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Project Natal - Motion Control for Xbox 360
by rob

E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, is usually the site of game announcements and previews for upcoming games. This year, the most exciting announcement was for Project Natal, Microsoft's controller-free method to interact with the Xbox. Imagine playing a game where you can punch and kick the air to fight bad guys or wave your hand to cast a spell. Project Natal may very well be the future of gaming.

The Project Natal sensor bar sits above or below your TV and captures your movements with a camera and infrared depth detector, translating them to in-game motion. This technology may seem similar to the Nintendo Wii's motion-sensing remote but Project Natal uses no hardware controller. You simply use your body to control the game.

Previously, the Xbox 360 Live Vision camera and Sony EyeToy allowed you to control characters in games like Rayman Raving Rabbids and Dance Dance Revolution. These technologies are very basic versions of motion capture technology, seeing only an outline of your body. Project Natal combines motion capture with depth perception to get a more complete picture of you.

Project Natal also includes face recognition so it will be able to sign you in to your account when you walk up to the system. Combine face recognition with motion capture, and games will be able to have characters turn their heads to watch you as you move. Gesture recognition will allow you to control on-screen options and scroll through menus... kind of like the sci-fi interface in the movie Minority Report.

Microsoft's "product vision" video for Project Natal shows off the features that could be developed.

That video is cool but is simply a slickly-produced promo of the features expected to be developed for Project Natal in the future. What can this awesome technology do today? Here is Microsoft's Kudo Tsunoda, Creative Directory of Project Natal, showing off a breakout-style game named Ricochet where you use your entire body to bounce balls into bricks.

Mr. Tsunoda also appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel to show off a real, hands-on demo of the technology. Along with Ricochet, they played a modified version of the racing game Burnout Paradise. To control the car, they gripped a non-existent steering wheel and pushed the gas pedal with their foot. View the video here.

Even though Project Natal is still in development, the possibilities for the future of gaming are exciting. Will we see the Project Natal technology in the next 6 months? Next holiday season? Will Project Natal lure Wii players over to the Xbox 360? Only time will tell.

See More:
Project Natal's YouTube Channel
Project Natal Home Page

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