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Microsoft's Future Begins Now: Shane Kim Speaks

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Microsoft's Future Begins Now: Shane Kim Speaks

June 16, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

Many judged Microsoft's press conference to be the triumph of E3 -- with a slick television-oriented presentation that showcased promising games and appealing new tech. Of course, the most talked-about part of the conference was the public debut of the company's Project Natal, its wand-free, camera-based motion control peripheral.

Shane Kim, Microsoft's corporate VP of strategy and business development for its interactive entertainment business, spoke with Gamasutra at the show on how he sees Project Natal as a relaunch for the Xbox 360 console -- and the challenges of attracting new consumers to the fold is not lost on him. After all, the company called its New Xbox Experience, which drastically changed the system's interface, a relaunch too.

But it's not just about Natal, of course. Microsoft's strategy also, much more quietly, grows in the form of Joy Ride, the first free-to-play, pay-for-items console game to be launched in the West.

Navigating from its current market -- where success is built upon a sea of hardcore gamers -- toward a future of growth for the platform is difficult. It's hinged on opening it up with software approaches and peripherals both, and here Kim offers his take on how Microsoft will handle that change.

Brandon Sheffield: What do you think of the Sony motion control offering? What's your opinion?

SK: Well, you know, obviously they haven't shared too much information with us yet, but Project Natal isn't about Sony or Nintendo. It goes well beyond anything either of them is doing. If we had created a physical motion controller, I think it would have been easy to question our approach and say, "Okay, are you guys just being derivative of what Nintendo's doing with Wii."

Project Natal goes well beyond that. It's full body gesture, full scale tracking, 3D depth sensors so you move around in space, facial recognition, voice recognition -- I mean, it's much more complex hardware and software behind it.

So, you know, it's really not about what those guys are doing, but for us, we really focus on, "How do we break down the barriers that prevent people from enjoying all the great stuff that we have to offer?" Not only on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live, but from the industry as a whole. So, this isn't about how do we get more casual players; it's how do we get more people just to participate in everything we do.

BS: One thing about Natal that's been interesting to hear people talk about is -- some people, mostly perhaps enthusiast press, are saying things like, "Well, how would you do a first-person shooter on it? It would just look stupid." But maybe the point is that you're not supposed to make a first-person shooter for that; you can just use a controller for that.

SK: Yeah. I don't want to rule anything out, Brandon, because I think there are people out there who will figure out, I mean, much the same way that people said, "Hey, there will never be great first-person shooters on the console period," right?

BS: Right.

SK: That's not the case anymore. So, I always believe in the power of creators to adapt and adopt new technology in creative experiences we haven't thought about. I do think they will be able to enhance core game functionality, and there will be people who figure out how to create great core games with Natal, but I do think we're going to create experiences and games that haven't been imagined before, that haven't been possible before.

BS: I'm definitely curious to know how much of what was shown in the video of Natal before the actual live demo, what percentage of that is real, and what percentage of that is concepts of things you would like to happen.

SK: Well, you know, I actually don't know the specific answer. I think a lot of it conceptual, what we hope to be real, right, at launch?

BS: Yeah.

SK: It was all not about gaming either, right?

BS: Right.

SK: You've got your friends there, and you're dressing your avatar... that's a completely plausible scenario, right? Will that be real, actually -- will someone do that when we launch? We'll see. But the ability to digitize objects? That's the kind of stuff that we absolutely expect to be real.

BS: It seems like with this skateboard-scanning scenario, that's some hardcore technology to be able to do that and extract a background and actually make skateboard scanning. That was one that stuck out for me, like, "That one would be tough."

SK: It's like Milo -- I mean, the piece of paper with the drawing.

BS: Right, that's true.

SK: That would be scanned in, too. So, look, I agree that those are the tough challenges that we have to solve, but that's why the power of Natal is not about the hardware. The power is actually in the software. That's where the magic happens.

BS: Yeah, I'm really curious to see how that Milo thing goes, considering -- I mean, you obviously can't have thousands of different ways of saying every name that exists.

SK: It will take time to build the vocabulary, you know, right? And so forth. But the promise is there, absolutely. The promise is there.


Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Comments


Anatoly Ropotov
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Kim has an awesome vision and this interview is really enjoyable.

MS makes the wave and forces everyone to swim along with it: bring something "just a bit" innovative and you can't be seen by height of their wave, produce something half baked and you are far behind.



