E3: Project Natal and Lionhead’s Milo are the future

Project Natal

We’ve seen a lot of really cool and innovative things from this year’s E3.  It has once again shown that it is the event that defines this industry.  The SWTOR trailer gave me chills and the lineup for console games this year is enough to make me wish I had the money to buy them all, but there was only one announcement that made me stop and think “That’s the future of gaming”:  Project Natal and Lionhead’s Milo Project.

Imagine the future of this technology and how it will be implemented to exponentially increase immersion in RPGs.  You’ll approach a NPC in a town and he’ll look at you with an inquisitive look wondering what the heck you want.  To sell your goods to him you’ll actually have to speak to him and tell him that you’re looking for a new sword.  He’ll show you the wears and you’ll actually be able to reach out and take them from him and feel them in your hand, see how they feel, maybe test them on a dummy, and make the transaction with the merchant.


This technology could truly connect the player to the world in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.  Just think about the ways in which developers can take this to entirely new levels of getting the player involved.  Let’s say that there is a quest for you to appear before a King and you enter his throne room.  You will actually have to kneel and show reverence before the King because he will know!  You will have to speak to him with respect (the m’lord’s and all that) and he will actually have a conversation with you instead of just responding to pre-thought out commands.  The characters will know you!  I could walk into a town and I may have earned the respect but Graev may be someone the town’s people do not like.  Depending on how the player speaks to and treats people is now real instead of simulated.   Imagine sneaking in the dark, ducking behind boxes, casting spells, playing a GTA style game… the innovation we’ll see from this is immeasurable.

We’re going to be connected to the games like never before, taking part in them like never before, going places, and doing things that would have only been inputs in a controller in the past.  I’m not a fan of motion controls in general.  I don’t like the Wii motion controls and I hate the PS3 axis based controller.  I think it’s gimmicky.  This is different though.   Peter Molyneux is absolutely correct that this will change the landscape of games, but change isn’t a strong enough word.  The gameplay and way we go about playing games is going to be so different that we won’t recognize it.  It will redefine interactive.

I guess the only concern I have now is whether or not being in shape will be a requirement for raids. 😉

  • I dislike this tech i don’t think it will pan out for technical reasons and the concept won’t work on some things.

    The whole motion sensing tech will be more frustrating that neat, games like burn out there talking about a invisible steering wheel how will that be more interactive than a real one in your hand? For the shooter genre it will take the reaction time away from your eye’s and hand’s a button press and move it too how fast your arm moves. i see much frustration from this system. There is a point where it becomes to real and no longer fun.

    I don’t doubt that it might be fun like a wii is fun with motion sensing but getting it to do it with a accuracy that makes it fun will be cost prohibited.

  • I agree that unless this tech demo is expanded upon and improved immensely that it will lack the intuitive and even interactivity of a controller. I guess what I’m doing is looking even further beyond these two announcements to what the perfected version of this technology will bring.

    If it’s like the Wii motion controls then it’s a failure to me. I’m looking at the potential for unlocking the barrier between playing a game a stepping onto a holodeck.

  • I would bet the future will not require remote controller or any movement on the user part. Much more practical to use the mind/machine interface and such 🙂
    Matrix anyone?

  • Personally, my ideal future tech would let me sit in my comfy chair but let me still talk and interact with characters. However, I think I will always want a controller in my hand for movement and input.

  • In terms of motion control it might work out – but the question is, how good your gaming environment has to be in order to play (lighting, background etc.).

    and i highly doubt that they can make an AI you can actually have a real conversation with. thats just not possible atm – it would probably come down to a predetermined sentence (or variations of which) that the AI is going to recognize.

    so I’m not convinced yet – but i still see the potential. sonys motion control was more convincing – you still got your controller and they showed more game-like usage of the controls. but again, im not totally convinced on that one either. both won’t replace the standard controllers, but they will complement them.

    so far

  • In terms of motion control, Sony’s was pretty good (although a bit clunky at times). I think that the Milo Project though is where this is all at. Having that character interaction is key.

