Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible

Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible
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 /><b>Mark</b>: Microsoft loaded the 3D Breakout demo we saw at their press conference. I stepped up to a white piece of tape right after Matt, and given that I'm 4 inches taller, Natal needed to account for my larger size.</p>
<p>After about 10 seconds, the blue, ghost-like figure filled in. And he was both taller and bigger-handed than Matt's avatar. Natal noticed that I'm a bigger guy. It made no adjustments for the fact that I'm also better looking.</p>
<p>The first thing I noticed was a slight lag I hadn't intended. It's not horrible, but my avatar moved a hair more slowly than I did. That didn't stop me from reaching up, spiking the imaginary ball at a wall imaginary bricks, and then flailing around to keep up with 2, 3, 4, 5 and more spheres flying at me at once.</p>
<p>My avatar recognised both my pitiful kicks and swipes. And while my avatar never left the ground when I jumped, this turned out to be but an animation limitation within Microsoft's tech demo. My wireframe preview image and heatmap did leave the ground. Besides, this is nitpicking. On the PS2 I played Nike Kinetic, something a bit similar. And I always wanted to be having fun. But on Natal, even in a stuffy windowless room surrounded by Microsoft execs, I was having fun. (Disregard my stern, focused face in these pictures.)</p>
<p><strong>Burnout Revenge</strong><br /> <img src=feels natural.

After I hit full speed on a straightaway, I tried to do a 180. I crashed into a wall and died. Normally, that’d make me bad. But I couldn’t stop smiling that I’d held the future of gaming control in my hands—and it was simply air.

 /><b>Mark:</b> As soon as Matt crashed, I greedily jumped in, asking him if it was OK but not waiting for him to answer. I wanted to play Natal more, and I've played a ton of Burnout.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>I raised my hands in the air, mining a steering wheel. I hadn't given the system any time to scan my body after kicking Matt out, but I stepped by foot forward, signaling the gas all the same. The car accelerated. I twisted my arms. The car turned just the right amount.</p>
<p>Microsoft had clearly tweaked the Burnout code a bit, forcing the car to feel a bit more like a powerful sedan than a street illegal beast out of some <i>Fast and Furious</i> sequel. And I'm guessing that Natal's ever so slight control delay was masked by the feeling of a looser-driving steering wheel that we find in more standard cars.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>Holy shit.</p>
<p>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?</p>
<p>The car handles fine.</p>
<p>What if I kneel on the ground and steer?</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p><strong>Closing Thoughts</strong><br /> <b>Matt:</b> Project Natal is the vision of gaming that's danced through people's heads for decades—gaming without the abstraction of controllers, using your body and natural movements—which came more sharply into focus when Nintendo announced the Wii a few years ago. 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, <em>feeling</em> 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.</p>
<p><b>Mark:</b> 2010...or maybe<br />
 even 2011...is just too long to wait. I want Natal now.<br /> <br clear=
Kudo Tsunoda Testing Natal:
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