Natal is a new peripheral for Xbox 360 that currently exists in a very early work-in-progress form. This new, 'full body motion sensing' technology may be revolutionary for interactive entertainment, and quite frankly, leaves things like EyeToy, Wii MotionPlus, and Sony's new motion sensing controllers for PS3 - also revealed last week - in the dust. Anyone who doesn't yet understand why, this article is for you.
There's a lot of positive buzz about Natal, but I was surprised to see how much doubt and even indifference there is about it after talking to everyone about it over the last week. Critics and fence-sitters of Natal seem to consistently be saying one of only a few things against it. I'm going to explain why they're missing the point, and why this thing is the real deal, based on my first-hand experience with it behind closed doors, as well as chats with project manager Branden Powell, and the heavyweight developers who showed it off, Kudo Tsunoda and Peter Molyneux.
Another excerpt regarding the comments that it doesn't work with African Americans:
On to the third thing. "I get it", people say, "but I don't believe it works". People have noticed glitches, right? And I heard it can't detect black people!
I'm going to jump right into to this "it can't detect black people" thing and tell you right now it's BULLSHIT. Not only can it detect black people, it can detect players perfectly even with the LIGHTS TURNED OFF. I saw this demonstrated in the private session: Kudo had the lights dimmed to almost zero, and the Ricochet demo continued, completely unaffected. You don't need to worry about ideal lighting conditions like with EyeToy. Natal does not track players by colour (although we know from Milo commenting on my blue shirt that it can if it wants to); it tracks them by infra-red - and it can track up to four people at the same time with no compromises.
The reason there is a thing going around about Natal not being able to detect black players is that a black journalist had difficulty controlling the Burnout demo. Guess what? So did a white female that was in my closed-doors session. I could make a 'women drivers' gag at this point, but I won't because this is a serious point. The Burnout demo was probably not the most finely tuned thing Microsoft could have used to demonstrate Natal, and could have done with some further optimisation. The fact that many people of all colours who've tried this particular demo have had difficulty trying to steer about, accelerating by putting right foot forwards, only shows that this is probably a bit of a last minute demo to have modified - it's another company's game code, essentially hacked into a makeshift Natal demo. Kudo stated in the session that it was not designed specifically for Natal and that it was just to make the point that Natal has no latency issues when it comes to fast paced games like racing games. It certainly does not mean that this is something specifically to do with dark-skinned players. I hope we're quite clear on this.