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Sony And Microsoft Using Motion-Sensing Technology Rejected By Nintendo?

When it comes to motion-controlled gaming, Sony and Microsoft are obviously playing catch up with Nintendo. Even though both companies unveiled new motion-sensing technologies at E3 2009 last week, neither technology is expected to be available to consumers any time soon. If that wasn’t bad enough, it seems that Sony and Microsoft will also be playing catching up using Nintendo’s sloppy seconds.

While speaking with the Financial Times, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said that Nintendo considered but ultimately rejected the camera-based technologies that Sony and Microsoft are using for their motion-controlling devices in favor of the Wii’s accelerometer-based controls. For as harsh as this sounds, Nintendo's decision most likely had more to do with the Wii's limited graphics capabilities than any serious issue with the camera-based motion control system.

In fact, Sony president Kazuo Hirai echoed this sentiment when he cited the PS3’s processing power as the reason why its camera-based system is able to outperform Nintendo’s motion technology. Microsoft’s Project Natal is even more ambitious than Sony’s system, since it does away with a controller entirely. Of course, it’ll be a while before we have any real sense of how the two technologies will fair in the marketplace, especially since pricing is still one of the major unknowns at this point.

Could Sony and Microsoft be sitting on the [insert your favorite movie-based team of ragtag kids no one wanted who go on to win a championship] of motion-sensing technology?

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Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has been aggressively covering videogames. The show has already reported on E3 2009 and interviewed Double Fine's excellent Tim Schafer on Brutal Legend. The gaming goodness isn't stopping there though. 1Up's Sam Kennedy (Mr. Kennedy!!!) has reported that Microsoft's Kudo Tsunoda will be on tonight's show to demo Project Natal.

I'm thrilled that Late Night with Jimmy Fallon is giving a lot of time to videogames. The exposure is brilliant for the business. Schafer and Tsunoda are both fantastic spokesmen for gaming. Certainly the exposure is great for Double Fine, EA, and Microsoft, but everyone involved in gaming should be happy that the industry is getting this type of coverage.

How do you feel about a late show covering games? Is it a sign of how far the business has come? Do you think it's just the flavor of the week? Or is it simply a matter of Fallon's team (hi Gavin!) being the right age and the right demographic? Most importantly, can Fallon possibly use Project Natal without looking like a tool?

Xbox 360

It’s been just a week since Microsoft executive Shane Kim remarked to VentureBeat that his company believes the Xbox 360 has a 10-year lifecycle (thanks in large part to whatever Project Natal will eventually turn into). And yet today, we’re hearing something quite different from a major third-party player. Now, far be it from me to pontificate on the technological potentiality of the 360 over the next several years, so I’ll let senior vice president of EA Games Europe, Patrick Soderlund, do it for me.

During an E3 2009 interview, Soderlund told Official Xbox Magazine:

"Sony has a lot of good games this year. If you go to their booth, there's a very consistent, high quality product line-up and that will help them. I do think that we'll see developers inside the organization getting to understand the PS3 better and I think that we're getting more power out of PS3 right now... I think that we've maxed out the 360 but we haven't maxed out the PS3."

Rah! Rah! Flame bait! Flame bait! Yeah, I get it. Soderlund also said that the 360 is his favorite console, and that, “If I was Sony, I would have a headache,” so simmer down people. And just because Soderlund believes the 360’s technology can’t be pushed any more (which is a major accusation that would require hard data to prove, which Soderlund does not provide) doesn’t preclude the 360 from being capable of churning out quality titles for years to come, as shown by the perennial success of Sony's second console offering, the PlayStation 2.

But enough of my ramblings, what do you think about the Xbox 360 apparently topping out in its just its fourth year on the market?

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Sony's PlayStation Eye “More Precise” Than Microsoft's Project Natal No doubt the major talk of E3 2009 was all about the motion-sensing technologies demoed by Sony and Microsoft at their press conferences. Microsoft’s Project Natal’s major selling point is full-body recognition and the promise of a controller-less game experience, while Sony’s PlayStation Eye-powered motion tech aims to turn a single controller into any virtual item imaginable (i.e. swords, tennis racquets, whips, whiskey bottle, etc.).

