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Project Natal will "reinvent the industry" - Microsoft

Kim dismisses rival motion technology, insisting new Xbox 360 control experiences are a "new canvas" for games developers

Microsoft's newly revealed gesture technology Project Natal is a "new canvas" for developers and is set to reinvent the games industry, according to the company's corporate vice president Shane Kim.

Speaking in an exclusive interview published today, Kim dismissed rival motion control technology, suggesting Natal is a true step up from Nintendo's Wii as well as doubting Sony can release its equivalent in the proposed spring 2010 time frame.

"If we'd just come out with something that looks and feels like the Nintendo Wiimote, I think you could have fairly criticised us and said it was derivative. That's not the path we wanted to go down," insisted Kim.

"We could have done that, but we wanted to reinvent the industry and revolutionise home entertainment. That's what we will achieve with Project Natal," he said.

Of Sony's proposed launch of motion control using the PlayStation Eye early next year, Kim said: "They've said many things in the past and missed dates, so we'll see. We're going to launch when we feel like we have the entire program ready to go, including the experiences and support from third parties. It's not a lot of time between now and the spring, considering it was just unveiled.

"The most important thing is this has nothing to do with Nintendo and Sony. This has everything to do with unlocking the potential of the industry and addressing the many millions of people – the 60 per cent of house holds who don't have a videogame console at all. That's the real opportunity for us."

Kudo Tsunoda is acting as creative director for Project Natal, a control scheme that brings motion control, voice, colour and emotional recognition to the Xbox 360. As well as projects under way by Peter Molyneux and the behind-the-scenes work of Johnny Chung Lee, all internal Microsoft studios are currently working with the technology.

"I'm confident that we haven't even begun to see all the experiences that other people can imagine," said Kim, pointing out that a lot of the technology has been created outside of Microsoft Game Studios. "All of those things we get to take advantage of and integrate into the Xbox 360 experience but we don't have to invent it ourselves."

Publishing and development partners are keen to get on board, said Kim, with the advantage of being able to launch the technology into an installed base already topping 30 million users.

"They are also excited from a business standpoint because it's going to be compatible with every Xbox 360 we've ever sold. We already have a 30 million installed base today, by the time it launches it will be much bigger than that and it's a great thing because it's an addressable installed base immediately.

"It's not like launching a brand new console where partners make business decisions of when do they decide the installed base is big enough. This is something where we're going to have a lot of customers pretty quickly and we're focused on magical launch experiences to get this ball rolling right from the get go."

Despite the high installed base, Microsoft's priority will be to use the technology to bring new customers to videogaming intimidated by standard controllers and peripherals.

"The focus has to be in creating new experiences that have never been imagined or possible before," offered Kim. "Our focus this E3 has been on breaking down barriers, those that prevent people from enjoying the vast wealth of everything that we have to offer on Xbox 360 and Xbox Live."

Project Natal is reinvigorating internal development at Microsoft, according to Kim, as experiments like the human and AI interaction of Milo and Kate inspire the talent at the company.

"I've never seen Peter (Molyneux) more excited and energised by anything like this since the initial Fable," said Kim. "And now with Natal and Milo, you get a sense of what he thinks he's capable of. And believe me, Peter wants to lead the way.

"He's going to apply all of his experience, and it's a great analogy for Microsoft Game Studios. All of those game skills can be applied now with a new canvas with Natal."

The full interview with Shane Kim, where he also discussess new services for Xbox 360 and securing exclusive content, can be read here.

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Matt Martin avatar
Matt Martin: Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.
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