Microsoft has long been a (largely deserving) object of ridicule for, among other things, clunky operating systems, bloated applications, questionable business practices, the ZUNE, and most recently, the disaster that was Vista. (Full disclosure: I'm a Mac person.)

But for all that, credit where credit is due. (Assuming that it's actually due.)

Today was the last day of the 2009 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) Expo (department of redundancy department alert!), basically the trade show for the video game industry. While the big three (Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft) always vie to outdo one another, this year's biggest tech buzz was Microsoft's none-too-sexily named Project Natal.

On the surface, the Project Natal technology can rather simplistically be described as "Wii without the Wiimote." It tracks your gestures and body position and uses that information to control elements of the onscreen game. I.e., you actually become the video game controller. (You can watch a slick but typically cheesy promo video for it here.) Clever, but not exactly earth-shattering.


In 2006, Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios was purchased by Microsoft and became part of Microsoft Game Studios. For those not familiar with the development of video games, Peter Molyneux is literally a legend in the world of game design. Credited as one of the inventors of the "God game" genre, he is famous for a number of games that attempt to react to the player's ethical choices and modify the game world based upon them.

At an E3 press conference, Mr. Molyneux presented another vision of Project Natal technology which, if real (more about that in a moment), portend developments in human/computer interaction that go far beyond waving your arm to slash at that orc.

Here's a video of part of Peter's E3 presentation. Be sure to watch it all the way to the end of the video within the video.

If what we see there is really happening as presented, the moment when Clare hands Milo that piece of paper is the moment that a wormhole is opened between virtual worlds and (what we at least perceive as) the real world. I can't begin to imagine what the upshot of this might be 5 to 10 years down the line (jokes about Skynet aside).

On the other hand, another thing that Peter Molyneux is legendary for is making claims for games in development that aren't born out by the actual games when released. And frankly, despite his assurances to the contrary in the video, there are a few things about that demo that make it hard to believe that everything is actually happening live and unscripted (for one thing, it doesn't look like Clare is actually drawing anything on that paper - what's up with that?).

It was announced today that Peter Molyneux has been appointed Creative Director of Microsoft Game Studios, Europe. If this technology can actually do what he says it can, it could literally redefine what we think of as computer-based entertainment. 

This is going to be interesting.

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