At a special Microsoft panel at Tokyo Game Show on Thursday, major Japanese game developers including Konami's Hideo Kojima discussed possibilities for Microsoft's Natal, suggesting blue-sky approaches to the next-gen controller.
The intimate panel, held in a hotel next to the Makuhari Messe, started with a video introduction from Microsoft's Don Mattrick, who made a pitch to the Japanese game industry, explaining why Xbox might be right for them. He noted: "Every time our industry makes a technological leap, Japanese creators have been at the forefront."
Mattrick added: "Last year we came to Tokyo with a message - that Xbox 360 was the best platform for Japanese creators to take their creations to the rest of the world." He also claimed that the Top 20 Japanese-developed games in the past year have sold 23% better on Xbox 360 than PlayStation 3 - another reason for Japanese creators to work with it.
The Microsoft senior executive finished his introduction by commenting: "Once again we're on the edge of a technological transformation", and he believes that, once again the Japanese will help lead this "opportunity we have... for making video games accessible for everyone." He did warn: "Think of this as kind of a public brainstorming session", and that the audience shouldn't take anything they hear as confirmation of games from these specific developers.
At this point, Takashi Sensui, head of the Xbox division in Japan, introduced three notable Japanese developers: Capcom's Keiji Inafune, creator of Mega Man and Dead Rising, Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi, creator of Super Monkey Ball, and Konami’s Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear Solid series.
In discussing Natal, Sega's Monkey Ball creator Nagoshi explained how he came to see the infrared camera, microphone, and sensor peripheral for the first time before it was announced, remembering his confusion: "Why is Microsoft showing me a sensor?" But after the demo, he said: "when can I get hold of this?", and said that the Natal could be a peripheral that "will give us unlimited potential."
Nagoshi added that: "I like to make games.. [as] simple as possible," but he feels that things like gesture control and body recognition, which Natal uses, may have a great impact on gaming culture. In fact, he thinks that Natal "may change the way we Japanese people express ourselves", as game players try to imitate what they see on the TV screen.
As for Konami's Kojima, he described the evolution he sees in Natal as something "like the 2D to 3D shift, or the first time that I ever played with Family Computer [NES]" - a major new step forward for the game industry. He commented after he first saw Natal: "I wanted to share my surprise to everybody... but I had to restrain myself."
Kojima was extremely enthusiastic about the Minority Report-like content behind Natal. He said that although just games will deploy this technology at the outset, he believes that it "has the potential to change everyone's lifestyle dramatically" - extending to everyday tasks. Although there will be some users who are "nervous without any physical controller", he believes that we can and should accommodate those people through a transition period.
Particularly, on the type of games he's excited about making on Natal, Kojima commented that he wanted to make "a completely innovative game [with a very new control method] that nobody has thought of in the past.. but I have core users who are my fans, so I do not want to leave them behind."
He said that it is possible to cater to core users but also introduce new ones, and has a longer-term dream that the Natal technology could be used to "truly understand who I am in movements, expressions, and voice" -- monitoring health, fitness, and a lot more alongside entertainment.
Finally, Capcom's Inafune joked that when he viewed Natal for the first time, "I did not get mad for having to go all the way to Seattle" to see the demonstration, because the peripheral "surpassed my expectations" and gave great inspiration. He particularly stressed that he saw the potential in Natal for "not just being a transitional fad."
Inafune said that "we as creators have some reluctance in doing away with the past", but since it uses the Xbox 360, you "can add on to the foundation you have built so far." As a result, instead of using a controller to play, you can just talk or use body language.
As for who Natal will appeal to, Inafune did suggest that for core gamers, Natal will make them happy, but "non-core [gamers] will also be important." He added: "You should not look at Natal as just a new device.. you need to have a broader vision", believing that "you will be able open to new avenues in the gaming world" with Microsoft's peripheral, which is intended to launch worldwide in 2010.
The Dead Rising creator concluded: "Films have such an impact on our heart... maybe that's what is missing in games", due to the fact we have to use fingers to manipulate the controller. Overall, it's "difficult to have an immersive experience" with current controllers, and perhaps Natal can help this out, Inafune suggested.