  • This is this gens virtual reality and power glove. It will be gone in 3 years, good riddance. People play games for escapism, not for a workout. Console have so missed the “gamer” mark its not even funny.

  • While I’m as excited by the prospect of Milo and Microsoft’s motion sensing technology in general, it would pay to recognize just how limited it is in its current implementation. Moleneux has admitted in several instances already (MTV Multiplayer and 1UP to name two) that the Milo demo is a heavily scripted affair. The Milo character is being controlled by a developer, his lines are limited and scripted in advance, and his interaction with the player are constrained to commenting on a player’s shirt color or them putting on a pair of “goggles.”

    I’ve no doubt that Lionhead will try to execute on their vision, but as with their earlier efforts – Black and White, the orginal Fable – initial vision and final product often share little in common.

    All of that aside, I thought the most impressive demonstration was the real time mocap demonstrated in the painting demo. That is really ground breaking stuff and I can’t wait to play around with it in the future.

  • Milo and Natal themselves may not be the instances of this type of experience I’m talking about that become “the future”, as I refer to it, and obviously the standing around or “workout” as born2expire calls it won’t last, but I still believe that this concept of interaction is the future.

    Whether it was scripted or not, I think it shows the possibilities actually realized for the first time. What I’m hoping that other people are able to do is look past this specific adaption of the idea and think to the future with how this could, ideally, work.

  • “To sell your goods to him you’ll actually have to speak to him and tell him that you’re looking for a new sword. He’ll show you the wears and you’ll actually be able to reach out and take them from him and feel them in your hand, see how they feel, maybe test them on a dummy, and make the transaction with the merchant.”

    or i could just right click the mouse a few times, check sword stats (doesnt matter what the sword “feels” like, it will always be about stats) and be on my way again in a matter of seconds!

    Do people really want to talk to their games? Do they really want to have to dance, jump up, kneel down and then talk like a pirate for 10 minutes just to get a new quest? I

  • Wait. The Wii contoller is gimmicky, and the crap shown in these demos is somehow not at least as gimmicky, if not more so?

    You’re going to have to actually substantiate a wild claim like that if you think anyone is going to buy into it.

    Personally I love the wii and feel of the wiimotes, but think this Project Natal is going nowhere fast, both technically and in terms of player buy-in. (And yeah – I’d have to substantiate that too I suppose… perhaps it’ll be a blog post sometime soon.)

  • Motion for the sake of motion when it adds nothing to gameplay is gimmicky. Yes, that’s my opinion.

    Being able to change gameplay by actually interacting and taking a more interactive and active role is the next big step in immersion. Yes, that’s my opinion.

    @Simon: Move, dance, jump? No, not really. Interact by hiding or getting in character, yes. I think the current system of having to click a prescripted option works – in fact I like it. However, I see nothing wrong with being able to say whatever I want to the character and have the character be the one to adapt instead of me.

  • they steal the basic idea from nintendo and trying to make money with it and keen is aleady hyped up
    typical for both keen and the industry

  • I think you guys are missing the whole point of this technology. From what I’ve seen, I think it would be pretty safe to say that you could grab any object (i.e. the kid scanning his skateboard) and make it your “controller”, basically like you did when you were a kid and were using a stick as a sword. I mean you could probably grab a frisbee and tell it to recognize it as a steering wheel and voila you have a physical object in your hands that you can turn like a steering wheel during the racing game.

    The defining factor of this experience however will most definitely be the recognition and reaction time though. For example, if I’m using that frisbee as a steering wheel and I turn rapidly but the computer is a 1/4 sec late in recognizing my turn, then that can make a huge difference in a racing game. To be honest, this is the area I have no idea how they can make it as instantaneous as a connected steering wheel unit.

