Despite the annual E3 conference being just less than a month away, Microsoft have revealed a huge announcement a little early, and it’s one that has the potential to dramatically help increase their console sales.
From 9th June the Xbox One will be available without their previously ‘required’ Kinect camera at a reduced price of £349.99.
In the ongoing saga of Microsoft reversing policies for their upcoming Xbox One console comes the latest change of heart — the bundled Kinect sensor no longer needs to be connected in order for the console to function.
This was revealed during a recent ‘Ask Microsoft Anything’ feature over at IGN, where Xbox Corporate Vice President Marc Whitten explained the alteration.
According to a PDF document shared on the official Xbox Wire website, Rare’s Kinect Sports Rivals will not make its previously announced launch date, and will instead arrive in early 2014.
First spotted over on NeoGAF, the PDF Fact Sheet — which you can view here — states that the Kinect-friendly sports game is set to launch during Spring 2014. When originally announced at this year’s E3 event in Los Angeles the title was revealed as a launch title for Microsoft’s next home console, the Xbox One — which is due this November.
Leicestershire-based Rare announced a new entry in the Kinect Sports franchise Monday. Kinect Sports: Rivals, revealed at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles, is expected to launch later this year as a launch title exclusively for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One console.
During an interview on US TV channel Spike a Rare developer let slip that the game would be available in November, implying that Microsoft’s next home console would launch then.
Kinect Sports Rivals will feature a variety of sports including bowling, football and tennis.
The first Kinect Sports launched back in 2010 for the Xbox 360.
Microsoft has announced a special new Xbox 360 bundle specifically for the UK, set to arrive just weeks ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. The bundle includes a matte white 360, keeping the same 4GB of internal storage seen on the low-end model, along with a matching Kinect sensor, a controller, Kinect Sports and Kinect Adeventures!.
If the plain matte white console doesn’t grab you, or if you are feeling particularly patriotic, the bundle comes with Union Jack transfers for the console, Kinect sensor and controller.
Kinect Star Wars uses its influence over the minds of the British public to assume control over the UK All-Format Top 40, making it the first time a Kinect title has ever taken the top spot.
Its reign brings a swift end to the five week run of Electronic Arts as the hoarder of sales above all others, with the likes of FIFA Street, which drops to second (with a small 3% increase in sales). Mass Effect 3 is down to third. FIFA 12 gains a 48% sales gain over last week to take fourth, whilst Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 (-10%) completes the top five.
Sales improve the performance of Modern Warfare 3 (+76%) at sixth, SSX (+72%) is up three places to seventh and Mario & Sonic London 2012 Olympic Games (+66%) comes in at eighth. Battlefield 3 (+55%) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (+57%) land at ninth and tenth respectively, having not quite matched mid-table acceleration.
The only new title in the Top 40 this week is Devil May Cry HD Collection, comprising of the first three titles in the series, landing at 18.
So, motion controllers? Are they really the future of gaming, or just a big fad that only kids and grandparents enjoy? Without being able to travel twenty years into the future to pass judgement, you can only hazard a guess that neither of those two statements prove to be implicitly true. Motion-sensing controllers may well be integrated into all future gaming systems in the same way analogue control, force-feedback and wireless handsets have been in today’s generation.
Nintendo’s bold attempt at widening the market with its fantabulous motion-sensing Wii remote has so far paid off and, inevitably, the competition are not far behind. At the same time however, traditional controllers aren’t going to be completely eradicated, at least not if gaming companies want to avoid the largest flaming campaign since internet records began.
So if they are here to stay, which of the three efforts will be seen to be the most successful in years to come? Hopefully you’ve already read our previous articles on Natal and Move – now it’s the turn of the Wii and Motion Plus!
The biggest reason why Nintendo will stay ahead of the game is that it’s already been there, done that, worn the T-Shirt and banked millions of dollars in the process. Being the first to a new market is incredibly important, and if things go your way, it can make your market share unassailable. Nintendo had already poured millions into R&D for the DS and Wii before Sony and Microsoft started to follow suit. They even had time to refine the motion-sensing technology, in the form of motion-plus, before any rival system was available. For Microsoft and Sony to get to the same point, tech-wise, they must have spent huge amounts of dollars – money that would surely have been siphoned from ‘core’ development. In the end, the R&D bill would have been far more than Nintendo’s outlay due in part to the need to ‘beat’ Nintendo’s technology but also, crucially, due to the extra costs hi-definition development brings with it.
