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Natal: Why the hardcore should be excited

Opinion: Microsoft's new gadget offers more than party potential, argues Tamoor Hussain...

The lead up to E3 has changed significantly over the past few years.

The E3 of today is a far more transparent affair than it once was - thanks to regular, deliberate leaks from publishers and long-term marketing that pushes the contents of the show nice and early.

News-thirsty journos find it harder than ever to land a pre-E3 'scoop', of course - but for the gamer, it's a welcome avalanche of appetite-whetting information.

This year, we've been spoon-fed a notion for motion: It doesn't take a genius to guess that the two big themes of E3 2010 will be 3D gaming and motion control. Nintendo will unveil the 3DS, whilst Sony is likely to show more of its PlayStation Move controller. Microsoft, meanwhile, has scheduled a conference dedicated entirely to Natal.

The current library of confirmed Natal games isn't garnering too much excitement from the hardcore demographic - and justifiably so. Although Joy Ride and the rumoured dance game being developed by Harmonix may turn out to be great, they're not likely to grab the attention of the dedicated Halo, Street Fighter or Forza player.

But that doesn't mean the hardcore gamer has nothing to get excited about. Sure, it's unreasonable to ask them to buy into Natal this early - but it may be that their enjoyment of Natal comes in a non-gaming capacity - at least initially.

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One of the most exciting aspects of Natal is the potential effect it could have on the user-interface of the Xbox 360 - in particular how the player interacts with the dashboard. The promise of a Minority Report-like gesture interface system coupled with voice and face recognition is something that is undeniably exciting.

The Natal showcase video from E3 2009 showed two girls sharing outfit ideas over video chat. The outfits were grabbed from an image and placed onto the video, where they were integrated into the feed.

Obviously, this isn't the killer app for the hardcore (unless you like dressing up in girls' outfits, of course) - but it does suggest a willingness to extend Natal's functionality beyond gaming to applications and services.

With XNA readily available and accessible it may be that Microsoft plans on giving developers access to the Natal API to create both games and applications - and that is definitely something to get 'real' gamers' thumbs-a-twitching. (I suppose in Natal's case that should be 'arms-a-flailing').

An influx of casual, family oriented games is inevitable, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It will allow Natal to build and establish a solid user base, which in turn will draw support from a broader range of developers and publishers. You want developers to take risks on it? People have got to buy it first.

The casual market could sustain Natal while developers familiarise and explore what the peripheral has to offer. With well known creators such as Suda51, Cliff Bleszinski and even Naughty Dog founder Jason Rubin expressing their support for Natal, it's only a matter of time before new and exciting games designed for the tastes of hardcore gamers are released.

Until then, we can hope Microsoft encourages first-party developers such as Lionhead, Rare and 343 Industries to test the waters by adding optional motion control elements to upcoming titles.

While the tastes of the hardcore gamer are clearly being neglected by the current Natal offerings, hardcore gamers should still be excited about it. The peripheral holds the potential to change gaming on a fundamental level and also to reinvigorate the Xbox 360 console.

Games shouldn't be the sole focus. Natal could change everything; from browsing a menu and writing a message, to firing a sniper rifle and everything in between.

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