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Quick Impression on Microsoft’s Natal

Okay, I have to write this blog quick.  I tweeted that I was playing with the Natal, the new no-controller gaming system from XBox, and a lot of people asked me for my thoughts.  The long and short of it: I think it’s awesome.  Anyway, I don’t have much time, but here’s the rest of the story:

A couple weeks ago I was invited to “The Microsoft Experience,” a forum for showing gadget-loving folks in the media like myself all the new products that Microsoft has and is working on.  I knew we were going to get a chance to try out the Natal, so I invited my gamer pal Dave Yarvo along for the ride.

My friend Mike Bayman from Microsoft met us for a pre-arranged appointment at Boulevard3 to show us what the MS folks were up to.

Some of the stuff was VERY impressive: For example, they have a touchscreen counter with a type of touch interactivity that the iPad can only dream of.  Unfortunately, at about 30 grand a piece, it runs for a little more than the iPad.  Also, the new 3D system on their laptops looked incredible.  We watched some 3D videos that looked great, and played Age of Empires 3 in 3D which, strangely, was a whole lot of fun.

Some of the other stuff – the new Zune, the upcoming Microsoft phone, also looked fantastic.  But, admittedly, I’m going to have a hard time getting out of my 20,000 songs on iTunes to actually switch over to Zune – and I feel stuck to the iPhone because of the apps.  I also saw a new Microsoft tablet which is a lot like the iPad.  However, like the iPad, I have a real fear that these glossy screen reading devices are going to ruin the steps the Kindle (which I adore) and other ereaders took to have a more print-like reading experience.

But what Dave and I really wanted to do was play the Natal. Yes, it’s true – I had a bad experience working for XBox a year ago. However, I still think it’s the best gaming platform out there and was excited about what I heard about the Natal.  For those of you who don’t know, the Natal works like this: You stand in front of the camera eye and it senses you’re there. An avatar appears on screen, and it moves exactly as you do.  There is no controller you need to hold like in the Wii.  It senses all of your movements right down to your hands and feet.  First I played a game kicking and whacking balls into targets.  You have to use your entire body to play.  I absolutely loved it.  Being a gamer since I was a kid, I was really struck by the amount of physical exertion it took.  It’s amazing exercise and, because of that, I think it’s going to be a much better device for people’s health in general.  As hyperbolic as it may sound, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years we see a decrease in childhood obesity simply because of the system.  For that alone, I think it’s the biggest step forward in gaming in a long, long time.  But, despite that, the game was fun as hell.

Then Dave took his turn at the ball-whacking game.  I realized one of the benefits of the Natal is that your friends look ridiculous while playing it.

Then Dave and I played River Rush together.  It’s a game where you stand side by side in a river raft, so it’s two people playing at once.  To move right, you have to step right; to move left, you have to step left.  As you rush down right rapids, you have to jump up and slap floating stars in the air – the whole raft jumps up every time you do.  This game was even more exhilarating than the kicking one, and even more aerobically challenging.  In fact, I’d say the ONLY drawback to the Natal some people may have is that you have to get up off your ass to play it. But, for me, a person who likes exercise and gaming, it’s sort of a dream come true. An hour of playing Natal every night will definitely burn calories.

The Natal was an amazing piece of technology and I’ll be the first one in line to buy one when they come out during the holidays.  Bayman told me there were boxing and football and other Natal games coming out, but I really, really can’t wait to shoot someone on that fucking thing.

Before we left, Dave and I went and played Halo Reach online.  I’m not a big Halo player so was slaughtered instantly and numerous times by the Microsoft employees playing when they’re supposed to be working.  The game seemed cool but, again, I’m not a Halo guy.

Overall it was a great experience, and I’m grateful to Microsoft for letting me be a part of it.  Now I have to run!!


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  • Just curious about the phrase, “the new Zune, the upcoming Microsoft phone” — thats referring to the KIN right?

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  • Microsoft has won my heart. The Zune HD, as a media device, is hugely superior to the iPod. I also love the Zune software; it’s beautiful and fun to use use – unlike iTunes which generally sucks. Windows 7 is also a winner – it’s a big letdown to go back to OSX for work stuff.

    In short; I’m jealous that you went to this.

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  • Just Linda

    You know how I feel about Microsoft since they pay our bills and put a roof over our heads. Since my husband has worked on the Zune team and now the Windows 7 phone team I get to play with the gadgets and even though the Zune is a superior device (in my opinion), I think it all comes down to comfort and familiarity. I have a Mac desktop (that admittedly barely gets used) so I am familiar with the Mac interface but I just prefer my PC, which makes me the minority among my fellow web designers.

    That being said, we have and use our Wii but I suspect when the Natal enters our home, the Wii will get relegated to playing the occasional Super Mario Bros and other Nintendo titles.

    I’m shocked you didn’t bring Nick and JP! Or did Dave just win the longest straw?

  • Sick Duck – You’ll be quite happy with the Natal – it is to the Wii what watching Avatar in 3D is to watching a movie in a penny arcade.
    Personally, although Zune is a great machine, I love the iPod to this day. And I use a fair amount of Apple products (I have both Mac and PC computers in my home). But there are some things that Microsoft does really well – and gaming devices are key among them.

  • Oh, It still feels a little bit like a sci-fi thing to me. I remember myself as a six years old boy shooting ducks with a plastic gun on SNES. Things like big-ass flat screen and motion recognition were happening in my wildest dreams and in US TV series from future. Here we are, almost twenty years later with this. I can’t wait to see it in action! I know that Wii’s been here with for some time but still, this is how it’s supposed to look :-)

    PS: I’ve tried my friend’s Zune. It actually IS a good device. I have no idea why people in US booed Microsoft for that. My own experience with iPod was horrible. Even though I love the HDD capacity, sound is incredibly shitty, and it goes to hell so quickly! I had to return back to my old 8 GB player and I am happy again. Why is everybody in US falling for everything that Apple releases?! Please, don’t tell it’s ’cause of Jobs’ blue jeans! :-)