Project Natal

The news that Microsoft plans to make the first batch of Project Natal games simple and family friendly isn’t surprising in the least. After all, if Microsoft can find its own version of Wii Sports, Natal’s popularity and exposure will skyrocket. But since this initial round of titles will most likely be shunned and mocked by core players, it seems that the UI itself (basically the whole Minority Report-esque hand-waving controls and whatnot) will have to be the thing that Microsoft uses to sell Natal to core gamers, at least at the outset.

I know that, at this point, the majority of my interest in Natal lies with how it will change how I interact with the console itself, not the first games released for it. I have no idea if it will be successful or nearly as cool as I’m hoping it will be, but I think it’s Microsoft’s best bet in terms of appealing to core gamers until the more core-oriented titles hit the market.


According to Microsoft, the first games released for Xbox 360 add-on Natal will be anything but "Core." At a press event and Natal demo last night in Europe, Erin Hofto, Xbox 360 product manager showed off a tech demo for the system and said, “What you see here is just the beginning, this game is about 12 months old, but we do see the first titles for being very similar in design: fun, simple and family orientated."

Lucky journalists got a chance to be among the first humans to try out Natal. The review from SiliconRepublic is... complicated. The tech demo shown last night was "Ricochet," a mini-game that could be compared to a full-body version of Breakout. Check it out in the video below from E3 09:

Project Natal Ricochet E3 2009 Trailer »

From the review, it seems that the game is kinda fun, the technology works, but playing it takes a certain amount of physical stamina. "The demo game forces you to jump, punch and kick almost non-stop for around a minute – we found even five rounds exhausting," reports SiliconRepublic's Jonathan McCrea.

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SonySony is playing it real cool with their "Arc" motion controller. So cool in fact, the wand/camera combo doesn’t even have an official name yet -- even though Sony plans to release the device later this year, and its only real showing came during last year’s E3. Conversely, Microsoft has pimped Project Natal all over the place, from numerous trade shows to even Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Not surprisingly, Sony believes its approach is best. SCEA senior vice president of publisher relations Rob Dyer even said so in an interview with Industry Gamers.

"I'm actually really proud of the way we've handled the motion controller. From Sony's perspective, rather than go out and do a whole PR barrage to give everybody the 'happy, happy, joy, joy' news, we're going to show up and have a line-up of products to show people rather than having a lot of great statements to say, 'This is what's going to happen.'"

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It's only February, but amidst a year of big blockbusters, gamers are already clamoring to find out what game publishers will have in store for E3. THQ has already announced sequels to (relatively) recent titles such as Saints Row 2, De Blob, and UFC: Undisputed. In an interview with IGN, THQ CEO Brian Farrell let loose a few small details about the publisher's roadmap for E3, including confirmation that the publisher will unveil games for both Project Natal and Sony's motion controller at the event. Farrell's tone in the interview indicates that the publisher is hesitant to dive too quickly into enthusiastic support for these new peripherals, saying,

"Like most platforms, you want to be there at launch, but not over-invest because you want to have enough. We'll be showing a couple things at E3 and we'll unveil them there. But it's consistent with how we normally support hardware. Some at the beginning and then watching consumer acceptance we'll either ramp up or normalize depending on how quickly the ramp goes."

Saints Row fans will be happy to hear that the head honcho is very pleased with the progress on the upcoming sequel:

"I think it's going to blow people's socks off. Come to E3. People will go, 'This is not your father's THQ' when they come out of E3."

What would you want from a third Saints Row game? For that matter, what THQ franchises would you want to see get the motion control treatment? Personally, I'm partial to De Blob, but I'd feel goofy gesturing to put someone in a Pedigree in a Project Natal version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

Source: IGN

Microsoft Staffing Up For Internal Project Natal Game Studio

A job listing on Microsoft's website indicates the company is adding Natal support to a "large franchise," and, from the looks of the listing, it's a "core" 360 game. Specifically, M'Soft is looking for a Senior Level Designer for the mysterious title.

The hints: Prospective candidates must be comfortable with AI, combat strategy and be able to fearlessly "build off other people's zany creations." Also: 'Candidates who find fault with other people's brainstorms to prove how smart they are need not apply." Shoot! Not the gig for me.

Check out the listing below:

MGS is looking for a talented, motivated and experienced Sr. Level Designer who can create innovative game-play solutions for a large franchise.

'The Sr. Level Designer is expected to implement major gameplay features to high quality, focusing on creating and implementing level designs. Qualified individuals are expected to be organized, with excellent communication skills, both verbally and written, and have a proven track record in AAA game design.

'Must have a clear understanding and experience creating mission/environment design, look and feel, AI, combat, strategy, game-flow, and balance. We want somebody who can put forth ideas without fear, and build off other people's zany creations.

'Candidates who find fault with other people's brainstorms to prove how smart they are need not apply. Candidates must have passion for a broad range of game experiences, and be well versed in market trends and styles. While years of experience are a definite plus, positive creative energy and a wealth of genius ideas is a must. This is a rare opportunity to join a seasoned, creatively driven team on an exciting next-generation project.'

Any thoughts on what the zany combat game could be?

