I have been thinking about Project Natal over the weekend. I do not want to discredit some of the innovations Microsoft has created over the last two decades – but for the most part Microsoft has not been able to create innovations on its own (but rather mimicking or buying stuff from outside). There may be some advances like C# and .NET – but generally this is insider stuff – meaning nothing to a wider public.
Project Natal may be the first true innovation with an Microsoft stamp on it. Fifteen years ago I have seen programmers trying to recognize 2D movements of arms and legs from a video – with results that were respectable – but never a game changer. Too much CPU power was required back then to be relevant in the consumer market.
To include the 3rd dimension in the motion detection is such a game changer. Combined with voice and face recoginition, this takes away the controller out of the control: your full persona is represented in the system – not just your fingertip. This is radical – and it has been a dream for many many years.
Just look at this example from game designer Peter Molyneux from Lionhead:
The device is so complex that a developer will have to have access to an SDK that allows simplified communication with the sensory system of Natal. Frameworks could provide automatic recognition of gestures to programmers – even in combination (so I you wave your arm, that would call another function than waving your arm and saying “Bye!”).
The level of precision could increase with future revisions. It could be combined with classical controllers. Maybe one day even finger positions, fluctuations/timbre of the voice, body temperature or point of view will be detected as well. Simple “lite” versions specialized on facial parameters could replace webcams in laptops.
So I do not look at Natal as a game controller – I see it as a complete new interface generation coming up.
Hats off to Microsoft!