Is This the Next Leap in Motion Technology?

For a peripheral that is somewhat overpriced, underutilized, and in general vastly inferior to the Nintendo Wii console it seemingly got most of its motivation from, the Xbox Kinect has made quite a splash in the motion based control field.

There are of course the Guiness Book of World Records worthy initial sales figures to back this up, but the real proof of this impact is evident in the creativity this device’s impressive technology has inspired in its users. See while game developers can’t seem to make a good Kinect game that isn’t a dance simulator or Wii sports rip off if their jobs depended on it, the Kinect users have managed to hack into the device to make the basic technology that runs it do some incredible things. These include the entertaining (light saber simulators), the sci-fi worthy (robot controller), and the practical yet cool advancements in basic human interface:

Motion controlled interface has been a dream of sorts for consumers, especially since it was popularized in the movie “Minority Report.” With devices like the Kinect and iPhone, we have gotten closer and closer to this goal, but have yet to fully realize it. Even the impressive demonstration in that video was marred by the fact that the movements needed to actually control the system had to be very blunt, and required full body commitment to make even the simplest of motion commands.

San Francisco based company Leap Motion thinks they might have the inevitable solution. Their device (called the Leap) is about the size of an iPod and works through a USB input your PC or Mac. It reads a space four cubic feet in size, and is supposed to be 200x more accurate than anything else on the market. This means accuracy to within 1/100th of a millimeter, which should allow for subtle finger movements (instead of whole hand and body motions) being able to produce the desired results.

The extraordinary video the company released seems to back that up.

We’ve been promised the moon with motion sensors before, but I have to say that given the advancements in the motion field over the past few years, I see no real reason that the Leap shouldn’t function in the way it claims to. My only real red flag in that video is the video game controller sections. I still feel that we are a ways off from total motion control in games without the use of any buttons, especially in titles designed with mouse/keyboard in mind. Of course in menu heavy titles like Real Time Strategy Games or RPG’s, I could see this device making formerly monotonous navigation somewhat enjoyable.

Even if it’s not yet perfect, at a modest retail price of $70 (pre-orders are being taken now), many consumers might give this device a shot and find their own ways to make use of it when it’s released early next year. After all, that’s the only explanation as to why the Kinect is doing so well.


J. Allard leaves Microsoft, the world will hardly notice

This is the big story today. J. Allard, father of the Xbox, will be retiring from his position at Microsoft. I say “retiring” because there has been so much speculation about why he was leaving and whether he got fired and what he’s going to be starting and on and on and on. He’s just retiring – taking a leave to go explore the things he didn’t have time to explore when he was working a billion hours a week at Microsoft.

To me, though, this isn’t really news. Allard was involved in some great projects – projects that made Microsoft a ton of money – but none of it has really been incredible. In many cases, the Microsoft products Allard has worked on have succeeded not because of incredible innovation but because it was the only game (or one of very few games) in town.

Consider the original Xbox. We knew about it for years leading up to the launch, and the best thing about it wasn’t the controller or the processor or the original Live experience (which was terrible, by the way). The best thing about Xbox 1.0 was a game called Halo. To me, the Xbox was the natural evolution of consoles, and Live was just the maturation of the console form to keep up with multiplayer standards PC players had enjoyed for decades prior.

The Xbox 360 followed the same path as the original – the natural evolution of console gaming. The Live system is better, but still not great by any means, and I know very few people who use their 360 in the ways the commercials would have you believe every geek has his home connected. There are some neat features, like Netflix streaming for one, but there isn’t anything that is truly innovative about the 360. It didn’t change the way I see the entertainment world any more significantly than, say, an iPod video did when it was announced. It performed virtually the same function as the device before it, just a bit better.

