Natal will run on the Xbox 360 and that “no new console investment” will be necessary to enjoy the motion controller. Another anonymous Microsoft source said the company urged people not to believe the “nonsense on the Internet.” Neither of those comments are firm denials of upgraded hardware, and TG Daily had nothing to report on the matter.

I’ve already talked about why a new console with shinier graphics is a bad idea. In short, the headaches for existing console owners and for game developers would outweigh the benefits of more processing power. But it’s perfectly logical for Microsoft to release an Xbox 360 SKU with the motion camera built in. If the company’s looking to attract new gamers, selling an all-in-one bundle is the best way to do it.

Update: Here’s what Microsoft is saying on the matter; it seems very similar to what Eurogamer got this week: “As the Xbox team stated at E3 two weeks ago, we are not even halfway through the current console generation lifecycle and believe Xbox 360 will be the entertainment center in the home for long into the next decade.  Project Natal will be an important part of this platform, but we have not confirmed a launch date at this time.”


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Rumor: New Console to Host Microsoft’s Motion Cam

xboxnatal1UP, whose scoop on the PSP Go was dead-on, is now reporting a rumor that Microsoft will release the Project Natal motion-sensing camera standard with its next console. And it’s coming in Fall 2010.

It’s not clear where the information is coming from, but 1UP Editorial Director Sam Kennedy writes that the camera will also be sold as an add-on for the Xbox 360. The new console will only upgrade hardware slightly, and publishers will be able to release games that run on both platforms.

I’ve said before that Microsoft should wait until the next console generation to introduce motion controls. That’ll allow the company to court third-party publishers and launch with the best possible line up of games. However, Don Mattrick , the Xbox division’s senior vice president, said at E3 that Natal allows Microsoft to “leap into a new era of interactive entertainment without having to launch a new console.”

Rebranding the existing wares while offering Natal as an Xbox 360 peripheral represents the best of both worlds. Publishers might be more willing to develop for Natal if they can sell to new and old console owners, and Microsoft could catch up with Sony’s Playstation 3 in hardware power without significant costs.

On the other hand, I’m not thrilled with the possible PC-ification of console gaming. It reminds me of the Nintendo 64’s Expansion Pak, a memory cartridge that improved graphics in some games and unlocked new features in others. Incremental upgrades are exactly what I don’t like about PC gaming. If the rumors come true, I hope Microsoft doesn’t push an upgrade on its existing Xbox 360 user base.

This was a lousy idea that deserves its place in forgotten history.

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“Project Natal” is the Xbox 360’s Motion Control

nadalcamKudo Tsunoda took a shot at the Wii when introducing Microsoft’s answer to motion control today.

“This isn’t a game where you end up on the sofa just kind of using some preset waggle commands,” the project’s creative director said, talking about a physically intense tech demo.

Indeed, the so-called “Project Natal” was impressive, at least from where I was sitting at Microsoft’s E3 press event. As rumored, the technology is a 3D motion-sensing camera that needs no other peripherals to operate.

Video demonstrations included a young man performing karate kicks against an on-screen opponent, his image duplicated onscreen with dead-on accuracy. In the next clip, a girl held her hands like a steering wheel and drove a race car. When she hit a pit stop, one of her family members ran up to the screen and made the motions of replacing a tire.

nadal

We also saw a couple of live demonstrations. In a full-bodied take on Breakout, a girl used her arms, legs and head to hit balls down a 3D corridor. Another demonstrator pretended to throw paint buckets at a screen and created live splatter art.

Finally, Fable 2 creator Peter Molyneux introduced “Milo,” a child that, in a video, interacted with a real woman. In the most impressive moment, she drew a picture, held it in front of the screen, and Milo took a virtual copy, recognizing the color and shape of the drawing. Milo will apparently be demonstrated to VIPs during E3.

Microsoft steered clear from any sort of release window for Project Natal. Everything shown was in prototype, and the initial video shown is “product vision” rather than real implementation. The closest we heard to a timetable is that development kits are going out now.

In my E3 wish list, I said I’d rather see  Microsoft wait until the next console cycle to bust out motion control, but a comment by Don Mattrick, the Xbox division’s senior vice president, suggests that this technology will simply extend the life of the Xbox 360. It seems Microsoft is in no rush to move on to something else.

“We can leap into a new era of interactive entertainment without having to launch a new console,” he said.

You can see the concept video on YouTube.


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