Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Microsoft to introduce hands-free gaming

Microsoft revealed this week that it has secretly been developing technology that lets people play videogames using natural body movements instead of handheld controllers. The US software giant behind Xbox 360 videogame consoles revealed a prototype of a project codenamed ‘Natal’, a system that combines cameras and voice and face recognition software to recognise people and their actions.

"The gamer in me went out of my mind when I got to be interactive with this," famed film director Steven Spielberg during a Microsoft press conference on the eve of a major videogame industry show, Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), in Los Angeles. "I got a feeling I was in a historic moment. What Microsoft is doing isn't re-inventing the wheel; this is about no wheel at all."

Natal lets people play driving games by simply moving hands as if turning a car steering wheel. In-game characters in boxing, skateboard, soccer and other sports titles mimic the body movements of real-world players. The system scans faces and voices to determine who is playing, a demonstration showed. Xbox 360 consoles equipped with Natal will be able to respond to spoken commands for actions such as playing movies or connecting online with friends for video chats.

An expected completion date for Natal was not disclosed, but Microsoft released a software kit for videogame makers interested in designing titles to take advantage of Natal's capabilities.

"What developers do with Natal will change the way we play videogames," said British videogame icon Peter Molyneux, chief of Lionhead Studios. "This is a landmark in computer entertainment. This is true technology that science fiction has not even written about and this works today." Natal will work on all Xbox 360 consoles, said the head of Xbox and games business at MS.