Microsoft's Project Natal System Gets Gamers In the Game

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Steve Ballmer yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show talked up Microsoft's Project Natal -- a system that, if it does what's promised -- could give Nintendo's Wii a kick in the pants. The level of technology integrated into the system is clearly innovative, spurred on by Microsoft founder Bill Gates' interest in natural user interface research. It's likely that Project Natal will influence everyday technologies of the future, just as many other gaming technologies have done through the years.

Here are three reasons why Project Natal is likely to rock your world.

1. The games will move you. Natal encourages players to use full-body gestures to interact with the action on screen. So players are kicking, jumping and punching. A -3D camera tracks the players' body movements and then translates them into actions on the screen.

2. It's compatible! At yesterday's announcement, Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, said the system would work with existing Xbox consoles. Neither he nor Ballmer elaborated on how Natal would be sold, however.

3. Start writing your holiday wish lists. Be patient, the Natal won't be here until holiday time next year. But it's sure to boost retailers' spirits, as well as the slew of game titles that are sure to accompany it.

In the meantime, Microsoft will, this spring, open Game Room, an online arcade. Xbox Live users can purchase classic video games from the 1970s and '80s, particularly of interest to those nostalgic for games from Atari and Activision. Gamers can then invite the avatars of other Xbox Live users into the virtual arcade to play.

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