Thoughts About Microsoft’s Project Natal, E3, Halo, etc.

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How ’bout that Microsoft keynote yesterday? That stuff was old-school console-wars stuff. Like, my stuff is better than your stuff, I’m gonna win the show, etc. I felt a rush of nostalgia at their naked aggression.

Seriously I wrote a thing about Project Natal, Microsoft’s freaky motion-sensing peripheral, which I went to Seattle last week to get an early look at. You’re reading insta-journalism there — somehow I’d managed to convince myself that Microsoft’s press conference was actually Tuesday, so I had an extra day to get ready. Then I realized the embargo was about to lift, so I batted that piece out in about 60 mins flat.

I’m not really the target audience for Natal, as a member of the hardcore set who actually likes the Xbox controller. But playing Burnout with no controller, just holding up your empty hands like a steering wheel and pushing your foot forward to accelerate, that is an intense experience. And this is just straight Burnout code, in no way optimized or adapted for Natal. When people start dedicating teams to writing for Natal, very interesting things will happen. I don’t think it’s particularly an exaggeration to say that this is a potentially Wii-killing innovation. That guy Alex Kipman, the Brazilian engineer who walked me through how Natal works, is seriously clever. Microsoft as corporation doesn’t get much credit for innovating, but you gotta hand it to the Xbox division: between that and Live, they do bring significant new tech to market.

I also saw a fair amount of Halo: OTSD gameplay while I was there, which I loved. (I know this post is getting Xbox-fanboyish. Whatever.) Getting out of the Spartan armor really gives the game a different feel — suddenly there’s a whole stealth dimension to it. And they’ve changed up the storytelling style: instead of a massive operatic arc, you’re playing through the experiences of several different squad members, reconstructing the events of a single short time period. These are the sorts of risks I think people were sort of expecting Bungie to take in Halo 3. Now they’re finally getting around to it, and it makes the game feel really fresh in a way it hasn’t for years.

And listen! It’s Cap’n Mal!

And the Halo: Reach thing, yeah. Winter contingency has been declared. My cup runneth over. The cup where I keep my Halo.