Source: Computer and Video Games


Project Natal Prototype Reportedly Snagged In Paparazzi Photograph

It won't be until around E3 that Project Natal morphs from speculation to reality, but in the meantime, we get to play around with whatever manages to leak out. The latest comes courtesy of the Seattle Times blog, which claims to have snagged a photo of a Project Natal prototype. The blog reports this prototype has been distributed to studios making games for it.

(Note: the "legs" of the prototype are just a tripod usually meant for a camera. Remember, this is a prototype!)

I've dropped in an image of the slicker version of the device from last E3 below...

Source: Seattle Times

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Bungie Says Halo: Reach 'Not' A Project Natal Game

It remains to be seen how much Microsoft pushes Project Natal with its existing game franchises like Halo and Gears of War. Bungie has expressed interest in examining Project Natal's technology for inclusion in any future releases, but the company issued a seemingly conclusive response Friday to the question of Project Natal in Halo: Reach. The answer is no.

"Truth: Halo: Reach is NOT a Natal title," said Bungie in the studio's most recent weekly update, "and is being developed expressly with the traditional Xbox 360 controller in mind."

The possibility of Project Natal support was raised after a screen shot from Halo: Reach was released with a bizarrely placed cross-hair. Bungie claims it was the result of a known glitch.

"You won’t be perpetually leaning to the left nor will you be navigating multiple cross-hairs for various purposes," said Bungie. "Truth be told, it’s just a good ole fashioned bug. Bug #15163 to be exact."

There's no reason Halo: Reach couldn't include some base level of Project Natal integration (navigating the interface, for example), but release dates for both Halo: Reach and Project Natal are unknown. If Halo: Reach is released fairly close to Project Natal, who knows?

Source: Bungie

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Forza Motorsport 3

Microsoft has already shown off Burnout using their motion-control technology, Project Natal, but it appears that Criterion Games’ arcade racer isn’t the only racing franchise gearing up for Natal.

According to a job listing discovered by Total Video Games, Forza Motorsport developer Turn 10 Studios is looking for a business development manager to "drive high quality game content for our Next Generation games including NATAL platform.”

Microsoft Games Studios looking to incorporate Natal support into a first-party developed franchise? Shocking, I know. The other notable part of the listing is the mention of "next generation.” Microsoft has recently said that it has no plans to introduce a new console for at least a few years, so clearly Microsoft is sticking firm to its assertion that Natal truly does represent the “next generation” of gaming, minus the new console, of course.

Natal-controlled racing games: burnout or stall?

Source: Total Video Games

Capcom, Your Secret Project Natal Game Better Be Steel Battalion

Onimusha and Strider seem like natural selections for Capcom's Project Natal reboot. They're weapon-based action games that could easily involve sections where players were moving around and swinging a sword. But Capcom says we can't guess what it is, right? With that in mind, it must be something a little more niche, a little less known. A brand not many would even remember. What could it be?

It's impossible to know until Capcom announces it, but Kotaku senior editor Michael McWhertor proposed The Greatest Idea Ever over Twitter. Capcom should adopt the idea immediately.

Steel Battalion.

I own a copy of Steel Battallion, massive controller and all. It's stuck in a Wisconsin garage, but at one point, I enjoyed Capcom's most expensive game in recent memory. And it's exactly the type of game that'd be both simplified and enhanced through Project Natal. Movement of the mech could be handled with a controller in one hand, while the complicated buttons and switches to manipulate the mech's ancillary functions are triggered by moving your hand around in front of the Project Natal camera.

A man can dream, right?

I'm going to be so disappointed if this doesn't come true.

Have something to share? Sitting on a news tip? E-mail me. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Has Project Natal Found Its Wii Sports? When Will Finally See Actual Games?

Project Natal might have a release window of during the holidays, but that doesn't answer the litany of questions that remain about Microsoft's entry into motion gaming. Since its E3 reveal, we've seen tech demos and examples of how Project Natal can graft onto existing gaming experiences, but Microsoft and third-parties have remained quiet on games developed for the ground up for Project Natal.

I asked Xbox group product manager Aaron Greenberg about this problem at CES last week, proposing that users can only remain interested in the possibilities of Project Natal for so long.

"I would say that right now the team [at Microsoft] is working really hard on making, bringing those experiences -- doing the development phase of that," said Greenberg.

Okay, so when will we see the games?

"I would expect at E3 we'll share a lot more of those types of details," he confirmed.

That makes sense. E3 it is, then. But potential must be realized. It's difficult to imagine a world where Nintendo didn't launch Wii with Wii Sports, bundled with the hardware or not. Wii Sports translated the potential of Nintendo's motion dreams into a simple, tangible, easily demonstrable product. As games start coming together for Project Natal, Microsoft must be in search of its Wii Sports equivalent.

I asked Greenberg whether Microsoft had found its Wii Sports for Project Natal.

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Capcom Working On Hardcore Project Natal Game Based On Old Franchise

Capcom is calling you out, readers.

Over at community site Capcom Unity, company head of public relations Chris Kramer linked to my story about an upcoming Project Natal game being produced by Capcom. At CES 2010, Capcom teased that it was working on a Project Natal game that wouldn't be released at Project Natal's launch, based on a brand "we haven't seen in a while." Readers immediately started guessing away.

