Would Natal Enable User-Generated Mo-Cap?

Let's start the week with a million-dollar-idea, courtesy of Kotaku, offered for free.

An idea's been rattling in my head I'd like to share (reader warning: I'm home sick today). It's an idea for the Xbox 360's controller-free control system, Project Natal, for which I've been able to get no official comment.

Perhaps folks don't like my idea. Or perhaps they are silenced by its greatness.

So here it is: user-generated motion-capture. Create your own victory animations for characters in Fight Night or Halo or Madden using Natal's ability to read the movements of your body.

Earlier this month, at E3, I tried Microsoft's Project Natal and saw how it read my controller-less body's movements with its camera and sensors. I waved my arms or pretended to steer a steering wheel. Stuff happened on screen. To help me understand what was happening, I was shown a monitor that displayed what Natal "saw": my body, simplified as a stick figure, with joints matched to my major joints: elbows, shoulders, hips, etc. Natal was identifying my body frame and interpreting its movement, mapping it to the movements of a car in Burnout Paradise or a translucent dodgeball player in the mutant-gym-class demo Ricochet.

As days and weeks passed, I heard from developers both excited and skeptical about Natal. In those conversations, the user-generated motion-capture idea emerged. If Natal could read the movements of my skeleton, then surely it could map those movements onto the skeleton of a human character in a video game?

Forget merely taking a picture of one's face to create a Fight Night fighter who looks just like you. Instead, stand in front of Natal and act out the pose you want your fighter to strike when he's introduced by the ring announcer. customise your wide receiver's touchdown celebration in Madden. Then have it mapped to the player to perform every time he makes a big play. Tired of seeing people trigger their teabag animation in Halo 3 multiplayer? Create your own per-kill victory animation that you first puppeteered from your living room and map it to the d-pad (obviously this is where the idea gets ESRB-sensitive).

There are technical problems with this idea. User animations might not sync with a game's collision rules, making that custom boxer pose in Fight Night a nightmare of fighter's arms going through nearby trainers and managers' torsos. There is the problem of inappropriate animations.

And there's the problem of having no idea if Natal could do this.

Microsoft doesn't want to talk more about Natal until closer to consumer launch, a rep told me when I asked about the following notion a couple of weeks ago. EA Sports, an outfit I thought would be good to address this, hasn't had anyone available to talk as of last week. Motion capture experts I called late last week have not called me back.

One developer I spoke to who is familiar with Natal thought the idea was do-able, but what do I know about what he knows?

Back at E3, when I was bedazzled by the head-tracking Natal enabled in Peter Molyneux's virtual-boy Milo demo, I suggested to a developer of shooter games that such head-tracking would work well in his games. Players could lean in their chairs to look around corners in a game. Good stuff, right? He said you'd not want a feature like that, that it would alienate those who didn't have Natal. If it was going to be an essential mechanic, you'd only want to put head-tracking in games made just for that peripheral. So what kind of Natal-enabled features wouldn't curtail the ability of non-Natal owners to enjoy a game? How about user-generated motion-capture?

Bear in mind, this could just be the fever thinking.


    Isn't the whole point of Natal and 1:1 motion that there are no presets? Why not just give you control over your character as you're being introduced in fight night, so you can do a different pose every time?

      Seconded. I like the idea of custom animations but the ability to do it on the fly instead of pre recording is a huge plus. I also think that the avatar connection will be used more. I have seen those little guys and gals paralised from the waist down for too long. I expect that Natal will allow control of these guys in and out of games.
      Better check your posture, everyone is watching!

    Fairly good idea. When you say but there is the thought of inapproriate animations being made in the victory animations. Halo 3 is rated M - its purely FOR mature audiences.

    Anyone who has played Online Multiplayer KNOWS (that should be everyone, cause if you haven't played it online, you have no life) that young kids do play.

    However, since it has that M rating, young kids cannot go and buy the game themselves. So your idea is do-able in Halo 3. Its the parents or childs fault for being offended (which i doubt the child will, just make them whinge and cry through the headset and get really angry and stuff up and die again) because the parent bought the game knowing the rating wasnt for their child.

    If it was PG or G and something happened, then Microsoft can step in and say, no, that isn't allowed because this is a GENERAL rated game.

    I had been thinking about this as well. I work in mocap and have been really hoping they will allow a devkit for windows, It would be great to be able to put motion capture into the hands of the enthusiast rather than just the studios.
    It should also allow for perfect 'greenscreen' work, which would make titles like 'you're in the movies' a hell of a lot better.

    Oh, and as to feasibility, the game would have to be written with it in mind. It would be possible, but a lot of work. You would have to decide on sample points, number of samples, length of animation and remapping that to the in-game character. Not impossible, but would take some work.

    The main problem with natal is what the 'shooter developer' said. They don't want to develop what would be a truly excellent feature (like head tracking) if it would alienate non-natal users. That is why it is likely to fail. Unless it was so cheap as to be able to be bundled with a game or be available for like AUD$30 then not enough people will buy it to make the developers use it, which will stop people wanting to buy it etc.
    The next generation of console that *came with* natal would make sense as a developer would know everyone had it and could happily program for it, like they do for the wii. An optional, and probably pricey peripheral is unlikely to get wide acceptance unless it is an absolute must have, like a guitar controller.

    How could you change your viewpoint in a FPS by turning your head, and still look at the TV screen?

    If you turned your head to look left and right you'd have to keep your eye's looking straight ahead. It wouldn't feel very natural, which would defeat the whole purpose.

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