E309: THE 7 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MICROSOFT’S PRESS CONFERENCE


6.1.2009

Brandon Boyer

31 Replies

1.) Microsoft unveiled the 3D motion sensing and facial/voice recognizing “controller” project named Natal.

Microsoft promised the moon in its demo video for their Project Natal, carrying the tagline that it would “make ‘you’ the controller” and that, as the controller is the current “barrier separating game players from everyone else,” with Natal, “the only experience you need is life experience.”

As above, Microsoft demoed racing games, fighting games, and simple sports games using full body spatial recognition that let you hold up virtual steering wheels, duck, weave and deliver punches, and kick goals using nothing more than their physical actions.

But the company also took that a step further, promising full facial recognition — demonstrated by walking in front of your TV and having the Xbox 360 instantly log you in to your personal account — and object scanning, like holding up your own skateboard and having it instantly placed in a game. Microsoft added that the system could function just as well in a multiplayer environment.

For real world use, apart from a ringing endorsement by none less than Steven Spielberg, Microsoft called up Fable producer Peter Molyneux to demonstrate Lionhead’s project Milo — a virtual friend that they promised could carry on fluid conversations with full voice and emotion recognition, and demoed sleight of hand tricks like drawing on a piece of paper, holding it up to the Natal sensor, and having Milo “receive” that same paper in the virtual world, with additional recognition of what you’d drawn. 2.) Microsoft is pushing the set-top capabilities of the 360 even harder through 2009.

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In addition to the pre-E3 announcement that it would be rebranding the Xbox Live video marketplace as ‘Zune Video’ — and now promising instantly-launching full 1080p for all movies and TV shows — Microsoft announced that last.fm would be coming to the service this fall in the same way as it partnered with Netflix, bringing streaming music to the console.

And Netflix, too, will be ramping up its on-console capabilities this fall to let you browse its library and add videos to your queue without having to come back to the PC. In the UK, Sky TV will be added to the service with both instant-watchable archive videos and, for the first time, live TV broadcasts of cricket and premier league football matches.

On top of that, the company renewed its vow to bring Live Party — the long-promised feature that will let online friends stream the same music, movies and TV simultaneously — to Xbox Live later this year, a feature it had originally planned for the launch of the New Xbox Live Experience last fall.

3.) Microsoft is bringing on-demand games to the 360.

Microsoft waited until after the presentation to drop this detail, but, as with its Xbox Originals initiative that lets you download original Xbox titles, it will be digitally delivering a selection of older Xbox 360 titles later this year: Mass Effect, BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Lego Star Wars, Call of Duty 2 and Burnout Paradise led the demonstrated lineup.

4.) Microsoft is bringing social networking to the 360.

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Other new features set to debut this autumn: the full integration of, of all things, Facebook, letting you browse activity and photo feeds, and adding a new feature, the Friend Linker, which lets users see both their Xbox Live Friends and their Facebook friends in one unified area, and link/invite users to either.

On top of that, Xbox 360 games will be getting their own integrated Facebook Connect features, which — starting with EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour — will let you share screenshots and activity feed text straight to your Facebook profile in real time.

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And, of course, going one step further, Xbox Live will also be getting its own version of Twitter, which lets you browse and post in HD from your living room.

5.) Microsoft is wooing more of Japan’s developers.

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Square Enix had already announced it would be bringing its Final Fantasy franchise to the Xbox 360 for the first time with Final Fantasy XIII, but, as long teased by Konami over the past several weeks, producer Hideo Kojima announced that development was underway for Metal Gear Solid Rising, the first Xbox 360 chapter of the game.

Rising will mark the return of Metal Gear Solid 2 star Raiden, and promises, according to its tagline, “lightning bolt action”.

6.) Microsoft is dabbling further with microtransactions, and is hawking its exclusive lineup.

Microsoft briefly showed the first game from its recent Vancouver studio acquisition — BigPark, made up of former EA and Distinctive vets — with Joyride, a racing adventure game starring your own Xbox 360 avatars that will be free to download and play, but will cost Microsoft Points to customize your cars and characters.