    For some games though, like FPS games, I really don’t see how they can get away from utilizing remote units to recognize and capture shots. It would basically be a plastic gun model with a flashlight in it that flashes when you push the button. I mean I supposed you could use a regular flashlight and get the system to recognize it as a gun but be awkward to use. Now if that flashlight was recognized as a light saber like in Star Wars, that would be a different story.

    Finally, there is no way in hell this could be utilized for complex games like raiding in WoW. If it was, it would have to utilize an extremely simple gesture mechanics to account for both the spell you want to use and the person or creature you’re targeting. To be honest, I can’t see it being used for existing games but instead being utilized for future games that can take advantage of it.

  • Sounds really interesting. I think the Wii has definitely changed the way people think about gaming as it success has surprised everyone and it’s going to encourage these types of new interaction controls.

    I wonder how long before we see a Wii Fit MMO? 🙂

  • We’re still extremely far away from having an AI that could understand speech any better than what we had ages ago in the parser-based adventure games but of course it can be easily faked in a scripted presentation. Speech recognition is getting to the point where you could use predetermined commands though (or scan for keywords in a sentence like in those parser games). Speech synthesis has improved a bit but it’s taken a very long time and it still sounds machine-like but maybe it’ll get there in during the next decade.

    Controllerless motion controls have the issue that the Sony presenter mentioned. You still need buttons for a lot of things (like a gun in your hand) so why not have a controller that will also aid in the motion tracking. You ended up holding things in your hand even on holodeck because it is more realistic to not have to pretend-hold things.

    So I doubt you’ll see anything like Milo as a real game in a very long time. Holodeck is the ultimate goal of course and motion-based controls & speech recognition are technologies that will play a part in that but I’m afraid there’s a possibility that Natal will end up being just a glorified Eyetoy. What’s great is that we now have three giant entertainment businesses developing this technology that is basically VR without the goggles. That’s the real beauty of the Wii and I’m sure gaming will change quite a bit in the coming years

  • It’s great to see them working on this stuff, skeptics aside. Yes, it relies on better game AI but that’s great too, because there have been so few AI advances in this industry in the past decade. Hopefully it promotes some decent innovation. They’ve got the right guy starting on it with Molyneux.

    Gimic controls / inputs tend to have limited scope. This shows flexibility, so it has potential to be more than a gimic if they utilize it well.

    If it fails, it will fail on the support system, the hardware side and the games themselves. It really comes down to how much effort Microsoft puts into it and how willing they are to wait a bit for it to translate into profit / marketshare, because any sort of input system is going to live or die on the games.

    When Nintendo released the Wii, they had a decent library of games to go along with it and now they’ve gone way past critical mass. On that note Keen, the Wii controller doesn’t fit the definition of gimic, it’s used solidly in a variety of games and just proves that tech like this has potential too.

  • I hope this technology really works well. When I finaly bought my Wii, I was totally pumped about the endless posibilities that you could do with the wii remote. For me, the best game I have played is the bowling game that came with the sports disc. I tried a ton of games that seemed like they would be really cool (Star Wars force unleashed), most of the time you just swing your arms around like your having some kind of medical emergency. The good thing is that the Wii is the first step in the evolution of this kind of technology, it really opened the doors to the posibility of using real movement in gaming and hopefully towards some kind of kick butt virtual reality type home gaming. Could you imagine if there was a virtual reality MMO where you actually stand in front of a dragon such as Onyxia, now that would be cool.

  • Most of the tech blogs i have been reading natal more a load of fluff then anything else. I really do not hold out high hopes for beyond a slightly advanced version of the wii

  • A lot of the tech blogs I’ve read of people that actually got to demo the unit… said it actually works well. Namely, IGN & Gamerspro. They list their pros and cons of their shot on the system but overall, both were very pleased/surprised with it. Obviously some of the stuff in their production quality commercial was pipe dream stuff, but view some of the other demos on YouTube as well.

    This product is generating a ton of dialogue on the net. Microsoft would be fools not to capitalize on it.

