Speaking of waving things around in your hand (see previous news post), Microsoft has made official the rebadging of Project Natal to Kinect.
Details are still pouring in as E3 gets set to kick off, but a little more was revealed during a Kinect-themed 45-minute theatrical performance by Cirque du Soleil. Most of the new info involved upcoming game titles which, according to USA Today, will include:
Kinectimals: train and play with 20 different types of virtual cats, includng a lion, cheetah, and tiger
Joyride: a racing game where users will position their hands around an imaginary steering wheel
Kinect Sports: six sports games to choose from, including boxing, bowling, volleyball, track and field, soccer, and table tennis
Kinect Adventures: river rafting game
Dance Central: an MTV Games project involving full-body dancing without the need for a controller
Star Wars: probably will involve light saber duels
"For lots of people, that controller is a barrier," says creative director Kudo Tsunoda. "We set out to make a new control paradigm where anybody can get in and play, without having to read the instructions or learn a complicated set of controls."
Kinect's built-in camera will employ facial and voice recognition. You'll be able to control Netflix menus with hand gestures, as well as fast forward though a recorded TV program just by waving your arm about.
Pricing, release date, and other details have yet to be disclosed, though we suspect to know a lot more as the day goes on.
We say “Project Natal,” you say “Xbox motion control camera doohickey,” right? In theory, it’s a gamer’s geekiest dream come true. You throw a punch, and your character on screen follows suit. Buttons? What are those? Soon, you could be hugging Gordon Freeman’s crowbar and fending off headcrabs with your own two hands. Fallout 3 production director Ashley Cheng, however, thinks Natal’s true potential lies far outside the realm of videogames.
“Seeing it in action, I was totally blown away by it. It seems wasted on games, really. Microsoft should open the NATAL API up like Apple does with the iPhone/iPad. Let anyone make a NATAL ‘app.’ I bet someone makes a killer app that has nothing to do with gaming,” the Bethesda developer wrote on his blog.
A couple weeks ago, we would’ve laughed at this. Then we saw Iron Man 2. Mark our words: if someone makes an app like that, they’ll become a millionaire. Even if we have to buy the app one million times ourselves.
If one were to anthropomorphize contemporary computer navigation technology, it would be a grave-bound man living in constant fear ever since Minority Report's release. However, most people would agree that the gesture-based interface depicted in the film has lost a bit of its novelty. It is no longer as challenging an undertaking as it seemed back when the movie first hit theaters.
Using the movie as an inspiration, two MIT students, Tony Hyun Kim and Nevada Sanchez, have been working on something they call the Glove Mouse. It is basically a pair of gloves that lets the user control a computer using just hand gestures.
Dreaming about what the Xbox 720 (or whatever Microsoft decides to name the Xbox 360's followup console) will be like? Well, keep dreaming, because the Redmond outfit has no plans of replacing the four-year old console any time soon, and is instead focused on Project Natal and other ways of extending the console's lifespan.
"I think it's important to say that the Xbox 360 is the console of the long future for us. There is no need to launch a new console, because we're able to give this console new life either with software upgrades or hardware upgrades like Project Natal," said David Hufford, senior director of Xbox product management. "The Xbox 360 was designed for a long life, and I don't even know if we're at the midpoint yet."
Microsoft is concentrating on bringing Project Natal to the Xbox 360, which the company indicated should be ready for the 2010 holiday season. After that, it's anyone's guess what else Microsoft has planned, especially if, as Hufford suggested, the console hasn't even reached its midpoint yet. Could Blu-ray finally be in the Xbox 360's future? Probably not.
"We love our prices right now," Hufford added. "I don't want to say that technology stops, but we believe we have a high quality console, and we stand by that quality with an unprecedented warranty, so we think we're in a good place now heading into the Natal era."
Color us a little confused by this one. Sony has been showing off a surface computer of sorts. The system was constructed with Atracsys and utilizes a camera to track the locations of your fingers, meaning you don’t have to physically touch anything. For some reason, it’s being shown off on a table top… that you touch.
Sony/ Atracsys also showed how the camera system can track facial movements and even calculate mood. The point seems to be that you could interact with a computer without actually touching it. This would be invaluable in an operating room, for example, where sterility must be maintained. Sort of like Natal on the Xbox, apparently. Despite what they’re saying the camera tracking is capable of, Sony is making it look like a glorified Microsoft Surface. Check out the story link above to see the demo video.
Two years after dismissing, and even mocking, the Wii Remote, Microsoft has had a change of heart about motion control. Project Natal is an attempt to get rid of the controller altogether, replacing it with a tool that combines an “RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone, and custom processor running proprietary software.”
All of this provides full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice recognition, then converts that information into real-time game control. The figures onscreen respond to your movements and even react to emotions based on facial expressions.
You know Microsoft is serious when it wheels out the big guns to deliver the overstatement. Such as when Steven Spielberg was asked for his thoughts on Project Natal at this year’s E3: “This is a pivotal moment that will carry with it a wave of change, the ripples of which will reach far beyond video games.”
Remember that oddly named motion doohickey Microsoft debuted at E3? Project Natal? Well, while ushering in the Future of Gaming may be its main objective (followed in close second by taking over the world via robot revolution led by conniving A.I. child Milo), Natal isn’t just the tech toy of tomorrow. It can be used to for bigger things, higher purposes. It can be used for office work.
“Both the Xbox guys and the Windows guys latched onto [Natal’s uses for media consumption as a whole] and now even since they latched onto it the idea of how it can be used in the office is getting much more concrete, and is pretty exciting,” Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said.
Your office isn’t the only place a series of subtle facial expressions could potentially organize, either. Home’s where the heart is, as they say, and the heart of the home of the Future will apparently be Natal.
"I think the value is as great for if you're in the home, as you want to manage your movies, music, home system type stuff, it's very cool there," Gates said. "And I think there's incredible value as we use that in the office connected to a Windows PC. So Microsoft research and the product groups have a lot going on there, because you can use the cost reduction that will take place over the years to say, why shouldn't that be in most office environments."
A flick of the wrist to schedule a meeting. A wave of the hand to organize some files. That’s the future as Microsoft sees it. So, uh, why do we make fun of Apple geeks for needless, overly showy flourishes again?
(…Or a finger motion that totally says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” to sort your movie collection. Ok, never mind. This sounds awesome. Like “force-pushing” an automatic door. Come on, we can’t be the only ones who do that.)