My point in all of this is that the last decade or so of devices coming out of Microsoft have been pretty mundane. Anticipated. Expected. I haven’t seen much in the last decade that has made me say, “wow,” in that breathy, holy-shit-you-just-blew-my-mind kind of way. Allard was at the helm for some good stuff, but it was just that – good. Nothing great. Nothing spectacular. His decision to retire will have about as much impact on the gadgets we see as will his decision to pursue “adventure sports.” All the best to you, J., but I can’t say I’m going to miss you.


Jimmy Fallon/John Krasinski Demo Project Natal

Last night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Xbox’s Creative Director for Project Natal, Kudo Tsunoda, showed up with a prototype Natal to demo in front of a live crowd. It’s very cool to not only see the Natal in action, but to see it played by people who are obviously not directly connected to the device’s development (or completely in control of the demo).

The demo starts with the breakout style game shown at E3. Control looks a little laggy, and there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve. Kudo could play just fine, but both Jimmy Fallon and John Krasinski whiffed their first swing at the ball. One of the first things Fallon noticed when he stepped up to play was his hair, which changed from Tsunoda’s shoulder-length mop. Pretty cool, even if his exclamation sounded more than a little scripted.

The second demo showed off Burnout: Paradise, a game Microsoft has adapted to Natal just to showcase the precise control capability of their new peripheral. As you’d expect, Kudo took off without a hitch and flew through the streets. Fallon, on the other hand, maintained reasonable control for all of four and a half seconds before blasting into walls. All four people for the demo jumped in and out of the “driver’s seat” fairly smoothly, though the Natal did take a moment to recognize foot placement for putting the pedal to the floor.

So what of the red suits? It’s hard to say whether everyone threw on the Beastie Boy jumpsuits as a theatrical gimmick or because it made them that much easier for Natal to read. My guess would be the second. No one wants to demo the hottest news in the gaming world just to watch it flop live.

In any case, this is the first we’ve really seen Natal debuted by “consumers,” and it’s at least good to see that it works, even if the situation was constructed on Microsoft’s terms. Hopefully as development continues we’ll get to see more elaborate demonstrations in less controlled environments.


Microsoft Confirms Xbox 360’s 10-Year Life Cycle

I’ve had a hunch, ever since Sony announced the 10-year life cycle for the PS3, that the Xbox 360 would take the same route. After all, who wants to launch a console months or years in front of a competitor, giving them plenty of time to get their hands on your stuff and gain some serious advantage.

While talking to Venturebeat, Microsoft VP in charge of strategy and business for interactive entertainment, Shane Kim, has confirmed the 10-year plan as official policy. This is no surprise whatsoever coming on the heels of the Project Natal announcement, but it’s nice to hear you won’t have to give up on the big investment you’ve likely already made into your console.

Kim also took to the interview like a victor in battle, claiming Microsoft “won” E3 with their keynote address. “We had a lot of content for a normal E3 briefing. But Project Natal doesn’t come along every year, and it is very difficult to match,” Kim said. True, and with Sony’s new wand device, Microsoft is sitting just where Nintendo was before E3, the the pioneer trying to get more people playing games, instead of getting gamers to play more games.

Kim said Natal is a mid-cycle release for the 360, so we’ll have at least another 5 years to see how Sony and Nintendo plan to answer.

Source: Venturebeat


Can Project Natal Change the Console War?

Promo videos always show the best side of things. That’s their point. To promote the goodness of something and get people interested in buying it. If you’re like me, you probably watch those videos with a healthy dose of salt in your hand. That’s exactly how I watched Microsoft’s promo video for Project Natal, their controller-less full body motion capture toy, but it didn’t work. Try as I might, my skepticism has left me. This thing looks like the ten year evolution of the Wii done in half the time.

Project Natal is a sensor bar, much like that of the Wii. Instead of picking up the signal of the infrared camera in the controller, though, Natal senses your movement. All of it. The bar is equipped with a couple 3D cameras and a microphone, allowing for voice recognition. I’m sure your imagination is already sprinting towards Dance Dance Revolution or punching Mike Tyson without worrying about throwing a controller. Watch the video below – it says it all.