This is another key point, at least from a developer’s point of view; on the Wii, costs for an experimental title aren’t far off those for a PS2-gen title.
It was pretty clear, especially in the first year of the Wii’s life, that publishers weren’t keen on taking a risk and pouring large amounts of money into developing for an unproven platform, judging by the poor-looking works from Ubisoft, EA etc. Those that did take a chance and tried to do something interesting with the new technology got their fingers burnt. Just look at sales of Zack & Wiki, Pro Evo and Mad World for a hint at the general apathy such experimental titles faced at retail. Now imagine a publisher’s reaction to having to take the same risk but with the additional costs of hi-definition presentation thrown in. The flip-side of this argument is that nicer graphics could equal bigger sales, and this is very much a great unknown factor. It’s very possible that the core demographic would pay more attention to a hi-def natal bowling game, or a key franchise updated with built in-motion controller support (such as the upcoming Resident Evil 5 for PS3). The trouble is, unknown factors don’t sit well with those having to front the cash.
Costs associated with early Wii development were offset to an extent by developing multiplatform versions alongside a Wii game. The same can be said for 360 and PS3 development. There is no such luxury with Natal and Move; it’s pretty much all or nothing. You can’t even co-develop between the platforms, as the technologies the two are using aren’t easily compatible (Natal has no associated physical controller for example). So far, there hasn’t been a torrent of games announced from developers, and you shouldn’t expect many to be revealed until either of the new peripherals start racking up the sorts of numbers Wii/Motion-Plus/Wii Fit has accumulated, making exclusive titles a viable option.
Speaking of numbers, Nintendo has this aspect tied up already. For every gamer obsessed with having the coolest, most powerful machine, or the one with the technical intelligence, there are millions of regular people who don’t have a clue what a polygon is, or why having lots of them is so important. All they want to do is have a little fun. It’s this crowd that Nintendo has already won over with Wii and it’s this mass popularity which will ultimately make them the winner of the motion-sensor war. No matter how good Natal or Move are from a technical standpoint, to the untrained eye they are just another rip-off of the Wii.
They are both, undoubtedly, very impressive pieces of kit, but can you see all those casual gamers who have long since put the Wii on the shelf (if some cynics are to be believed) forking out for yet another expensive ‘fad’?
The Nintendo Wii has shown the masses that motion controls are popular. Not just for those who already class gaming as a hobby, but also for people who have never even played or enjoyed a games console before. This has led to the Wii being the current leader in sales followed by the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Naturally both Microsoft and Sony have seen this success and now want a piece of the motion based pie. This has culminated in Project Natal, a camera based option, and the PlayStation Move combination from Sony, featuring a camera alongside Wiimote and Nunchuck style devices. So with both vying for the crown of the motion controlled world, which one has what it takes to topple the Wii? My money is on Sony’s offering, and this is why.
Unlike Microsoft, Sony are no strangers to the concept of motion centric controllers, with experience ranging from the EyeToy of the PlayStation 2 era to the forgettable sixaxis motion features in current PS3 controller. While neither of these truly redefined the way people played games, they gave Sony plenty of practice in the ways of the waggle and have led to the next big thing in gaming immersion – the PlayStation Move.
As you can see from the trailer below, the device works using the collective power of the PlayStation Eye camera and the motion stick to track movements on a 1 to 1 basis. This means wherever you move the controller the camera will track the glowing ball on the stick and tell the PS3 the angle of the device, the distance away from the camera, as well as the where it is on the x and y axis i.e. how far up/down and left/right it is. When you see it in action, it’s truly amazing how smooth and accurate it all is.
Some people will likely prefer the feeling of having a physical gadget in their hands and it’s clear that the Wii has inspired Sony in this respect. While this may not be a bad thing you can expect plenty of protests that it simply copies Nintendo’s idea while adding high definition graphics. This is true, but Sony’s level of motion matching is far superior with the inclusion of distance tracking through the camera. This means that no longer will people be able to get away with bowling through a quick flick of the wrist while sitting lazily on the sofa. The camera also allows players to feature in the games and can even overlay graphics so it appears on the screen as though that huge sword is actually in the real world. Combine this with the future 3D gaming and TVs to lead to a level of immersion that simply hasn’t been seen before.
