Nintendo is going to have some tough competition in the family-friendly gaming market next year as Microsoft and Sony both unveiled plans at E3 in June to launch impressive new technologies that up the console ante and provide new opps for kids properties to get into the vidgame arena.
Clearly Microsoft and Sony have responded to the massive success of the Nintendo Wii, which revolutionized gameplay through the introduction of its innovative motion controller in 2006. The Wii has been on fire since it hit the market and US unit sales have surpassed 20 million, making it the fastest-selling video game console in history and ushering in unprecedented family gameplay with titles such as Mario Kart Wii and Wii Play. While Sony’s higher-priced PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 have a larger following of hardcore gamers, they’re looking to snag a piece of the motion-control space that’s struck a chord with the growing number of casual players and, in the process, edge the industry closer to eradicating the couch-potato gamer stereotype.
Microsoft may be making the boldest move of all, ditching physical peripherals and controllers completely with Project Natal (pronounced ‘nuh-tall’) for Xbox. Boasting the world’s first sensor to combine an RGB camera, multi-array microphone and custom processor, Natal (pictured above) tracks full body movements, responds to commands and directions and even has a memory for faces and voices.
As for its potential kid-appeal, Natal promo videos show the whole family getting in the game. In one, a tween girl grasps an invisible steering wheel in front of her, expertly maneuvering her race car to a pit stop. She rests her arms for a moment as her brother leaps into action, going through the motions of screwing and unscrewing tires so she can quickly zoom back into the race. Another shows someone standing in front of a blank virtual canvas calling out the word ‘Green!’ while swinging an imaginary bucket. A huge splash of green paint then appears on-screen. Kids can even use virtual versions of their skateboards by holding the object up to Natal’s camera and uttering the command, ‘Scan.’ The tech responds by generating a virtual likeness of the physical board for in-game play.
Microsoft hadn’t set Natal’s release date at press time, but it seems to have taken the lead on realizing a futuristic Minority Report-esque gaming style. Sony Computer Entertainment, on the other hand, will be competing with Nintendo head-on via a new PS3 motion-control technology set to launch in spring 2010. Sony previewed prototypes of the new wand-like controller topped with a glowing orb at its E3 press conference to demonstrate its über-precise tracking movements. The PlayStation Eye, Sony’s proprietary digital camera that detects the slightest hand gesture, reads signals from the device. On-screen, the controller can then become anything from a novelty baseball bat to a bow and arrow, which opens up a wealth of possibilities for PS3 game designers.
Sony is also going head-to-head with the current tween handheld device of choice, the Nintendo DS. The PSPgo (SRP US$249) hits retail on October 1 in North America, Europe/PAL and selected Asian countries. Unlike its predecessor, the handheld forgoes physical media like disks and uses only digital downloadable content. The pocket-sized player – smaller and lighter than the PSP – comes complete with a 16 GB memory and is being bundled with the MediaGo software app for downloading content via PCs.