Saturday, June 06, 2009

Xbox 360 Project Natal and Other Enhancements on the Way

Also showcased at this year's E3 was Project Natal, Microsoft's answer to motion control for the Xbox 360. Much more than a simple motion controller, Project Natal is a sensor that will, in theory, allow the user to control their Xbox 360 and supported games without the use of a controller. Project Natal is a camera, recognizes various voice commands, and can even allow you to log into Xbox LIVE via facial recognition! Sounds pretty nifty, huh. Instead of reading about it, watch this E3 promo video.

On first glance, this is really cool, a great peripheral that will work with any Xbox 360 console, and really help to bring the whole family into gaming. Except, honestly, I can't see my whole family jumping around the living room. I also want to know what happens if a dog walks by while I'm playing a supported game. Will my race car smash into a wall if it senses that motion, or will my menus go out of whack? Do I really want to model dresses on my sissy little Avatar? And how many TVs will experience death-by-shoe?

When I take a step back and really look at Project Natal, while we are getting one step closer to having our very own holodecks, it seems more like a gimmick and an attempt to appeal to the casual gamer just like the Wii. I mean, honestly, is Project Natal going to help me play Mass Effect 2 better when it launches? Doubtful. For that matter, we don't have a tentative cost or release date for this peripheral yet anyway, and while I'd like to see it succeed, I can't claim to be very excited for somethig that, at this point, looks rather useless to me.

In other news, Microsoft has also announced that both Facebook and Twitter will be integrated into Xbox LIVE, which is just awesome: now that cute girl I added to my Facebook Friends list can see even more clearly what a nerd I really am! Lord help us if it constantly updates our status to reflect what games we're playing.

We'll also see the addition of a Games on Demand channel. This Fall, you'll be able to download games in an ever growing catalogue straight to your Xbox 360's HDD, beginning with such hits as BioShock, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed (no doubt for those who missed out on them before the launch of their respective sequels). Again, no word on cost, but if the Video Marketplace is any indication, expect to pay for the convenience of being able to purchase games from your own home.

Microsoft has also announced their answer to the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray Disc support: Streaming of 1080p movies! Provided you have a home entertainment set up that can take advantage of this, video streaming will be an awesome feature, though I'm curious how much it will cost and how often you'll encounter buffering issues. I suppose that'll all depend on the quality of your own net connection.

There's also going to be some new Party features allowing you to view any of the 1080p movies you'll be able to stream with your Friends over Xbox LIVE. That's all well and good I guess, but honestly, what ever happened to simply, oh, I don't know, going and visitng people for real? Is it just me, or is this whole online social networking deal gone a little too far?

I'm not trying to rant on the advancement of technology here as we're living in exciting times and have more gadgets and communication methods than most retro sci-fi writers could ever have imagined, but I remember when gaming was a form of escapism. Now that anti-social is the new cool, we've got shared introversion for everyone! Yay!

Seriously though, it's getting awful crowded in my virtual world.

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