A Product Launch But Not As We Know It – The Project Natal Experience

It’s been a week and I am still coming to terms with the madness that was the XBox Project Natal launch. Perhaps I never will.

I’ve been to product launches before, and they tend to follow a fairly predictable pattern: Company Big Cheese stands up in front of room full of assembled hacks and announces A Thing. Press kits are distributed, and curly sandwiches may be ingested.

But I should have known that this launch was going to be different when we turned up at the Galen Center in Los Angeles to be greeted with a queue that was a thousand people long, and headed by these dudes:

Project natal launch


Once inside the venue, which was of Wembley Arena proportions, everyone was handed an interactive tabard.

A what??

Yes, the fashion item of choice for this year’s geek is an interactive tabard.

It was a long silky white cloak, with large plastic padded shoulders. The effect was eerily like Gary Glitter in his heyday. And everyone in the whole arena was wearing one. But when I got up to take a photo, I was told off by an attendant because there was “No electronic equipment allowed”. Er..so you fill an arena with international media to launch a revolutionary piece of kit, dress them up like technoghosts, but you don’t want them to take any snaps? Good luck with that one (As it happens I did sneak a photo, but I look like a dick so I’m deleting it).

Besides the journoghosts, the arena was populated by a troupe of Cirque Du Soleil performers. They were dressed like jungle escapees, and were already in character as we took our seats.

There then followed about an hour of dancing, leaping and atmospheric gadding about from the junglists, whilst the Tabard Tribe observed.

My weirdometer was already more than a little juddered, when the nine foot elephant with a computer screen on his belly wandered in. This guy:

xbox project natal

All of this went on forever, and entertaining as it was, we were still no nearer finding out about the product that was supposed to be launching.

Project Natal, or Kinect as its name was later revealed to be, is a new gaming system that works without a controller. So no buttons to press – you use your hands and body to play. To make a character on the screen jump, the player has to jump etc. Presumably to shoot you have to make shooty motions with your fingers.

We were given a preview of some of the Kinect games which will be launched later this year. The assembled Geeknorati were a bit ‘meh’ about these, as they were mainly family friendly games modelled on pre-exisitng Wii games (but a lot better). The one game that got the audience going was the Star Wars game, where you get to fight Darth Vader with a big lightsaber. That one they liked, funnily enough.

Towards the end of the event, the shoulder pads in everybody’s interactive tabards flashed in different colours – for about 5 seconds. It was impressive, but I didn’t really feel I’d got my money’s worth for looking like a dick all night.

And at the end, instead of a press kit, we got a cuddly toy with a press kit round his neck. What a mad night. Think I’m gonna have to get me an Xbox.



project natal los angeles

A couple of days later I went to the Nintendo press conference, where a Big Cheese announced stuff in front of a screen. We were allowed to keep our own clothes on. No elephants. Equilibrium is restored.