Sometimes it actually pays to believe rumours. At their pre-E3 briefing Microsoft has announced their answer to the Wii, confirming early reports that they were working on such a device. Named Project Natal, it has the potential to either be something truly remarkable or banished to the same dark corner that Sony’s EyeToy is currently hiding.
At E3, Microsoft showed a tech demo of Natal at work. It involved a computer generated Artificial Intelligence named Milo – a young boy. The player interacts with Milo in ways that we haven’t seen in a game before. The demo was pre-recorded so exactly how effective the communication can be is a little unclear but if the video is to be believed, it is quite impressive. The AI can recognize faces, address people by name and carry on normal conversation.
Also, the personality of Milo is such that as the player gets used to him, they will get to know his moods, and actually get to know him as though he is a person. The interactions seemed fluid and natural, which is rather impressive but again, whether Milo can carry on conversation for extended periods or just spits out pre-recorded responses is unclear.
The technology is achieved via a HD video camera and sensor bar. It seems to be far more responsive and less restrictive than the Wii controller and could potentially open a world of possibilities. Then again, the Nintendo PowerGlove was revolutionary and the EyeToy was amazing in its day and we don’t use them anymore do we?
The key to making them mainstream is fairly simple. They need to have games released for them that are compelling and must-have. Every new peripheral has potential to be the next big thing in gaming but if nothing is released for it, it quickly disappears. Imagine what the Wii would be like if WiiFit had never been released. Hopefully Project Natal will show us great things in the coming years. If not, well, a gimmick can still be fun for a while, right?