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Good News for Project Natal

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1 Good News for Project Natal on Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:45 am


Gizmodo gives Natal good reviews, complains of slight lag, praises it as one of the most amazing tech demos they've ever seen

Engadget more impressed with Natal than Sony wands

Johnny Chung Lee, the genius behind Wii 3D head tracking, and Wii multi-touch projection is now working on project Natal, and is blown away by the project

Natal also has its own internal processing system handling an unspecified amount of the heavy lifting behind Natal's cleaver image and speech recognition. It breaks the human body into 48 points tracked in real time, and it can sense your whole body in Z space, or depth. In fact, on a heat map that measured depth, my hands appeared hotter than my shoulders—because they were closer.

Kudo didn't tell me how to "set it up" or what to do. I just did it. You have to realize, Kudo towers over me. I didn't have to calibrate it to my body size, or stand in a weird way for it to adjust. It just worked. Well, until I broke it at the end—it froze up after a few rounds and had to be rebooted for Mark. Hey, it's an early tech demo, so don't read into it. Until that point, it worked remarkably, incredibly well—better than I expected, honestly. The bright fluorescent lights were turned off and on, and Natal didn't flinch. My real movements translated exactly how I expected them to—the precise position, velocity—90 percent of the time, no matter how ridiculously I moved, and some of the other 10 percent might've just been my own bad timing. But the result is a remarkable sense of control. Immersion.

But turning my air steering wheel, I felt completely in control. A lot of that was the software—it registered even the smallest pivots of my elbows that sent my forearms right or left—but the way it responded exactly how I expected it to is what made it feel so natural. Which is the real key here. It feels natural.

Burnout showcases a few important points for Microsoft. First, it's a real game that's been on the 360. So Natal doesn't weigh down on the processors so hard that you can't play games. Second, it requires fine motor control.

So I floor it, growing confident as I wave through traffic and slowly build speed. I reach maximum velocity, throw my foot back to break, cut the wheel and toss the car into a spin. Yes. This feels right. Just right.

Holy shit.

But Natal can't work this well. It just CAN'T. I need to break it, teach this Microsoft prototype a little humility. What if I stand on my tip toes and steer eight feet in the air?

The car handles fine.

What if I kneel on the ground and steer?

Yup, it still works, save for a moment when my knee shifted and I tricked the machine—a fair mistake, even by my highly ridiculous dork standards.

I haven't been quite this blown away by a tech demo in a long time. It looked neat onstage at Microsoft's keynote. Seeing it, feeling it in person, makes me want to believe that this what the future of gaming looks like—no buttons, no joysticks, no wands. The only thing left to get rid of is the screen, and even that'll happen soon enough.

Obviously, Microsoft is still working out kinks and perfecting this thing, but what we saw at our demo (and super-secret demo) was mighty convincing. The demo that Sony showed of its new motion controller was interesting, but the fact that Natal is forgoing physical controls of any kind sets your mind reeling

2010...or maybe even just too long to wait. I want Natal now.

Speaking as someone who has been working in interface and sensing technology for nearly 10 years, this is an astonishing combination of hardware and software. The few times I’ve been able to show researchers the underlying components, their jaws drop with amazement... and with good reason.

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