Natal is Real

I’ve seen people say that Natal is a hoax, that it doesn’t or can’t work. Sorry, it is for real. The demos at E3 were not smoke and mirrors. Many developers have seen and tested it, and the accuracy with which Natal tracks your movements is uncanny. I look forward us getting our devkit.

But Natal will not be the nirvana of gaming . There are at least two big, obvious problems with it.

1. No one is going to play a game for long while performing full arm or full body motions. This is not a joke about gamer physique.

The great thing about the little controller in my hands is this: All I need to do is make a little motion with my thumb, press a button, or pull a trigger. Then I watch as my (virtual) self does heroic, amazing, physically challenging stuff. Minimal physical effort on my part, a little skill in terms of timing and coordination, and then I get the maximum visual and experiential reward.

2. I don’t know about you, but in my little San Francisco apartment, I don’t have a 10′ x 10′ open area in front of the television. I certainly don’t have a safe border even beyond that without furniture to run into.

There was a talk at GDC this year about our assumptions of how and where we play video games (the physical space), but this takes the cake. Of course, I do think it will be amusing for the QA department to be set up in a gymnasium.

So, Natal will be a great party and family game tool. And as the Wii has proven, that could be huge seller. But in core gaming market, it’s not a game changer, as the Wii may also have proven. Multichannel voice recognition may be great. It leads us to better interaction with our artificial creations, or at least a deeper version of Endwar’s voice command system. And I have hopes for some interesting uses for Natal: minigames and non-core gameplay. After that, I’m not sure.

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