Naturally all of this comes from viewing videos and reading up on other people’s feedback, but nothing will be definite about the way both Project Natal and Sony’s PlayStation Move feel until they are released later this year. Even then the success will be mostly defined by the games that support them as well as the publicity both receive. Microsoft will undoubtedly market the hell out of Project Natal (or whatever it ends up being called), but Sony will really have to raise the bar and not only get people excited for their product but also excited for the PlayStation 3 as, despite its progress, it still finds itself as the underdog in this generation of console wars.
Project Natal was announced and demonstrated with expectation at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2009. Preceding the event was rumor, spreading like wildfire, that both Microsoft and Sony would try and breach the ‘casual’ market where Nintendo’s Wii had done so well. However, there is one major difference between Microsoft’s Project Natal and what Nintendo and Sony are offering.
Both the Wiimote and PlayStation Move have something physical that can translate a user’s movement to a motion on-screen, whereas Project Natal does not. Natal uses a sensor ‘camera’ to achieve the same, without the need or cost of multiple controllers. “Though that was accomplished with the PlayStation 2’s Eye Toy” – I hear you cry. This is a crude comparison, because it is not just a camera, but also a three-dimensional sensor that can track the slightest of movements efficiently, even in questionable lighting environments. Not only this, but the technology can detect objects in the surrounding environment, be it gestures, voices or even people’s faces.
Statistics following the E3 event is that Natal is capable, so far, of tracking up to four people at one time, at 48 points on each body and at a rate of 30-frames per second. Not only was the potential made clear, but proof came from Lionhead Studios in an interactive application named Milo and Kate.
Milo and Kate was met with scepticism and was immediately mocked for its seemingly naive appearance, but the fact remains that if true, it is astonishing technology. There has been sufficient artificial intelligence technology, especially in games, for human-realistic recognition, processes and response for years. The problem is in the hardware; there hasn’t really been any break in the gap between AI and human intelligence, outside of research and development in Japan and Germany, and definitely not at a consumer level. Peter Molyneux, after having the hardware for ‘months’, was able to produce the Milo character and his interactive world within that time for presentation at E3. Molyneux seems to have masterminded a personified system that can do everything that has come to be expected with artificial intelligence. Only this time with real people and environments, rather than digital characters and objects within the confines of the game world.
There are other examples of applications with Natal even used to log into Xbox Live, and animate an Avatar, with an exact replication in real time. The sports games shown at E3 presented the movement in 3D space, recognized in conjunction with detailed object and sound recognition, presenting no limitations.There are no controls for the player to learn or for developers to program into the game, which perhaps paves the way for more disability friendly gaming environments. Project Natal is simple and seamless.
A number of developers have given their support of natal, with between 70% and 80% of publishers worldwide working on a Natal based game of some kind. Microsoft has created a business model with great contrast to the of Nintendo in particular. Microsofts’s Robbie Bach has said, in an interview with the Financial Post, that their model is “about third-party publishers making money. [Nintendo makes] most of their money from first-party games. It is a great business model, but it makes it hard for third-party publishers.”
Nintendo are doing well as a business, but are hindering outside-developers in the process. Microsoft has made a point of ensuring that developers are heading down the right path in terms of bringing “new ideas, new innovation, and new concepts to the marketplace”. Names like Turn 10 and Capcom have made it clear that Project Natal is definitely not a gimmick, it is something original and unique.
Peter Molyneux is prominently at the front of the charge with Natal based developers. Lionhead are not only leading the way with Milo, but this year’s Fable 3 will also feature motion control in some fashion. Speaking with Gamereactor, he voiced his prediction on Natal changing interaction like the mouse, “The mouse was the real revolution of the PC — not the Intel processor. And who’s to say Natal couldn’t end up creating something you and I can’t even imagine now. It forces us to approach technology in a completely different way. Before the mouse, we only had the keyboard.”
The PlayStation Move might be smooth and accurate, but that doesn’t detract from the stick with a giant glowing ball in your hands. The most impressive aspect of Project Natal is it’s intricacy. The subtle transition between movement and interaction, especially in a concept such as Milo, is key to what is to what developers want to achieve with immersing gameplay. Microsoft is bringing innovation to the table, and developers with it.