Once rumored and now fact from this years CES, Microsoft announced it was removing a chip from Natal, with a software solution in its place. There’s been speculation from this that the games we’ve seen so far may not end up being what ends up in our hands come Natal’s release this holiday. A definite disappointment from a developers perspective, as Natal will now have to rely on the 360’s CPU a lot more than previously thought. This may in the end cause developers to release less impressive titles than what we all dreamed of upon its announcement at E3.
There’s been talk that this decision was made to meet a rumored price point (around $50-$60), and if that’s the case, we may be in trouble.
If you’ve been paying attention at all with gaming trends, you’ll have no doubt noticed the extreme success Nintendo’s had with the casual crowd. The “magic wand” and “Project Natal” are attempts from Sony and Microsoft to get in with this hugely profitable crowd of new casual gamers. Casual is the key word. The motion control idea in itself is already a move aimed to get the whole family involved. Even more impressive is the rumored amount of launch games. There’s been a few numbers tossed around, some as high as 30 titles at launch. But from what developers have said so far, and with this recent decision to remove a chip, we may be getting games that resemble more closely to that of Wii Sports rather than the Burnout demos we’ve seen. My question is this: Do we really need more casual, lazy, gimmicky Wii-type games?
You’ve heard the complaints from both the hardcore, and even Nintendo fanboys that they’re sick of all the “shovel-ware” games being thrown together and tossed onto the Wii. In order for Natal to not only claim the casual-gaming throne, or better yet-to even stand out at all, it’s going to need to offer something better. Something different.
Natal must rely on its strengths that set it apart from its competition. The most notable and obvious difference of course is the lack of a controller. Microsoft plans on getting rid of the “barrier” between gamers and their games by removing the controller altogether. Now you are the controller. Using both of Natal’s highly sophisticated cameras which are able to track 3D space, gamers will now be able to use their entire body to interact with games. We’ve seen the demos, and those who’ve had a chance to try it say it works -just ask Jimmy Fallon. MS needs to really play this angle up. Even with the success of the Wii, grandmothers still fear the Wii-mote. A controller will always intimidate the unfamiliar. But being able to literally control a game simply by moving your own body is a huge selling point and something that can be expanded upon on already big titles being popularized on the Wii.
Beyond The Game
A huge plus to Natal is that it allows the gamer to take advantage of the technology beyond in-game use, or even game use all together. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really tired of having a remote nearby, or a game controller at my side to watch movies. No more looking under couch cushions, or blaming your dog for the lost remote. Simply speak commands to Natal, or make gestures to control it. Imagine being able to control volume, movies, and music, everything down to the 360 Dashboard all without ever touching a controller. Now, some of this hasn’t been confirmed, but it’s definitely possible. Microsoft really needs to play this angle up if they want to make some headway in the entertainment sector. I’ve always felt the 360 has an extremely solid base for gaming, arguably the strongest, but where the PS3 has the 360 beat is in the overall entertainment package. When I think movies, or home entertainment, I think PlayStation. Ever since the HD DVD format lost in the format wars, MS lost a lot of points with home theater buffs. But Natal could win some back by giving an entirely different approach to how to view and use your media. It’s new, it’s different, and straight out of Star Trek. It’s just cool.
Next Level Interaction
While this year is all about 3D, there’s something else on the horizon and it’s gotten me excited at the possibilities more than anything 3D could ever offer. Think back to Peter Molyneux’s demo of ‘Milo and Kate.’ While not everyone’s cup of tea, it really showcased the potential of Natal. Imagine instead of looking at lines of dialogue to choose from in Mass Effect ranging from nice to mean, you could read them yourself in the tone you wished. Or better yet, not read a script at all. Imagine you’re back in the world of Tamriel and a guard stops you after a store was just robbed. Depending on the look or emotion on your face, he figures you out, down to even a shifty glance or blink of the eye. Or, you get away with it and run back to your hideout. The way we interact with NPC’s and AI could change forever. Imagine using your hands to carefully disarm a bomb. One wrong shaky hand movement could mean death for you and your squad. I’m more excited about having games utilize and combine the controller played games with facial or body movements. I still want regular games, but freeing up buttons in NHL by thrusting a shoulder here or there to slam players into the boards… that I’m down for. Imagine playing Call of Duty just like normal-controller in hand. You’re running and gunning, and then a dog jumps out of nowhere on top of you. Instead of tapping a button to escape, you head-butt the dog using your actual head. How cool would that be?
Natal has a lot going for it, and with these key points in mind, Microsoft could have the next big thing on their hands. It just depends how it’s implemented in the end, and if they plan to cater to both the hardcore and casual gamer. With all of the biggest names in the industry actively working on Natal games already, things may already be headed in the right direction. Natal’s biggest hurdle? In my mind, separating it from just another gimmick, to a new standard on how we interact with entertainment. Don’t get me wrong though, my love for classic controller played games will never die and at the moment my excitement for Natal is overshadowed by the immense fear that the 360 may get casual-fied by the release of Natal. But only time will tell.