Gaming the system

3 Jun 2010

Natal. ProjectNatal. It sounds oh so impressive and high tech while carefully shrouded in mystery. It is all that and it is the next-generation gaming system from Microsoft that won’t be competing with the Nintendo Wii simply because it neatly sidesteps that particular era of gaming technology.

You probably know a little about Natal. This is to be expected because a tactic Microsoft has adopted when it comes to Natal is one of complete and utter secrecy. This is what Apple tends to do and it works a treat. There is so much buzz around this next-gen gaming platform and it is building up to one singular event, E3 2010,which kicks off on 15 June and will let us know what particular games we should be stuffing in our stockings for Christmas 2010.

Natal: the system that you game

E3 is the same event where Natal was first unveiled to a half-stunned, half-complacent audience last year. The complacent thought that it was simply the Xbox 360 version of the Nintendo Wii motion sensor, mixed with a bit of Sony’s EyeToy camera that also detects motion.

They were wrong.

Natal is the system that you game – as opposed to the other way around. There are no controllers. You are the controller. So no more button bashing or frantic waving of a remote control because Natal picks up 43 unique points on the person standing in front of it and uses those to interact on-screen.

Motion-tracking technology

If you remember the motion-tracking technology used by Peter Jackson and Weta Studios for the Lord of the Rings trilogy you will see that Natal is along the same lines.

Without needing any special tracking points taped to your body you are, in effect, seeing your own Gollum on-screen in the form of your avatar, which reacts in real-time to your body’s motions.

Although only one game has been demonstrated so far because the rest are being kept tightly under wraps – a ball-whacking game called Ricochet – it was enough to get a taste for the action you can enjoy from this gaming system. Rather than holding a Wii remote in your hand and hitting an on-screen target, you can use any body parts to do so. You may have aimed with your hand but it could be your wrist or even your head that interacts with the ball on-screen.

You will most likely be seeing soccer games where you can ‘head the ball’ amongst other things, and what matters most, in my opinion, is the fact that it picks up on objects in 3D space and can tell how much pressure you’re applying by the velocity of your flailing limbs. Natal also has face recognition and can be used as an alternative to your Xbox 360 remote to log into Live, navigate to your movie or game, and begin playing. Just like the queen, a wave of the hand is all it takes.

Natal for the Xbox 360 will be on the market at some point this autumn/winter.

By Marie Boran

Photo: Project Natal is an add-on for the Xbox 360