A look at Project Natal

A look at Project Natal
According to reports from GamesIndustry.biz, Project Natal (the unpublished peripheral currently under development at Microsoft) will be released towards the end of 2010 without any internal processor, delegating all the workload to the Xbox 360 CPU.

According to this source, the transition from a hardware solution to a purely software solution would have two very specific objectives. Firstly, this will serve to keep production costs low while greatly facilitating profits. Secondly, a software solution will allow Microsoft to expand and modify this product in a much more flexible way according to the needs of the developers.

The news of the absence of an internal processor also seems to have been indirectly confirmed by Microsoft itself, which in the information material desatinated for the press speaks only of a small but sophisticated video camera, equipped with a depth sensor, environmental microphone and proprietary software. Furthermore, at last year's gamescom, the direct tests on the peripheral took place through the connection to a PC, evidently used to manage the inputs of Natal, while a devkit 360 took care of the playful software.

We do not yet know what type impact can be had on the performance of the final product. What we can tell you now, analyzing the road test of a simple minigame, is that the peripheral shows a latency that certainly does not leave indifferent. As you can see from the video that we propose below, the reaction to the player's inputs is late in its execution on the screen, with a lag of about 200ms. The video shows the action in slow motion and leaves no doubt about the actual presence of the problem.

Clearly, the developers who will have to develop software dedicated to Natal are also clearly concerned about the issue. Jon Burton, director of Traveller's Tales, recently said: "Natal is an extremely ingenious system but the lag related to the inputs and the lack of physical buttons are seriously restricting the types of games that can be developed."

The video we showed you properly highlights the problems in what is still considered a demo. If lag is already so prevalent in a very simple single session, what will happen in titles developed specifically for multiplayer, with much more data and inputs to be managed simultaneously?

Another question of interest is that inherent in the possibility to patch the titles already released in order to adapt them to the new peripheral. Kudo Tsunoda, director of the Natal project, is skeptical of such an eventuality. The reason is simple: all the latest titles released make extensive use of the Xbox 360 CPU, but since it does not have an internal processor, the new peripheral will also have its portion of calculations to be requested from the console CPU. And even if a compromise can be found, there is still the difficulty of adapting games to such a particular peripheral.

Sony and its Wand do not seem to have similar concerns, openly declaring that titles such as Little Big Planet , PAIN, Flower (and many others) can be immediately compatible after the release of a patch. But in that case, as suggested by Burton, it is still a matter of holding a controller physically present in the hands of the players. Microsoft has however reiterated that new software will be released once the device is placed on the market, and it will be titles specially designed to make the most of the peculiarities of the new motion-detection system.

Natal therefore seems to propose itself as a new peripheral, with an extremely accessible cost and with the possibility of expanding its potential over time. A certainly intriguing product that continues to arouse curiosity and interest from the players. The total absence of a controller and the particularity of the interface could really make a concrete and innovative contribution to digital entertainment, showing new ways and unexplored paths. Once again, it will be the desire to experiment to make the real difference, as amply demonstrated by Nintendo first with the DS and then with the Wii. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that the problems highlighted above are solved in time for the release.

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