Other exclusive games demoed throughout the proceedings: Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2 (trailer and artwork here), Splinter Cell Conviction, Forza Motorsport 3, the Halo 3 ODST expansion and the briefly teased Halo: Reach, Alan Wake, and, of course, the opening blowout of Beatles: Rock Band (first gameplay trailer here), with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison all variously taking the stage to give their official blessing to the dedicated, interactive retrospective of the band’s career.

7.) Microsoft is not saying anything further about games on Zune.

But, finally, after first teasing the Game Developers Conference in 2008 with news that indie developed XNA games — currently delivered under the Xbox 360′s Community Games banner — would be able to run on handheld Zune devices, and freshly announcing the Zune HD, Microsoft was surprisingly mum on handheld gaming during its E3 press conference.

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COMMENTS

  1. Facebook integration is a big deal. Figuring out who I know who has a gamertag is a pain in the ass and should be automated.


  2. I can’t really make up my mind if I think this is really cool or if it’s too 1984 for me – I mean, cameras? In my living room? Forcing me to do sports-like activities? Automatic face recognition?!

    And that’s the third thing I dislike, I’m an old fashioned couch potato, I actually like playing games with a controller on my couch.
    But these days are probably going, just like 2D gaming is long, long gone.

    Actually, I’ve made up my mind: It’s creeping me out.


  3. I agree with teapunk. For me, videogames are a nice, relaxing way to spend my evening. I don’t particularly fancy having to jump around in front of my tv after a long day at work.



  4. I think this is pretty cool. If Natal project does all that the video shows, it could tap into that same potential the Wii found. Controllers couldn’t be fully eliminated, there are just some games that can’t work without them, but I’d love to play an rpg for example that uses the Milo technology and you can do everything through motion and voice controls.


  5. No, of course nothing, not even the Xbox, “forces” me to do anything, but doesn’t the whole set-up remind you of the morning sports scene in 1984? Where everyone is doing sports in front of a camera/TV in their living room?


  6. The live demonstration of Natal looked pretty glitchy (I’ve seen several gifs floating around of the guy’s avatar tweaking out and bending in unnatural ways…). Not sure it’s ready for primetime yet.

    There’s also rumors that it’s going to cost $200 by itself, which I think will kill it dead… an optional $200 add-on gizmo released 5 years into a console’s life span probably just isn’t positioned to take the world by storm.



  7. Suspect nabbed after xbox recognizes wanted criminal!

    Microsoft sells facial metrics data to advertisers for advanced content following, facial metrics identify mood and activity levels for maximum content effectiveness.

    paranoid fantasy yes, but also interesting.



  8. doktor tchock

    what hyouko brings up is what occurred to me too. seems odd roll out such heavy hardware add-ons for a system that’s been on the shelf for so many years. unless it’s going to be compatible out of the XBOX 720 (you know for a tie in with a remake of the old arcade game – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/720%C2%B0 ) it’s going to be a hard sell.

    on the other hand, this could be a in-the-field beta test to see if this hardware should be integrated into the next xbox iteration.


  9. @10

    I’m seeing it batted around on some boards that I frequent (platformers.net) – haven’t been able to find their source yet. I’ll ask.



  10. What goes naturally with games and movies, but is the arch nemesis of video? DARKNESS!!! If they can get it to work at all, it will be extremely finnicky at night. Take a high end video camera, and see how much it can see in even a dim room. Microsoft has a reputation for putting cool tech an junk components, making me skeptical of this device. Also, the video had noticeable lag compared to the movements of the players, which means one of two things: games will be highly aggravating to play, or the video was pre rendered, in which case it was irresponsible of microsoft to show off technology that does not exist yet.


  11. are you guys really impressed with that demo?

    A game where you kick balls?

