Develop Jury: Natal's promise

Develop Jury: Natal's promise

By Rob Crossley

January 13th 2010 at 2:00PM

Developers dispute the merits of Microsoftâ??s upcoming device

Earlier this week Jury Service opened again with a new question for the industry:

What kind of gameplay experiences will belong to Natal?’

And with so many pressing questions surrounding Microsoft’s upcoming motion controller, the fantastic response we received back has naturally spilled over into a debate on the merits of the device itself.

What was clear as developers sent us their views was that Natal is a divisive offering. The development community is polarised on Natal’s prospects, with views ranging from lofty praise to icy scepticism.

You can read all the opinions that we received, in their entirety, below.

(Develop Jury Service will be back next week with a new question for the industry. If you’re a developer who’d like to take part in future debates, ping an email to rob.crossley@intentmedia.co.uk.)

Order!

Develop Jury Service #5

What gameplay experiences will belong to Natal?


Adrian Hirst, Managing Director, Weaseltron

Whether Natal becomes a real game-changer – evolving the Xbox 360 into a new software platform – or simply remains an amusement, will relate heavily on its ability to find its 'killer app'.

This seems to have been the pattern of adoption of non-standard hardware over nearly all console generations; with the exception of the Wii, whose popularity came from wisely bundling its best game with the hardware - immediately showing the potential of the system to every individual user.

Microsoft need to start showing some real killer games/applications for Natal before people really start getting interested in it as a platform.

Andrew Oliver, CTO, Blitz Games Studios

When I see a new technology, I look at the new opportunities it brings, not the things it lacks. I see it as a challenge, not a risk and a chance to do something completely new and different.
Project Natal should bring entirely new genres to Xbox 360. 

Xbox 360 is undoubtedly a great console for hardcore gamers, but it’s also clear there is a huge consumer-base for the Wii as well for those looking to get fit or play the more casual games.

I’ve seen people knocking Project Natal, saying it lacks the precise controls necessary to make great games but I think that’s extremely narrow minded. The genres that work well on that basis should stick with that system.

There needs to be more foresight and planning for the new gamer market. The belief that ‘as long as the licence is strong then it will sell’ is doing the consumer a disservice.

Pushing out cheap rubbish can alienate the very people the industry is trying to attract. Developers and publishers need to act responsibly for the longer term. It’s not about making a quick buck; it’s about engaging a new audience.

Andrew Smith, Developer, Proper Games
If I'm honest, Microsoft have confused me a little with Natal.

On the one hand, they're looking to hop on the Wii bandwagon with what they think is the next step in easily-accessed games (and what I see as a really swish but ultimately boring EyeToy upgrade) - bringing simple, fun, arcadey titles to a new audience.

While this is laudable, I'm just not convinced that people can enjoy the same range and fidelity of games as they do on the Wii without at least some physical connection to the experience.

On the other hand they're doing so on the fairly hard-core 360, marketing the efforts at people who will probably already own a Wii, and are providing this (at best) risky opportunity to developers on a machine that's actually pretty expensive to develop for - at least in comparison to the Wii.

It's not even like it'll 'benefit' as the Wii did from the PS2/Wii crossover potential - the PS3 will not be able to host the same games, and so you're talking about platform exclusive development. Yet another risk in an already iffy-seeming prospect. I'm not saying that creatively-speaking those PS2 ports are anything to sing about, but for
a company to make financial sense of the development costs, an additional release platform is always a bonus.

This said, I do think it's a cool piece of tech, and the gameplay we see come out of it - whether casual-focused or core-focused - could be very intriguing. Full body/face tracking is something that could be applied with interesting consequences to a horror game - seeing if the player is leaning forward, or even perhaps what part of the screen they're looking at could provide new and nasty ways to scare the bejesus out of them!

We'll see some cool stuff, no doubt about it - but I remain thoroughly sceptical as to whether it'll do much business, and as such I'm personally quite reluctant to dive into it yet.

Ed Daly, General Manager, Zoe Mode
We’re very interested in Natal and its potential to sustain and build on the enthusiasm that non-gamers have shown for Wii – no doubt Microsoft’s marketing will be key here.

As for the games, Zoe Mode has been learning about motion controlled gaming since our work on EyeToy and it will be fascinating to see how others cope with the learning curve, as the design and technical challenges are easy to underestimate. We look forward to announcing a Natal title before too long.

Emmeline Dobson, Freelance Game Designer
I do not think that Natal will be enhancing core game genres soon, as players go to shooters, action games and racers for mechanics that deliver on fast reflexes and mental agility, and movement control is a step backwards from the reponse offered by our familiar joypads.

As Nintendo have done with Wii, Microsoft and partners should look at the real needs of a non-traditional audience to produce compelling software for them.

Lag is not an issue in a game focused on a martial art primarily about form, such as Tai Chi. Full-body capture and voice control are highly significant for great Tai Chi (or yoga, pilates etc) software, especially bearing in mind who would want to use it.

But it is less obvious what they have to add to a highly-evolved reflex-based genre like FPSes.

Capturing our likenesses opens a world of potential content, as we invest a lot in our physical appearances in the real world. It is likely that the ability to play with our likeness in the freedom and privacy of a dress-up or make-up application will prove attractive to narcissists everywhere.

Simon Barratt, Director, Four Door Lemon

There seem to be a large amount of games in progress for the 'next generation' of motion control and I'm really looking forward to trying all of them.

My main concern was the latency on the pose recognition but from what I've heard and read recently it seems these issues have been addressed.

As well as bringing motion controls to a 'core' audience I think more importantly we may bring some of the Wii 'casual' gamers to the Xbox which is good for games of all genres.

Simon Prytherch, CEO, Lightning Fish Games
The Wii remote and Natal are similar in that they both have the ability to measure a player's movements, but Natal is a lot more immersive.

It will allow us to do games not possible on the other platforms. The established genres already have a good controller; the joypad. The Wii started the process and camera-based systems like Natal are the next step in the evolution of motion control. You will see new genres created.
 
Ultimately, in the future I think we will have multiple cameras in our living rooms. The whole room will become a 3D play space. I draw an analogy with surround sound audio. Twenty years ago if you had said that people would have 5 or 7 speakers in their lounge. People would have laughed and questioned why they needed more than two speakers. Once your living space becomes your play space it opens up huge creative possibilities for game designers.

Develop would like to again thank this week’s panel who participated. If you'd like to take part in future Develop Jury Service features email rob.crossley@intentmedia.co.uk