At E3 2009, Microsoft blew the media away with Project Natal, a motion-sensing device that allows you to control video games and Xbox 360 menus with your body instead of a peripheral controller. But the demonstration left some crucial unanswered questions about Natal and its future under the Xbox brand.
How much will Natal cost?
Natal looks like an exciting piece of hardware, but that excitement could wear off pretty quickly if Natal peripherals are too pricey. Part of the popularity of the Nintendo Wii is not only its innovative motion control gaming, but also its low price compared to the Microsoft XBox 360 or the Sony PS3. Microsoft's device looks more innovative than the Wii, but that doesn't mean the company should charge exorbitant amounts for Natal.
There's also no word on how Natal will be packaged. Will it only come in some kind of Xbox 360 bundle or will you be able to pick up Natal to add to your current system? Also, how many pieces make up Natal? Will Natal components be all in one box or will Microsoft leave out some crucial component that you have to buy separately?
How complex can Natal games get?
Microsoft created Natal to lower the bar of entry into modern gaming to anyone that can move his or her body, but will Natal appeal to the more advanced gamer as well? Painting elephants and playing handball might be fun, but what about crouching down in the brush to ambush enemy soldiers, taking cover behind storage containers on a space station loading dock or having a high-flying lightsaber duel against a Sith Lord? That may be the future of gaming, but is Natal the technology to do it?
If Natal really does end up having that kind of functionality, I hope Microsoft is smart enough to give you the choice of switching back to a conventional controller for those days you just can't bring yourself to get off the couch.
Will Natal be backwards compatible with current games?
Imagine if you could plop in your favourite edition of Halo or Call of Duty and start firing away without a controller? Backwards compatibility is an important feature for many gaming systems that are within a generation or two of each other. Backwards compatibility adds value for the user with a stockpile of games at home, and makes it far more likely that people will snap up the manufacturer's latest toy. Natal may be one of those products that is so hot and so far advanced that backwards compatibility with older games is either impossible or unnecessary, but it sure would be a nice feature.
So those are the questions on my mind as we look toward the future of gaming. What do you think? Will Project Natal work as advertised, or is Microsoft's new non-controller controller just a lot of hype?