    A game where you paint (not realistically) but like Jackson Pollock? (notice all the fine control when she dumped paint on the screen)

    I heard about this back in 1989 when it was called the U-Force:

    Introducing U-Force, the revolutionary controller for your Nintendo Entertainment System. So hot, no one can touch it. Now you can feel the power without touching a thing. It’s U-FORCE from Broderbund – the first and only video game controller that, without touching anything, electronically senses your every move, and reacts. There’s nothing to hold, nothing to jump on, nothing to wear, U-FORCE creates a power field that responds to your every command–making you the controller. It’s the most amazing accessory in video game history – and it will change the way you play video games forever. It’s the challenge of the future. U-FORCE. Now nothing comes between you and the game.



  12. #10 – Assuming this is based off the 3DV tech, it’s it uses infrared light. no problems with low light situations because the Natal “bar” is probably lined with infrared LEDs to illuminate the room.


  13. Facial recognition? So much for trading out consoles if you get banned from Live..

    now you’ll have to set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon.


  14. This reminded me more of a proof of concept video than an actual demo. I think this product is still pretty immature.


  15. There’s something decidedly strange about a video like this that would generally be typed as a THE HOME OF THE FUTURE sort of production, yet is using current and soon-to-market hardware — just not real software.

    Somehow I doubt the practical applications are going to be nearly as perfect as imagined… but is that were we are right now, that we have all the hardware for real-life sci-fi, but still can’t figure out the software side?


  16. Sure, it’s all corporate ideal home of tomorrow crap, but if they do go ahead with it, three immediate problems spring to mind –

    COST – this is going to drive the cost of a home setup quite out of the stratosphere, isnt it? It’s not as if Live is already a pay service, but now you have an added camera (with all that this entails) and you’ll need…

    HDD – you’ll doubtless need one, Arcade and Core SKU owners. Maybe we’ll get to see HDD as a mandatory item again. But once added, MS will doubtless force people to buy their branded versions, and show less tolerance to folks who’ve swapped the drives for something with a more reasonable amount of space? and then there’s…

    BANDWIDTH – As an Aussie, I can say we probably have the slowest and cruddiest ADSL in the developed world. All this facial recognition and Movie on Demand razz-matazz is all well and good for US and (most of)EU… but we’ll get shafted. AGAIN.

    It’s the wrong product to launch now, and probably for the next 4-5 years too. They probably won’t launch Natal until we get to XB720 or whatever the hell they decide the sequel should be called; I think we got us a good long wait:)


  17. #21: Don’t worry, the streaming video on demand service only works if you’re in the select 2 or 3 countries that MS allows, not even Canada gets the XBox netflix service. Your bandwidth is saved..by MS incompetence!


  18. The motion control will ultimately fail because, unlike the wiimote, it is not the only control method and thus support for it isn’t mandatory.



  19. John Scott Tynes

    Keep in mind that part of the Natal announcement was that Natal developer kits arrived *today* at major publishers. That means hardware and SDKs in the hands of real coders and designers, already. So if Natal is vaporware, we’ll all know that in about . . . now.



  20. Methinks this could have the interesting ability to actually put you in the games. Not a mii-like cartoon, but a near-photorealistic image of you. That would be kind of cool, to have someone who looks just like you slaying zombies.


  21. This Jetson-ish demo is going to have as much in common with the shipped product as the runway designs of Jean Paul Gaultier have with JC Penny’s fall fashions. Give me a break.


  22. All-ages carpet burn treatments and teflon phylacteries, that’s where my money is going.


  23. Anon #27

    a near-photorealistic image of you. That would be kind of cool, to have someone who looks just like you slaying zombies.

    Seeing my avatar in Oblivion (which I sculpted to a fair resemblance of me) getting killed, creeped me out more than once. I’m not sure if I could handle a photorealistic me dropping dead in-game.


  24. As a developer I’m really excited (I think our dev -kit will arrive next week!) about Natal. I think it’s wise to remember what Microsoft (and indeed Sony with their motion controller) showed was only concepts and tech demos. What will end up in products won’t have to involve frantic exercise or exclude the use of a traditional controller. I could easily imagine the first applications being head tracking for fps-games and other supplemental movements. I’m sure there will pop up a number of new ideas on how to use this technology in the near future, some will be great, others not so successful.


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