Project Natal


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Image courtesy of www.slashgear.com

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Description:

First announced at the Entertainment Electronics Expo or E3, in 2009, Natal is an add-on peripheral for the Xbox 360 video game platform. It allows users to interact and control the Xbox 360's functions without the use of a physical controller. Instead, "you are the controller" through a natural user interface which utilizes hand or body gestures, spoken language or commands, and even real world objects or images. One cool feature that Natal will have is an automatic sign in for Xbox Live users, in which it uses a complex facial recognition. Natal does not pick up key words when a person speaks. Natal understands the words. For example, while playing a football game, the player can literally call out a play and the players will respond to that play. The goal of Project Natal is to get users more interactive with video games. Nintendo Wii attempted to do the same, to take gaming beyond just sitting on the couch with a controller. However, Wii still used a controller with buttons. Microsoft wants to get away from the controller. With Project Natal, this is possible.

Set to be released during the holiday season of 2010. It was originally leaked that Natal will cost under $80 and will ship 5 million units on its release date, and that there will initially be 14 games to play at launch. Microsoft later stated this wasn't completely accurate and that actual launch details have yet to be decided.

Background/History:

Natal got its name by following a Microsoft tradition of using cities as code names. Alex Kipman, who incubated the project at Xbox, is from Brazil. So he chose Natal, a city along the northeastern coast of Brazil, as a tribute to his country. Also, Natal means “to be born” in Latin and he believed it was a perfect fit to describe the new possibilities with Project Natal. One person involved in Project Natal is well known movie director Steven Spielberg, the visionary director and producer.

Nintendo was originally offered the technology that powers Project Natal but turned it down. Quoted at computerandvideogames.com, the source said the Israeli company that invented the 3D camera-powered motion recognition system demonstrated it to Nintendo execs (including Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata) in 2007. Iwata was reportedly impressed, but turned it down -- only for Microsoft to snag it the following year. "3DV showed off a camera that detected motion in 3D, and had voice recognition," the unnamed source told CVG. "But Iwata-San was unconvinced he could sell it at a Nintendo price point. He also had some worries around latency during gameplay... I've heard Iwata describe the prototype he saw at length, and it's definitely Natal."

Applications:

Natal was developed to expand the Xbox 360's core audience of young male gamers to a more mainstream audience creating an all around enjoyable gaming experience for the whole family. At E3 2009, three demos were displayed at Microsoft's booth:
  • Ricochet – a game in which the entire body is used to bounce balls at blocks.
  • Paint Party – where the player can make throwing motions to splash or draw with paint onto a wall. Color choice is made using speech recognition, and can pose to make stencils.
  • Milo and Kate – a full game in development in which the player interacts with a young child (Milo or Milly, selected by the user at the start) and his/her dog Kate by performing real-life actions.

Additional Software Information

Requiring at least 190 MB of available storage space, the Kinect system software allows users to operate the Xbox 360 Dashboard console user interface using voice commands and hand techniques such as voice recognition and facial recognition and hand gestures. Techniques such as voice recognition and facial recognition are used for automatically identifying users. Among the applications for Kinect is Video Kinect, which uses Kinect for conducting voice chat or video chat with Windows Live Messenger users or other Xbox 360 users. The application can use Kinect's tracking functionality and the Kinect sensor's motorized pivot to adjust the camera so that the user is kept in frame even when moving. Other applications promoted include ESPN on Xbox 360, and Zune on Xbox Live.

As of September 2009, third-party publishers confirmed by Microsoft to be working on future Kinect titles include Activision Blizzard, Bethesda Softworks, Capcom, Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Konami, MTV Games, Namco Bandai, SEGA, Square Enix, THQ Inc. and Ubisoft. 16 launch titles for Kinect have been announced, along with several other titles which have been confirmed to support the technlogy.

Specifications:

Natal features three primary components; a sensor device, depth sensor, and a microphone. The sensor device is approximately a 9 inch (36cm) wide horizontal bar connected to a circular base that is able to pivot on a ball joint. It is able to provide full-body 3-D motion capture, facial recognition, and even voice recognition. The depth sensor uses a infrared projector along with a monochrome CMOS sensor. It is able to capture motion in almost any lighting conditions. The microphone is able to suppress outside noise and source localization allows for headset-free communication among console users via Xbox Live. The sensor bar was originally planned to contain hardware that would process such elements as the bone system used to map player actions, this idea was later dropped in favor of a software solution owing to a desire to reduce Natal's price point.

Natal more than likely will not be backward-compatible with existing Xbox 360 games. In order for games to be backwards-compatible, developers would need to develop fully reworked versions of the games, rather then issuing a compatibility patch. Considering how large the library of Xbox 360 games is, it would be very time demanding and most likely not cost effective to rebuild older games on a newer control scheme. However, it has been rumored that along with the launch of Project Natal, a new Xbox 360 platform will be released with configuration upgrades, possible design revision, and internal hardware upgrades as well.

Competition for Natal:

There are two direct competitors for Project Natal: Nintendo's firmly established Wii console, and Sony's new motion controller for it's Playstation 3 console. Nintendo's Wii console was released on November 19, 2006 and uses the Wii Remote for input. The Wii Remote uses motion-sensing technology and a sensor bar placed on the television to allow users to control the game through motion. Sony's motion controller for its Playstation 3 console will be released around the same time as Project Natal, in Fall 2010. The motion controller for the PS3 will utilize the Playstation Eye to track a ball placed on the end of the controller, which will react to motion. Both Sony and Nintendo's solutions to motion technology require a controller, while Project Natal requires no controller at all. That is what sets Project Natal apart from its competition.

Related Media:


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Prototype version of Project Natal. Image courtesy of www.g4tv.com
Prototype version of Project Natal. Image courtesy of www.g4tv.com



Screeenshots from 2009 E3 at the LA Convention Center


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Web Resources:

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jun/02/business/fi-ct-microsoft-games2
http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/700620/Project-Natal-Details-Leak.html
http://www.slashgear.com/project-natal-unlikely-to-be-backward-compatible-with-existing-360-games-2858180/
http://www.project-natal.net/project-natal-specs/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Natal
http://www.engadget.com/2009/06/01/microsoft-announces-motion-controller-for-xbox-360/
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/microsoft-drops-internal-natal-chip_1
http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/988/988356p1.html
http://www.xbox.com/en-GB/news-features/news/Project-Natal-in-detail-050609.htm
http://videogames.yahoo.com/events/plugged-in/reports-nintendo-turned-down-natal/1386922
http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/702346/Project-Natal-Prototype-Reportedly-Snagged-In-Paparazzi-Photograph-.html
http://www.nintendo.com/wii/what/controllers
http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24456
https://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2009/jun09/06-01E3PR.mspx
http://news.teamxbox.com/xbox/19801/Project-Natal-Xbox-360-Motion-Camera-Revealed/

Related Websites:

http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/projectnatal/default.htm
http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1934027_1934003_1933949,00.html
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10253586-1.html