Microsoft's Project Natal: Visionary Or Vaporware?

Posted: Jun 3 2009, 10:15am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 11 2010, 2:43pm CDT , in E3


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If E3 is all about generating 'buzz', then Microsoft is the clear winner this year. In the few days since its announcement Project Natal has generated more hype than any announcement the console gaming industry has seen in years. It's not hard to see why; the technology Microsoft promised us is far beyond anything we've ever seen. Plus, it's been a while since the last major console was announced.

I'm as excited about Natal's potential as everyone else, but I'm also feeling pretty skeptical at the moment. Now that the excitement of Microsoft's star-studded blockbuster E3 conference has faded it's possible to look at Project Natal a bit more rationally. Microsoft has promised us the moon, but can they deliver it?

Pouring over Microsoft's E3 press release, it is impossible to ignore just how vague all of our info about Natal really is. We've got a rough description of what it is ("Project Natal" RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device.”), but that's about it. No anticipated release date, no information on how much we can expect it to cost, and not a word about the device's limitations.

Of course we can't expect Microsoft to put the shortcomings of their new baby out on display, but some definitely exist. It's gotten out that Microsoft used a little bit of 'movie magic' to make the Natal's ability to scan and process real world objects look much better than it really is. In reality it's going to take a lot longer to scan something like a skateboard or a drawing, and you're going to have to be careful to hold it at the proper angle and distance.

What other shortcomings did Microsoft hide? And just how far along in development is this new motion capturing messiah? It could be years before we see the first product that resembles the Natal in stores, and it will probably take even longer before we get any really good games for it. So why did Microsoft make such an early announcement?

The short answer is, they wanted to win E3. In a normal year Nintendo's Wii Motion Plus and Sony's Motion Controller would have both made much bigger splashes than they did. By letting the cat out of the bag a little early, Microsoft took control of the expo and probably did some damage to Wii sales too. It was a brilliant strategic move for the company to make, albeit a pretty sleazy one too.

Of course, if Microsoft comes out and gives us a concrete release date set somewhere in the near future I'll eat my words happily. I want to play GTA 5 with my bare hands as much as anyone else.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/5" rel="author">Robert Evans</a>
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