Magazine article Newsweek International

Finally, Microsoft's Got Game

Magazine article Newsweek International

Finally, Microsoft's Got Game

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Summers

After Atari popularized the joystick in 1977, videogame developers spent years cramming more buttons onto the controller. Then along came Nintendo, with a motion-sensing controller for its Wii console that was less complicated, and more fun. Since Nintendo launched the Wii in 2006, it has sold more than 50 million units worldwide--about as many as its two rivals, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, combined.

As any fan of Super Mario Bros. knows, however, invincibility only lasts so long. In the first half of 2009, Nintendo profits fell 52 percent to $772amillion, dragged down by a 43apercent decline in Wii sales. "The Wii has stalled," CEO Satoru Iwata told investors, citing a gap in the pipeline of must-have games.

Iwata should be worried about more than game development. Nintendo's archrivals, Microsoft and Sony, are poised to release their own motion-sensing devices in 2010, with Microsoft having the best chance to out-Wii the Wii. Its Project Natal product, announced in June, eliminates the controller entirely--instead of a player holding a gadget, a special device mounted beneath the TV uses a video camera, an infrared sensor, and software to identify a player's motions. The gamer's actual silhouette, not a generic avatar, can then be inserted directly into games.

I played an early prototype of Natal in May, and it makes the Wii controller's capabilities, once a breakthrough, seem crude. To win at Wii tennis, you basically just need to swing your wrist back and forth. In contrast, the Natal camera detects the subtle movement of your limbs. I tried a game called Ricochet, where you punch, kick, and head-butt a ball down a corridor to break apart bricks at the far end. It sounds simple, but because the Natal camera tracks the exact movement of each limb going after the careening ball, I really needed to reach for each shot. …

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