Well, it certainly didn't take long for some classic politicking to emerge regarding the technologies. Sony’s director of marketing John Holler told Gamasutra that the PlayStation Eye is “more accurate and more precise” than Microsoft’s motion-sensing tech, and, even though Project Natal’s full-body scanning capabilities are “impressive,” it also, allegedly, suffers from “depth issues on the Z-axis.”

This assessment is obviously impossible to confirm until some impartial testing can be done, so I’ll just have to take Holler’s comments with a PS3-emblazoned grain of salt for now. What’s perhaps more interesting about this whole ridiculously premature debate about technologies that are still years away from landing in living rooms is that Project Natal certainly does seem designed to out-casual the casual gaming genre Nintendo ushered in with the Wii, while Sony’s approach looks to be more “gamer-oriented,” as one analyst told Gamasutra earlier this week.

Again, it’s far too early to tell what the results will be when Sony and Microsoft eventually release their respective motion-sensing technologies, so for now, it looks like we’ll have to settle for premature potshots and unconfirmed tech assessments. Lucky us.

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Developer Rare Helping Develop Project NatalDespite Major Nelson's somewhat under-the-radar announcement that Rare’s sci-fi FPS Perfect Dark for N64 will be released on XBLA this winter, developer Rare had virtually no presence at E3 2009 whatsoever. And yet, the company was virtually present the entire time. Wha-wha-whaaaat?!

Microsoft’s vice-president Shane Kim told Kotaku that Rare was in fact instrumental in the development of the company’s full-body motion-sensing technology, codenamed Project Natal, which Microsoft debuted during its press conference on Monday. Kim went on to say that while Rare has moved away from game development (for now), the company’s work on Project Natal will have a much “broader impact on the entire Xbox world than just doing the games they traditionally have in the past."

This news is hardly surprising, given that Rare developed the 360 Avatar system, but I sincerely hope (and it certainly looks promising) that Project Natal ends up offering something truly revolutionary and useful, as opposed to being 360 Avatars: Part 2. Natal has tremendous potential, and here’s hoping all that potential isn’t bottlenecked by the ridiculous notion that the only area worth innovating for is casual games.

Project Natal knows this of course, but let me know where you stand on Microsoft’s next technological darling.

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Now that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have had their E3 2009 press conferences (and all of us have had time to digest the hours of information delivered), I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at this year's pressers, analyze them, and assign letter grades. All three companies did some things well and some poorly. Here's one man's opinion on the pressers...or the E3 2009 press conference report card!

E3 2009 Press Conference Report Card: Rating The Microsoft, Nintendo, And Sony Pressers

Microsoft

Since Microsoft kicked things off on Monday (and the three consoles companies happened to go in alphabetical order), I'll start with it first. More than its competitors, Microsoft understands that E3 press conferences are no longer just large media briefings. Millions of its customers can watch, whether it's through networks like G4, sites like G4tv.com, or services like Xbox Live. Charts, pie graphs, and sales figures dominated E3 press conferences in the past, but they simply don't fly anymore. Pressers now require tons of sizzle (check), ample star power (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, check), and buttery flow (check). The one area (in terms of showmanship) where the company faltered was with its executives; MS senior vice president Don Mattrick is a very smart man, but he's not as captivating as past Xbox execs like J Allard, Seamus Blackley, and Ed Fries. Despite Mattrick's shortcomings, Microsoft did the best job at making its presser fan-friendly while still getting its key messages across.

Although several readers of TheFeed don't give a damn about social-networking services like Facebook and Twitter, there are millions of people that do. Microsoft integrating these services into Xbox Live is frickin' huge! It's one thing to have a self-contained network like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, but opening up a gaming console to two immensely popular services likeFacebook and Twitter is just enormous. This announcement was tremendous for Microsoft. It adds two very big reasons for its Xbox 360 customers to keep their consoles on.

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At their E3 press conference, Microsoft unveiled a new way to play games: a motion-sensitive camera controller they’re currently (but hopefully not permanently) calling “Natal.” Taking motion-sensitivity to a new level, we were certainly intrigued by the possibilities when we had a chance to test it out at a Microsoft event later that night.

