Project Natal, unveiled at E3 earlier this year in Los Angeles, got its first outing in Japan at the Tokyo Game Show this week. And project director Kudo Tsunoda didn't come empty handed.
While in the U.S., Tsunoda showed off the controller-free motion controller with the help of a 3D brick breaking title and a build of Burnout, in Japan they brought along copies of Katamari Damacy and Space Invaders Extreme to show off to the press, developers and publishers.
Tsunoda, dressed in a white t-shirt, jeans and trademark over-sized sunglasses, first walked a small gathering of press through the concept of the project.
The device, which uses a camera and infrared sensor, not only detects movement, but the person playing a game, he pointed out.
To prove his point Tsunoda, who has long hair, had one of the press try their hand at the breakout game. When the writer started playing the transparent icon on screen changed both the hair and body type to more closely match the player.
Tsunoda said that the device doesn't require a special background or lighting to play, despite the fact that the game was set up in a well-lite, almost completely white room. In fact, he said, because it makes use of an infrared sensor, a person could play a Project Natal game in total darkness.
Because Microsoft is meeting with Japanese publishers and developers, Tsunoda said they worked up prototype ports of Katamari Damacy and Space Invaders Extreme that would work with the controller-free controller. That doesn't mean, he added, that those games will ever see an official release date.
In Katamari Damacy a player holds their hands out in front of them and slides them through the air in the direction they want the growing ball to move. A player holds their hands straight up in the air to shift the camera to the other side of the ball and starting moving in that direction.
Playing around with the game for a few minutes I was impressed with how responsive the controls seemed to be, allowing me to move around moving objects fairly deftly and pick up only the items I wanted to with the ball. It was a fun way to play an already fun game. One that would inevitably expand the potential audience for the game.
Next up, Tsunoda started up Space Invaders Extreme. In the Project Natal version of Space Invaders you have to shuffle side-to-side to move the defending space ship across the bottom of the screen. To shoot you raise both hands in the air. You can either hold your hands in the air, making the ship fire as if you were holding the button in, or raise your hands and drop them as if you were tapping the fire buton.
The game, with its more immersive play and increased physicality, was a delight to play. I've made no secret of the fact that I love Space Invaders, and this was a welcome addition to the already prevalent franchise.
The team on Project Natal have been busy porting lots of games over to the new control system, but not to release them. Instead, I was told, they're doing it to see how the controls translate and if it helps or hinders game play.
This seems like a great way to point point the strengths and weaknesses of a new type of controller. Hopefully, that will mean that when the device comes out less games will have this type of control slapped on and gamers will instead be able to choose from a more substantive selection of games with controls that make sense.