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E3: MS unveils hands-free Project Natal

Pretty much X720. A bit Minority Report.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Microsoft games boss Don Mattrick has shown off Project Natal, a camera-based no-controller control scheme that combines "an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device".

There’s no word on a date, but Mattrick said it would work with every single Xbox 360 when it launches, which saves on them making a new console (for now anyway).

It’s “a revolutionary new way to play where the only experience you need is life experience”, according to Mattrick.

An accompanying press release added: "Unlike 2D cameras and controllers, Project Natal tracks your full body movement in 3D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice."

In a video reel tech demonstration, various demos were shown, including a racing game where you wave your arms around like a steering wheel, a skateboard game where you scan in a real-life board and then skate around on it by jumping around the room, and a quiz game where you move your hands to buzz in.

Facial and voice recognition is in there, and so are Minority Report-style swiping controls for navigating menus – handy for pushing windows around to highlight things for your friends and to select items.

According to Steven Spielberg (yes, him), on stage with Mattrick to talk up Project Natal, it recognises “not just your thumbs and your wrists, but your entire being”.

“It’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about no wheel at all.”

Not convinced? Check out footage over on EGTV now.

Spielberg and “his teams” will be working on projects for Natal. “We’ll come up with some great stuff,” he said, as he wandered off to loud cheers.

Project leader Kudo Tsunoda (he of the sunglasses) came on-stage to demonstrate how demo girl Abigail could take limb-by-limb control of her avatar.

In a 3D Breakout tech demo called Ricochet, Abby smacked balls around by flapping her arms and legs, with her avatar following suit.

“This isn’t the kind of game where you just end up on the sofa using some kind of preset waggle commands,” Tsunoda said in a pretty obvious dig at Nintendo’s Wii.

The next demo, Paint Party, saw another demo chap, Dan, “slopping” paint onto a canvas – again, making motions that his avatar followed pretty much instantly. By saying the names of colours out loud (“dark brown”) he could select the kind of paint he laid down by waving his arms.

With Abby back on stage, she and Dan then contorted themselves into Twister shapes and stencilled themselves on screen to add to the image. In this case, they managed an elephant.

Tsunoda said that development kits were arriving with teams today - although Peter Molyneux is already working on something, and has been for a few weeks. You can read our conference report on his project for more or stay tuned later this week for a write-up based on a private demo.

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