"Dino Crisis," said ricky047. "Final Fight!" predicted jamesarc. "Mega Man," guessed SkylerZio.

Those could be right, but Capcom doesn't believe we can pin down what franchise it's based on.

"Honestly, you will never, ever, EVER guess which franchise it is," said Kramer, "but you will freak out when we finally announce [it]."

That just means we need to guess harder, readers.

Have something to share? Sitting on a news tip? E-mail me. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Capcom Working On Hardcore Project Natal Game Based On Old Franchise

Outside of tech demonstrations and modifications of several existing Xbox 360 games, we haven't seen what Project Natal is capable of. Microsoft is keeping those games under wraps. But speaking with Capcom's VP of strategic planning and business development Christian Svensson at CES last week, I learned about Capcom's potentially ambitious plans for one Project Natal game.

"I can't talk about what we're doing on Natal right now yet because we haven't announced it, although we have announced that we're working on stuff," said Svensson, emphasizing his vagueness.

He was willing to tease a little more about one unannounced game, however.

"I think you'll see again a brand focus on what we're doing there [on Natal], perhaps a brand we haven't seen in a while," he said with a coy smile, as Capcom public relations eyeballed us. "That's exciting."

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Whether you think motion-controlled gaming is the wave of the future or a gimmicky trend that should motion its way to the nearest gutter, either way, it's going to be around for the foreseeable future, so you’d better get used to the idea.

Case in point, Canada’s CBC News (via Gamasutra) reports that between 70 and 80 percent of publishers are currently developing games for Microsoft’s Project Natal.

"Our first party studios are [also] very focused on this,” said Microsoft’s entertainment and devices divisions’ president Robbie Bach. "We want to have a few titles from Microsoft that show the way and then we want the breadth and power of the ecosystem from our partners to bring lots of new ideas, new innovations, new concepts to the marketplace. Xbox games don’t go away; you have to think of all this as additive. I think it adds to the beauty of what’s going on."

Microsoft has been talking a lot lately about sticking with the 360 for the time being, rather than fully looking ahead to the next generation of consoles. The company has said that extending the console’s life through hardware and software improvements is the current strategy, and with the kind of support Natal is receiving from publishers, it appears that the strategy has the potential to be a very worthwhile one. That is, assuming the Natal-powered games can deliver the kinds of groundbreaking experiences Microsoft is promising.

Source: CBC News (via Gamasutra)

Microsoft Keeps Natal Price Down By Removing ChipIn an attempt to maintain a low price point for their much-anticipated motion control technology, Project Natal, Microsoft has decided to remove a chip from the hardware and use software in its place, GamesIndustry.biz reports.

This decision shifts the processing of the tech’s “bone system” onto one of the Xbox 360’s three Xenon processors. Yesterday, it was reported that Natal would use between 10 and 15 percent of the 360’s CPU. Whether that number takes into account the chip removal isn’t clear, but it seems likely.

Microsoft says that removing the chip will streamline updates, and, most importantly, keep the price down. This decision also pretty much puts the nail in the “Natal retrofitted games” coffin. Although, on the upside, this means that developers will now be more inclined to pursue new projects, rather than spending time retreading over old material just to incorporate Natal support.

Microsoft revealed during their keynote address at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show this week that Project Natal will be released this holiday season.

Do you care if old games aren’t rereleased with Natal support?

Source: GamesIndustry.biz

Project Natal

While the biggest industry buzz at CES 2010 seems lasered in on 3D TVs, the show, which opens today, also serves to reveal much more about Project Natal. After over six months of speculation, Microsoft revealed yesterday that the motion-sensing device will hit store shelves this year.

In addition to yesterday's news, word has gotten out via Tech Radar that Project Natal will use at least a tenth of the Xbox 360's processing power to fuel its camera and voice-driven tech. According to the article, Natal lead developer Alex Kipman has been providing demos during CES and revealed a few choice details. Besides the information regarding Natal's resource usage -- one of the biggest struggles was balancing resource-hogging mo-cap with software that can run on existing hardware -- Kipman also mentioned that the team processed "terabytes" of data of people posing in various gameplay positions.

The Natal team fed the information into software running on a cluster of powerful computers. Eventually, the software evolved into a program that can recognize 31 different body parts moving at 30 frames per second. That's your detected body movements, not the game, by the way.

Quoth Kipman: "When we train this 'brain' we are telling it: this is the head, this is the shoulder. And we're doing that over millions of frames. When it sees a new image it can tell you the probability it's seeing a certain body part based on that historical information."

I'm excited that Natal has sophisticated means of reading our movements, although I can't help but to wonder how much existing games can be retrofitted for use with Natal. I have no metric for how much today's Xbox 360 games use the console's CPU resources, but it's making me wonder if my demo with Burnout Paradise will become an on-the-couch reality for millions, or if it'll just be the happy memories of an awesome tech demo.

Is that a concern for you, or are you more interested in what Microsoft has up its sleeve for Natal's launch?

Source: Tech Radar


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