Now, bring in new Zune integration from day 1 to make it worth it to own for every X360 owner.

Mike Lopez
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"We know where your shoulder is, we know where your hand is, where your elbow is. That's just math. "



The questions for me are: 1) how precise is the detection and 2) does the system differentiate between each finger as well? Fully articulated hand gestures will be a lot more easy to leverage and engage gameplay with than less precise, non-digit full body gestures. Also, full body gestures will be much more physical in nature (good only to a point) and so prone to exhaustion sooner (imagine Wii boxing fatigue x10).

Matt Ponton
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"The questions for me are: 1) how precise is the detection and 2) does the system differentiate between each finger as well? Fully articulated hand gestures will be a lot more easy to leverage and engage gameplay with than less precise, non-digit full body gestures. Also, full body gestures will be much more physical in nature (good only to a point) and so prone to exhaustion sooner (imagine Wii boxing fatigue x10)."



First, of course we can only go by current interviews but I believe either Peter Molyneux or another Xbox rep said in an interview (possibly Kotaku) that it could register your fingers if the software designer wanted to.



Second, exhaustion is something that would have to be left up to testing/game design.



One thing I want to add though, no where have I seen anyone say anything about the 360 controller not able to be used during the camera work. Theoretically you could use an actual baseball bat as you play the next MLB game, or use a 360 controller as a "hand gun" with the trigger button as you stealth around your living room. I've been taken in by the hype of eye-toy-like cameras before but I am looking forward to seeing what Natal can do and, more importantly, what designers do with it.

Kouga Saejima
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"does the system differentiate between each finger as well?"



As long as one finger doesn't hide another, I guess "yes".

Sander van Rossen
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What would/is the cpu usage for Natal on the xbox360? Processing all these images most certainly won't be free..

So either there's a processor in the camera device or the xbox360 would need to sacrifice some performance.

Kouga Saejima
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@ Sander van Rossen



According to several reports NATAL will have and use its own processor. So basically no sacrifice of performance.

William Swaney
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So he can't even say how much of it was faked? "Conceptual" :) We'll be waiting a long time for this to come to market.

Bob McIntyre
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Oh, I'll save you the trouble and tell you right now. It was pretty much all fake, scripted, conceptual, or however you want to phrase it. Especially that whole Milo thing, that was pure make-believe. Then again, I don't think they were trying to fool anyone into thinking Milo was real; they had Molyneux up there, and that guy is the industry leader for talking about cool things that aren't really going to ship.

Sean Francis-Lyon
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3rd parties have gotten to test Milo live and while it is not everything Molyneux would lead you to believe, it certainly was not all scripted. IGN had an article on it:



http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/991/991348p1.html

Kouga Saejima
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Not all but enough to question it.

Bob McIntyre
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I guess it just seems pretty unimpressive because it doesn't really seem to do the cool stuff. For example, Milo picks out your shirt color. That's really easy to do, because you can guess that their shirt is in the top part of the screen, you have an RGB readout, and you have the depth value, so it's just a quick color-average of a chunk of pixels. Or he greets you by name when you say your name, step back, and step forward again. That's cool if it's "real," but that's also very easy to hard-code. If there had been five people who gave their names and stepped back, then stepped up in a random order and Milo still recognized their faces, that would be something, because that implies he's not just hearing a name and then using that name to greet the next person who steps up.



This stuff is all really cool if it's "real," but it would be so easy to fake that I'm not going to believe it without seeing a more convincing demo. It's in such an early stage that the character doesn't understand a lot of what's said to him anyway, so while I don't want to say it's crap and it'll never work, even MS is telling us that it's not ready yet, and that makes it even more likely that the demo is faked. It's just too soon to say what this will become without wildly speculating and projecting what we hope it will be onto what we're actually seeing.

John Petersen
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I don't care how innovative they think they're being. There's only one way to get me to go back to a 360, and that's to give me one. (The one I deserved to have had replaced for free, but never was)



There is a point where it doesn't matter how flashy, or gadgety they can be, none of it matters if it isn't reliable. None of it matters if I don't like how your treating me.



I would rather play backgammon on an old wooden board.

Elvis Fernandes
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It was a really good interview, but I wish for these things to come true

1. Project Natal should be compatible with the existing Xbox 360s, coz I have one, I dont wanna buy an Elite now (lol)

2. Hope they have a dev kit for the XNA developers too


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