E3 2009: Microsoft’s Natal Defeats the Point of Gaming


Can we please stop trying to sell game consoles to mom?

At their E3 press conference, Microsoft unveiled Project Natal, an extension of the camera concept used in the EyeToy and apparently forgotten Xbox Live Vision Camera. The idea, that of a face scanning, voice recognizing, motion sensing camera, has some logical applications.

Signing into Xbox Live via facial scans? Very nice. Navigating the dashboard Minority Report style with only our hands? Also nice, if utterly pointless. Playing a game using an interface like this? Completely ridiculous.

Mom has a Wii. She bought it because it was marketed specifically to her. It is understandable the other gaming companies want to take advantage of this new market, but are doing so with slapped together concepts.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Microsoft showed some impressive technology, more so if the price is right. However, if that technology is being used to play a glorified Super Glove Ball, a game which used the infamous Nintendo Power Glove back on the NES, you’re not doing anything with the tech itself. You’re repeating history.

Footage was shown of a mock-up first person fighting game; that drew rather awful memories of the Activator, a miserable laser-sensing system from Sega used with the Genesis. A driving game lets people hold their hands out in the air and steer. Why? There is no resistance, and you look stupid doing so.

Granted, the latter were all mock-ups, but the Glove Ball spin-off is real, and was demonstrated for the live audience. Microsoft tried capturing the casual market with the terrible You’re in the Movies, which quickly founds its way into bargain bins because casuals have bought a game console.

Now Microsoft thinks they can draw in that Wii crowd with a peripheral, a fancy camera filled with cool technology. News flash: That audience doesn’t care about technology. Otherwise, they surely wouldn’t be buying the Wii.

There are numerous applications for the camera. A basic PC interface inside a board room would be fun to play with, certainly more lively than a power point presentation. In terms of gaming, this never works, and games that use it become gimmicky messes. While the technology seems to have improved enough that a disaster on the scale of Totemball would be averted, you will never want to play Halo with Natal.

The use of this interface is almost offensive to the gamer mindset. Have we come to a point where the world is so dumbed down, pressing a button to navigate a simple NXE menu is too complex? How stupid do these companies take the general public?

It is understandable that Gears of War is complex. Nearly every button on the controller serves a purpose, and it lacks pick up and play value. Natal could bridge a gap, but until you convince that crowd to actually pick up the controller, they’re missing the point.

These people will never understand the thrills of an action game. They will never grasp the beauty of a well-designed platformer. They could never understand or appreciate the complexities of a simulation driving game. All they’re doing is looking ridiculous throwing air kicks at their TV. They are not playing video games.

Peter Molyneux showed a demo, apparently titled Milo, in which a woman interacts with a digital child. While the entire thing looked pre-recorded and certainly rehearsed, it makes you wonder how the next Sims game would work. The woman interacts with Milo incredibly well, but just because he can throw goggles at the player and recognize paper (didn’t the Eye Toy do that on the PS3?) has little in the way of actual gaming applications.

We’re reaching a point where the industry is slipping away, moving into unknown territory that should in all honesty scare the shit out of every gamer out there. The masses have their console; Nintendo made it. The companies we’ve supported are now trying to reach into that same territory with gimmicks, and no matter how cool the technology behind it is, it looks less and less like gaming every day.

So please, stop trying to sell a game console to my mom.

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