Can Project Natal Fulfill Its Potential?
Project Natal is a high profile Microsoft initiative to bring controller-free gaming to the Xbox 360 gaming console through use of a motion sensor that monitors the player's body.
The sensor was originally designed with its own on-board CPU to relieve the Xbox 360 from processing the motion sensing so that the console could concentrate on delivering a high-impact gaming experience. Earlier this year, though, news broke that Microsoft had dropped the chip from the controller.
And now, after Microsoft's CES announcement that Natal will, indeed be available in 2010, we've learned that the 360 will be required to donate 10-15% of its CPU processing power while the device is in operation. Can Natal still fulfill its potential as Microsoft envisioned?
This is the second blow to Natal working with older games; the first was recognition that a lot of code would have to be changed to enable existing games to make them Natal-compatible. A third, less obvious obstacle: if Natal is used with older games, will the 10-15% increase in CPU usage increase heat generation, thus creating more infamous Red Rings of Death (RRoD's)?
Existing games compatibility with the Project Natal system could have enabled the following:
- Analyze the "fidget factor" of a player when playing horror/survival games such as games from the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises. Character behavior would be altered by player reactions; players with nerves of steel might receive bonuses or even achievements as a result.
- In role-playing games, your on-screen character could react to what you, the player, are doing in real life. Want to say hi to a friend in an MMORPG? Wave your hand. Watch your character wave his or her hand. Such potential!
- In first-person shoolters, a player coud shelter his character behind cover and lean with his own body, causing his character to lean around the corner to take a peek with minimum exposure.
- Furthermore, for squad-based FPS games, a player could make hand signals to other members of the squad that are immediately replicated by his on-screen character. In movies, do real-life hostage rescue teams talk to each other when in the final stages of a room assault? No, they use hand-signals.
Removing the CPU from the natal sensor may reduce production costs. However, removing the device's appeal to serious gamers may prove to be too heavy a price.