Natal to be backwards compatible

This could be very big for game publishers and game players. Shane Kim, Microsoft’s corporate VP of strategy and business development in the games group (he must need oversize business cards!) has said that existing games can be patched for Natal: “You can take an existing game, and make it work”. And he held up Burnout Paradise as a game that Microsoft had done this to: “It’s a great example of just how simple it is to adapt a game”.

Of course game developers and publishers aren’t going to do the work for nothing, so one potential way forward is for Microsoft to sell Natal patches for their existing game catalogue using Xbox Live.

Kim also said that Natal development kits are going out this week, which gives you an idea just how stable and mature the technology is.


  1. I think it’s humorous to read the articles and posts about the Microsoft and Sony motion control interfaces. Virtual reality interfaces, involving motion control, have been studied and evolved for years in high-tech industries, such as aerospace. There are a lot of lessons learned from those studies which can be applied in evaluating Microsoft’s Natal and Sony’s approach.

    Basically, Sony’s approach is Natal plus a controller. The idea that gamers do not want a controller, in addition to body motion recognition, ignores reality. Most characters in most games are not empty handed. Virtual reality studies have shown that the gaming experience is enhanced when there is a hardware device in the gamer’s hand that he can use along with body motion recognition. For example, who wants to play an FPS without a controller which the gamer uses as his weapon?

    Considering this, I think Sony is in the sweet spot right now with its motion control hardware and interface. It has a good controller with good functionality along with good body motion detection technology. Sony has all the elements in place to evolve this in any direction it wants to go. Microsoft is pushing the old original virtual reality concept that gamers do not want anything in their hands. Experience has shown this to be wrong. Certainly, Microsoft can make adjustments and add good hardware controllers for specific games, but Sony seems to have already come up with a good multi-purpose controller that it can adapt across the board.

    In short, I suspect that Microsoft and Sony are evolving toward the same direction, but Sony appears to have selected the best departure point, at least from a market-readiness perspective.

  2. Bruce, I certainly agree that Microsoft has taken Natal further into the body motion control direction than Sony has gone. But the basic functionality is not really new. The Playstation Eye allowed pure body motion control gaming, but, as you pointed out, it was never evolved very far by Sony. Natal is a very nice evolution of body motion control using much better technology with the addition of speech recognition also. This is cool stuff, for sure.

    But, as best I can tell, Sony’s technology also allows body motion control. The difference is that Sony has apparently decided that this is not enough, that a controller is a needed addition. So from my perspective, Natal is body motion control plus speech recognition, and Sony’s approach is body motion control plus controller. I think the two are evolving in exactly the same direction over the long term. I guess, in the end, the winner will be the one that brings the most compelling games to the market the quickest.

  3. It Is to early to tell how these two will play out, both have their advantages and this is a wait and see thing.there will be things added two both systems, but from want was shown at E3 MS has multi uses and looks alot cleaner in application and interface which should be expected coming from a software manufacture. It is good to see that the future is changing from the norm and finally moving forward.

  4. Who said you can’t use a controller in conjunction with Natal?

  5. Keep in mind, the playstation eye has a multi-direction microphone installed in it.

  6. No Evan, it’s not that Sony’s technology allows body motion control, and decided it wasn’t enough.

    It’s that Sony’s technology needs the controller in order to fulfil 3D tracking. Whereas Natal’s multiple cameras, don’t.

    Microsoft could easily bundle in a wii-mote with Natal and have that tactile feel.

  7. @kwyjibo, you may be right, but my understanding based on all the articles I’ve been reading is that the Sony technology allows full body motion tracking (I mean, this was already native to their Playstation Eye), but that Sony made the choice of making their controller the key point of application contact for input control.

    Yes, Microsoft can and, I expect, will need to come up with a controller of some sort to go with Natal on individual games. My point was simply that Sony has done that already. I am not dissing Natal by any means — I think it’s cool. It just looks to me that Sony may be closer to market readiness right now, and that Microsoft and Sony are actually heading very much in the same direction (which is not surprising).

  8. The fundamental difference between Natal and Sony and Nintendo’s systems is that Microsoft view Natal as a separate control scheme (like Eye Toy or Wii Fit) rather than something that’s could (sales permitting) be usefully folded into the default control scheme for all games. I can’t see how you’d control an FPS or a lightgun game (or something that uses all the 10+ buttons on the controller) with Natal, for instance.

