First-Hand with Natal:
Why it's a Bigger Deal Than Critics Think
We present to you our info-packed, first-hand, behind closed doors impressions of Xbox 360's stunning new killer app, chat to Kudo Tsunoda and Peter Molyneux, and explain why some of its critics are really missing the point.
The reason there is a thing going around about Natal not being able to detect black players is that a black journalist had difficulty controlling the Burnout demo. Guess what? So did a white female that was in my closed-doors session. I could make a 'women drivers' gag at this point, but I won't because this is a serious point. The Burnout demo was probably not the most finely tuned thing Microsoft could have used to demonstrate Natal, and could have done with some further optimisation. The fact that many people of all colours who've tried this particular demo have had difficulty trying to steer about, accelerating by putting right foot forwards, only shows that this is probably a bit of a last minute demo to have modified - it's another company's game code, essentially hacked into a makeshift Natal demo. Kudo stated in the session that it was not designed specifically for Natal and that it was just to make the point that Natal has no latency issues when it comes to fast paced games like racing games. It certainly does not mean that this is something specifically to do with dark-skinned players. I hope we're quite clear on this.
People also noticed a couple of glitches during the conference demo, for example, when Kudo turned his back to the audience and lifted up one foot to show the sole of the avatar's shoe, apparently the shoe glitched up to the torso area at one point. I've not had time to rewatch the conference, but assuming such glitches are indeed noticeable, it really doesn't matter. Such glitches are software issues that are fixable, they are not indicative of some sort of fundamental flaw in concept or in hardware. People looking at technology that is so new and early in development need to understand that glitches occur. This is standard disclaimer stuff, people. We should all be used to it. It's why journalists don't review games from preview code - at least, why they're not supposed to. These minor bugs are all completely fixable, and the important thing is that the technology - the hardware - behind Natal works. And to reiterate, it does work, and it's also incredibly responsive, too.
Natal was a stunning conclusion to what was already one of Microsoft's strongest ever Xbox press conferences. It was the highlight of E3 for me, and I can't wait to see what developers come up with. Peter Molyneux keeps mentioning how the Milo demo provokes emotions in people when they get to experience it. I felt pretty emotional about what I was seeing at the end of that press conference, if only because I knew I was witnessing something that really is new, for the first time. It's the hope that unique moments like these might happen, that make me get my arse onto a plane to keep going back to things like E3 every year. It's the chance to be the first to actually interact with technology that newspapers the world over wrote about during the subsequent days, technology which A-list celebrities turned up at E3 to try and check out, and which people like Steven Spielberg are happy to go on a stage and publicly endorse, that keep me enthusiastic about this industry. Natal is something that's instantly approachable, which is relevant to traditional, core gamers as well as those who've not even been tempted by the Wii yet.
I noticed there are reports that Shigeru Miyamoto checked out Natal during the show, too. It's true; I was there when he was. In fact, he stole my session. Natal's project manager Branden Powell was freaking out about it when Miyamoto was in his Natal area - first with Kudo, then with Peter. What the reports don't tell you is what Miyamoto thinks about Natal. I know what he thinks about Natal because I asked him directly when he came out of the demo. He said he liked it, nodding enthusiastically when I asked him if it was "good". So that's a world exclusive right there, I'm pretty sure.
I will end by saying that the first person to figure out how to successfully combine Natal technology with one of the other hot prospects I checked out last week, 3D, could be on to something really quite remarkable.
If you haven't seen the videos of Natal yet, you may well still struggle to understand what it's about, so you absolutely must check them out and bear in mind from someone who was there - it's the real deal.