“Natal” works kind of like the PlayStation’s EyeToy camera, in that it senses your motion, basically turning you into a big controller. But unlike the EyeToy, which put your image (rather badly) onto the screen, where you’d interact with bubbles or ninjas or whatever, “Natal” can transfer your motion to an on-screen avatar. Or it can transfer it to nothing (as we’ll discuss in a moment). Microsoft have also said that it will feature voice- and facial-recognition, and will be a simple way of navigating the dashboard’s menus, since you can just wave your hands to shift between, say, the movies on your Netflix queue, kind of like how you can use your finger to flip through the albums on your iPod Touch or iPhone.

 


For our demo, though, we got to test it out on a real game. Microsoft put a copy of Burnout Paradise into a regular Xbox 360, connected a “Natal” unit — which looks like a longer version of an EyeToy or the Microsoft camera, just with more lenses — and after tweaking things a little, made Burnout Paradise a racing game that didn’t need a controller.

Instead, I stood in front of the TV and the “Natal,” and held my hands at 10 and 2 like I was holding an invisible steering wheel. I then stepped my right leg forward and away I went. Okay, away I went into a wall, and then another wall, and then a parked car, but after playing with it for a few minutes, I was able to steer in and out of traffic like I would with a regular controller. I could even brake by moving my right leg back (insert your own hokey pokey joke here), and could activate the boost by jerking my right arm back much the way you would if you were shifting in a car with manual transmission.

Admittedly, you won’t be able to do this right out of the box with any ol’ game. The game will have to be made for this controller. Or will have to be patched, since a game’s developer could, very easily, adapt their original controls to work with the “Natal.”

If there is one complaint about “Natal” that we can make from our brief time with it, it’s that, like the Wii and the EyeToy, it seems like it’s going to get kind of exhausting after a while. Even just holding my arms up like I was steering got tiring after only a few minutes, though that could just be because I’m so old and out of shape that I perpetually feel like Danny Glover in a Lethal Weapon movie: I’m getting too old for this, well, you know.

I also kind of felt that steering might’ve felt more car-like had I been holding something circular, like a plate. But that would defeat the purpose of this hands-off controller.

Ultimately, like any controller, the “Natal” will only be as good as the game you play with it. What those might be, we don’t know yet, but we’re certainly curious to see what Microsoft and other developers do with this thing, whatever they call it.

 

Non-NATAL Motion Sensing Controller Available Soon For 360

If you're desperate to add some motion-sensing to your Xbox 360, and you can't wait for project Natal's release date  to be announced, allow me to point you to the Gametrak Freedom. This third-party peripheral has a set release date: October 15, and its $69.99 price tag includes soon-to-be classic(?) video game Sqeeballs.

Unlike Natal's webcam-based system, Freedom uses two sensors that are placed on either side of your TV to wring motion-sensing from your 360.

Don't feel left out, Sony fans; the PS3 is to get a Gametrak controller sometime in 2010. Order it here.

Whether the Freedom will one day feature an artificial English boy named Milo isn't known at this time, but I hope not.

Microsoft Won't Discuss A Release Date For Project Natal Yet

The world watched closely as Microsoft finally demonstrated their response to Nintendo's motion controller revolution: Project Natal. There's no controller involved with Project Natal -- and there's no release date yet, either. Microsoft did not announce a release date at their E3 press conference for a reason, I was told.

Moments after the conference concluded, I spoke with Microsoft gaming executive and corporate VP John Schappert. He played coy about Project Natal's release date, and when asked directly if we'd see the hardware on shelves this year, he paused.

"What we wanted to do was -- it's important technology that we've been working on some time and we're not ready to announce the release date or other specifics on that other than what we're going to be bringing to market is controller free gaming and we've got some tech specs announced -- such as depth camera, RGB camera, array microphone [and there's] custom silicon inside there," he said.

"Our goal is to bring that out and show what the future of Xbox 360 is and, more importantly, to get it in the hands of developers," continued Shappert. "It's shipping to developers now. Folks are working on games. As you can see, some of our earlier game prototypes that were on stage. Our goal was to show you what the future holds for Xbox 360, we'll get into specifics later."

It doesn't sound like Project Natal is coming this year, however. Stay tuned for more talk about Project Natal as E3 week continues.

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