"The controller is a barrier separating video game players from everyone else," said Xbox senior vice president Don Mattrick. With the aim of removing that barrier, Microsoft unveiled Project Natal, a sensor-based interface for gesture, voice and facial recognition, at the company's E3 press conference today.
It's a set top box equipped with an RGB camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone, and coupled with proprietary software, it aims to allow users to play games and navigate the Xbox 360's menu using no controller at all.
Mattrick was joined on stage by renowned film director Steven Spielberg, who said he's enthused about the technology because in his view, a video game controller is one last barrier to entry that prevents games from being as "approachable" as other media.
"The vast majority of people are just too intimidated to pick up a game controller," he said. "Despite the size of the industry, still 60 percent of households do not own a video game console... the only way to [make] interactive entertainment available to everybody is to make the technology invisible," he said.
"It's not about reinventing the wheel -- it's about no wheel at all."
Two applications for the tech were demonstrated onstage -- one, a 3D Breakout
-style game reminiscent of playing handball against a wall, and the other, a painting interface that lets users splash colors and make body stencils against a canvas. The latter made use of voice recognition commands for the different paint colors.
The standout demonstration, however was a presentation by Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux of a concept video for Project Natal, showing a user interacting with a young boy AI named Milo.
The video showed off possible applications for the technology; in it, the user was able to be recognized by and talk to Milo, who was able to interpret some of her facial expressions as emotions. She could also pass items from her world into his (Natal can visually scan and import objects), and interact with the environment, like playing with the surface of the water beside which Milo was sitting.
Microsoft gave no further specifics on pricing or launch time for the project, but the company is presenting early demonstrations of the tech at E3.
[Image courtesy of Kotaku