    “I guess the only concern I have now is whether or not being in shape will be a requirement for raids. ” Ok, that was funny lol 😀

  • @Rog: Not the controller itself being the gimmick, but how motion controls have been used in Wii games up until just very, very recently. It’s almost tacked on and would have felt better had it been left as simple analog. You have the geenral idea of what I’m trying to say though.

  • Natal looks awesome. I just need to get my Xbox fixed (3 red lights…) and then I’ll be sitting in anticipation.

  • I think Natal is interesting but Milo is supremely creepy.

    The whole video I couldn’t shake the image of some creepy guys getting their hands on this…

    “Now you can molest him in real time!”

    *makes molesting motion”

  • The future is obviously going to shock the hell out of a lot of people.

    I remember hearing the exact same cynicism when the Wii was first announced…I know, I was part of that chorus.

    Crow tastes nasty, btw.

  • @Blacknimbus

    Very true.

    Although, at the moment, the Wii is floundering from all the shovelware and lack of quality titles. Food for thought.

    Don’t get me wrong, I own a Wii and support the system. It just hasn’t made a strong showing in a while. It needs to come out with some STRONG titles to get itself back into the competition.

    The 360 is clearly stepping it up.

  • They have tried these in limited forms, and they haven’t worked well. The Playstation Eye Toy had several games where you used your body to manipulate objects on screen in simple games. They were fun, but simple games, nowhere near the complexity of the demos I think. Way back in the day there was a sega peripheral, I think the activator, which you also used motion control.

    The PS2 game Lifeline was completley voice-activated. You used a headset with mic to issue commands to guide a survivor of a futuristic city through hazards with monsters. The voice recognization on it was busted though, and made the game unplayable.

    I would think that voice recognition would be excellent for games like hotel dusk or ace wright, which really are about character interactions. But its hard to see how motion would work in most games more effectively than a joypad. There’s be more problems with recognizing valid movements and objects, and you’d have to probably reconfigure it for each new game.

    It really is an interesting time in gaming though.

  • @Bartlebe

    True, but that’s not so much the fault of how well the system works as it is to get good titles for the system.

    The good news is that it looks like Microsoft will be able to adapt a lot of current titles to use this interface. It’s not going to work for everything, obviously, but it looks like it could be pretty revolutionary.

    And it looks like they’re wanting to go a lot farther with this than just a game console. A lot farther.

  • @Blacknimbus: “And it looks like they’re wanting to go a lot farther with this than just a game console. A lot farther.” Ya that to me is where they could score big time with this, as it extends telepresence in a whole new way.

  • Personally I thought this was hands down the worst part of E3. Maybe Im just old fashioned but I just don’t see the appeal of this motion capture tech. I agree with Tom that Sony had a more appealing product because they at least showed how their new controller could be used on first person shooter and strategy games to replace mouse movements.

    I worry that these companies are spending too much resources on trying to lure in new costumers who typically don’t game. I look at Natal and see it as the thighmaster of the console world, a huge seller that everyone thought was a great innovation that will be in everyones closet or garage sale soon. Billy Mays might as well be offering me a free tub of Oxy Clean with it if I call now!

    Hopefully I get proven wrong and they blow me away with further innovation of this tech later on down the road but I will be in the non-believer camp until then.

  • About the AI; I fully beleive in Milo’s capabilites. Why? Because I’ve been assisting with a very special chatbot project. Not for NATAL (at least, not yet!) but it’s fully possible to have a real conversation. My own chatbot does not dish out prewritten responces but assembles them (give it a wikipedia page, let it digest the page for three hours or so and bingo, the AI then knows everything about everything on that page) So yes, I feel some dynamic sentence generation IS possible.

  • ” and he will actually have a conversation with you instead of just responding to pre-thought out commands. ”

    Oh come on. why do you guys get so hyperexcited about things all the time, i get that it’s cool, but unless someone develops towards it, it aint happening. what you’re talking about is a massive development (AI) vs. a quick and fast money grab (pre-thought out commands). guess which way production houses are going to go?