    Still, as Natal is going to be releasing months after the other two, they have time to make it more than a novelty – assuming their cultural bias against motion control can be overcome.

  9. Robin, what cultural bias is this at Microsoft? In many ways they are leading the way in gesture interfaces.

    There is Microsoft Surface:
    The new Windows 7 has touchscreen:,39029471,49299697,00.htm
    Zune HD has an accelerometer and touch screen.
    And finally the Xbox 360, with Natal, is getting the world’s first mass market full body interface with voice and face recognition:

    And as for FPS games etc, there is nothing to stop game designers implementing Natal and the controller at the same time.

    So your comment looks like a misinformed dig at Microsoft and not a sensible contribution to the discussion.

  10. So you’re saying they’re “leading the way” with several products that aren’t out yet, and only one of which actually represents motion control (Natal) anyway.

    The cultural bias I mentioned is in the Xbox group, regarding motion control for games. Which is why they’ve positioned Natal as an alternative, simplified control scheme rather than an extension of the default. They’ve been saying for years that the joypad is good enough for everyone (and – purely to rain on the Wii’s parade in stark contravention of observable fact – that motion control *couldn’t* do everything a joypad could) and now they’ve betted that developers and consumers agree. I think they’re wrong. Once you’ve been able to intuitively move a pointer in 3d space, you’re not going to want to go back to aiming and navigating with a joystick.

    “there is nothing to stop game designers implementing Natal and the controller at the same time.”

    Except that holding a controller with both hands makes it rather difficult to perform gestures. Unless it can do some sort of fancy headtracking (which they’d have shown), it’s an either/or proposition. I don’t think you’ve thought this through in practical terms.

  11. EVAN I have not heard one Non-Sony fan say such things.

    You said “Basically, Sony’s approach is Natal plus a controller.”
    That’s is irrational! Does the Sony controller tell you Were a persons feet is and was? How fast they kicked? While at the same time telling you they blinked? And open there mouth? no but it can tell you they slung the right arm (something Natal can do in great detail even showing the angles of the arm)

    you said: “The idea that gamers do not want a controller, in addition to body motion recognition, ”
    Irrational this is fan wishery. There is no want for a controller, instead the is a want for control. Why do I need to learn that left,back left, down, down right, right plus press A at a exact sequence means fireball! Cant I just make a fire ball motion instead? When you think of it you are interpreting commands you want executed into a controller so that the console will know what you want it to do. It’s easier to do it with your body. Microsoft did not say you could not use a controller. And Sony did not say you can do without on with theirs so you are backwards on that!

    you said: “Virtual reality studies have shown that the gaming experience is enhanced when there is a hardware device in the gamer’s hand that he can use along with body motion recognition.” How is that when there has not been a game without controllers to compare it to? I’m not saying you made it up, even though it sounds like it. But I think your coming to irrational conclusions. Especially seeing you said Sonys is natal+plus.

    You said:”For example, who wants to play an FPS without a controller which the gamer uses as his weapon?” This question shows your lack of being able to think things through until you see someone else do it. Kinda like people that said now one will want a computer for music, movie, internet. Until they actually see it they don’t get it. You not seeing it does not prove no one will like or love it.

    Then you have your conclusion. I have not heard any none fans say Microsoft should tune down the interface and require a controller. They are going for mass market and hardcore.

  12. @corndog, I think you misread my comments. First, I have been an Xbox 360 owner since the day it first came out, but I don’t really favor any particular console — it’s all just hardware to me. I hate fanboy arguments of all types — it dumbs down the discussion.

    My comments are based on nearly a decade of virtual reality research into precisely the arena into which Sony and Microsoft are headed. Sony was into the body motion recognition and control arena long before Natal and still has the capability of performing Natal-like functions with their technology (and in fact have been doing it in their labs for years). The problem is expense and market readiness. Delivering Natal is an expensive proposition to the user because it requires pricey hardware. The price will decrease with time, but Sony has chosen a more incremental approach that gets them to the market more quickly.

    It’s a fascinating reverse of the situation at the launch of the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Microsoft went with cheaper off-the-shelf components and got to the market faster. Sony went with more functionality, but at the cost of time and a higher price point. Clearly, that decision hurt Sony this generation. It’s going to be interesting to see how the two companies’ motion control approaches shake out.

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