E3'09: Project Natal can track motion, sense voices, and, according to Microsoft, offer a new era without a new console

Microsoft exposes new motion-sensing camera [Updated]

Microsoft’s Don Mattrick asked a packed audience at the Galen Centre in Los Angeles: “Can we make you the controller?”

The answer to that question, according to Microsoft, was Project Natal; a camera based peripheral that can, seemingly, scan and replicate the image it sees, employ voice recognition and, of course, comprehensively track the motions of those in front of it.

According to Microsoft, Natal can measure a player’s body shape to identify user gamertags, can precisely read full body movement – down to a player’s fingers and thumbs – and can distinguish between players’ voices.

“This is controller-free games and entertainment,"said Mattrick. "When it launches, Natal will work with every Xbox 360.”

Natal may just be a codename for the device right now, but the comprehensive range of features it offered managed to – even at this stage – separate it from Nintendo’s Wii offering.

Microsoft made clear that this was not a me-too device. On the contrary; to some extent it appeared to be an enhancement of Nintendo’s vision, though of course peripherals alone are just one element of the motion-control equation.

Mattrick added that the controller “can get into new era of interactive entertainment without releasing a new console," before brining onto the stage Steven Spielberg.

Spiekberg himself offered no details on the games he’s working on in relation to the device, but gave it a shining endorsement:

“Making the controller invisible, shines the spotlight on you,” he said. "This is not about reinventing the wheel – it’s no wheel at all"

“We’ll come up with some good stuff,” he said as he made his way off the stage. They were rather poignant last words:

If Microsoft wants to truly spread games to a wider market, software as popular as Wii Sports is utterly essential to the company. With the Natal camera in place, a Spielberg-esque blockbuster would be needed to drive the new controller to the masses.

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