Microsoft’s press conference on this year’s E3 is just over and they have, of course, positioned their box as an allround entertainment platform, incorporating possible competitive online media (like social media platforms Twitter and Facebook) and offline passive entertainment (music from last.fm, movies from netflix). But, the largest announcement was probably the long-awaited full body motion sensor, nicknamed “Project Natal” (or controllerless game interaction).
Now, as recently mentioned here, there was panel on Exergaming at this year’s Future Play conference, where scientists presented things like a full body interaction kung fu game, which was conceived in a lab. Thus, seeing Microsoft pick full body interaction for games is somewhat magical as it shows the direct impact HCI game research can have on the industry (at least the way I see it, there must be a connection).
What could be seen from Project Natal so far is that it is an additional hardware device that will work with Xbox 360 (and future models). We could see features like full body movement recognition, facial recognition, voice recognition, which of course raises the question whether the biometric data is also stored somewhere on the box or even added to your live profile (since it allows logging into your account by recognizing you). But privacy consciousness aside, the main application areas for this new, probably (infrared and) camera-based device seem to be exergames (as the demonstrated dodgeball-style game Ricochet will make you jump around like you have been spending the night in a beehive), but also creative applications like the Pollock-style painting application Paint Party, which lets you use paint a canvas by squirting paint on it.
Microsoft currently calls this true interaction, but given its camera recognition algorithms, it could possibly also allow for some biofeedback magic by doing face recognition. Peter Molyneux touched on this subject in his very own presentation of Project Natal, where he introduced a virtual character that interacts naturally with the player. Since it is perfectly possible to recognize human emotions with a high-resolution camera (and the right room lighting), I am waiting for the first game to try this out with Project Natal. Maybe our research is not so far away from the reality as we sometimes think and biofeedback games are just waiting around the corner being the next big thing to happen at E3 in 3 years. In any way, it will be interesting to try out Project Natal and see how it delivers in the living room!