Nintendo turned the intimidating video game controller into a simple swing-and-swivel device. Now Microsoft wants to ditch the controller entirely and leave the swinging and swiveling to you.
Microsoft unveiled its much-rumored hands-free motion-sensing technology Monday with the help of filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
"The vast majority of people are just too intimidated to pick up a game controller," says Spielberg, who makes games of his own, including the hit Wii title Boom Blox. "Despite the size of the industry, still 60% of households don't own a console."
The only way to entice non-gamers is to "make the technology invisible," he says.
The device, which connects to the Xbox 360 game system, tracks players' voices and body movements and recognizes their faces. It includes a camera, a multi-array microphone and software. A video showed the potential in martial arts, racing, skateboarding and trivia games.
Microsoft executive Don Mattrick demonstrated the technology, code-named Project Natal (named after a Brazilian city). Live demos included a painting game that lets players fling paint onto the screen like Jackson Pollock. Another dodgeball-type game had a player moving forward and back, left and right, using arms, legs and the whole body to ricochet balls and knock down walls of 3-D tiles.
Game developer Peter Molyneux (Black & White) showed an experiment from his Lionhead Studios with a lifelike character that talks and listens to you and converses like a real person.
"What designers and what this industry does with Natal will change the landscape of the games we play," Molyneux says.
No release date or price was announced, but Mattrick said development kits were being sent to partnering studios.
In other Xbox news, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and George Harrison's widow and son showed off The Beatles: Rock Band game, due Sept. 9 for Xbox 360, as well as the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. "The game is good. The graphics are good," Starr said. "And we were great."
Said McCartney, "It is fantastic. Who would have ever thought we would end up as androids?"
Xbox Live will get an exclusive song, All You Need Is Love, with proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders.