I'm finally decompressing from last week's E3 convention. Yes, The Beatles: Rock Band stole much of the show. But there was another innovation that caught my eye too: Microsoft's Project Natal.
Leading up to the convention, I blogged a few times about the rumors on Microsoft's motion-sensing controller. But the reality was a true blow-away. I went into a small back room where I got a hands-on try. Or, rather, hands-free. We've seen earlier attempts at motion sensing cams - most notably, Sony's ill-fated EyeToy camera. This is an entirely new bag, though. I got to play a racing game. To control the action, I just stuck out my hands, made a loose steering-wheel gesture, and was off. This was no Dactyl Nightmare mess. The controls were supple, precise. I made a slight counterclockwise hand-twist, and the car moved accordingly. To accelerate, I merely had to step forward into space. To brake, step back. Goosebumps not included. At the end, I talked with another jaded writer about it and all we could say was, "wow."
The wow comes in the potential applications. Yes, this will make for some compelling new gameplay - but what else? How about just moving around my files and data? It's that scene in Minority Report made true - point, gesture, wave - no mouse, no remote to clutch. There will be a lot of lame attempts to realize the potential of Natal, and maybe we're years away from the payoff. But it's the first time I've experienced a new interface that really brings the Holodeck to mind.
David Kushner is the author of many books, including Masters of Doom, Jonny Magic & the Card Shark Kids, Levittown, The Bones of Marianna, and Alligator Candy. A contributing editor of Rolling Stone, he has written for publications including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine.