Checking in on Project Natal

Microsoft had been pretty mum on Project Natal, its controller-free Xbox 360 control system, for most of the fall and early winter. Understandable since they wanted the hearts and wallets of gamers focused on products available for sale in the all important fourth quarter and holiday season. That changed during CES when Robbie Bach announced that Natal will be shipping for the 2010 holiday season.

A couple of interesting articles followed up that announcement. First, Popular Science has a nice look at how Project Natal works, focusing mostly on the software. Microsoft is still keeping the hardware under wraps, though we know it involves an infrared camera (which is also what Light Blue Optic's Light Touch uses to track finger movements) as well as normal spectrum cameras. PopSci talks about how Microsoft engineers are teaching the Natal "brain" what various parts of the human body look like so that Natal can tell your ascot from your elbow.

If you don't care about how the tech works but just want to know if it'll be worth buying, you might be interested in an interview with Robbie Bach in the Financial Post. In the interview Bach claims that 70%-80% of Xbox 360 developers are working on some kind of Natal-enabled gaming software, and he assures us that first-party studios are also hard at work. Presumably there'll be plenty of software available when Natal launches.

But are we talking Wii-esque mini-game collections or "real" games? Capcom, at least, assures us we'll be getting the latter. Capcom VP of Strategic Planning and Business Development Christian Svensson told G4 that they were building a game specifically for Natal (as opposed to tacking on motion controls), that it would be from a known Capcom franchise and that it would be a "gamer's game."

We'll probably learn more about Project Natal in March when the Game Developer's Conference takes place, and hopefully by this year's E3 in June we'll see some real games using Natal. By that time Sony's motion control system should be out and it'll be interesting to compare it to what Natal can do.

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