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Microsoft To Launch Natal In 2010, Introduce Retro 360/PC 'Game Room'

Microsoft will debut the motion- sensing Project Natal for Xbox 360 in 2010, and will release a Game Room arcade environment for Xbox 360 and PC. [UPDATE: New Game Room details.]
Microsoft will release its motion-sensing Project Natal interface for Xbox 360 this year, the company confirmed today, and is also developing a retro gaming-themed "Game Room" virtual environment -- somewhat similar to Sony's PlayStation Home -- for the console as well as PC. The news was revealed in a video interview with Microsoft executive Robbie Bach, who briefly discussed Game Room and listed Natal among Microsoft's consumer releases shipping this year. During the company's keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show, Bach specified that Natal will be released during the holiday season. Early in the CES address, which began with a power outage, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer provided new Xbox sales statistics, revealing that the company has sold 39 million Xbox 360 consoles. Consumers have bought some 500 million pieces of software for Xbox and Xbox 360, totaling $20 billion in game revenue. "Game Room in some ways is sort of a retro approach," Bach said in the leaked interview. "There's a generation of people...who grew up with a set of games like Centipede. ...Game Room is the idea of bringing that back to the market, and bringing that to a very broad audience." That's an approach reminiscent of Microsoft's initial characterization of Xbox Live Arcade, which has since expanded to include considerably more complex and graphically-ambitious experiences. The service will launch with 30 arcade titles from publishers including Atari, Intellivision and Konami -- titles like Asteroids Deluxe and Centipede will be showcased in their original cabinets and playable in 1080p for up to two players. Microsoft hopes to offer some 1,000 games within Game Room over the next three years, adding multiple games each week. A player can purchase a game for 240 to 400 Microsoft Points, and then play it on either Xbox 360 or PC at any time; the leaderboards and friend system are shared between the two platforms. Users can also pay 40 Microsoft Points to play a one-off game on any title, as if putting coins into the arcade machines. An official Game Room trailer depicts avatars walking through virtual collections of arcade cabinets, signaling a more focused concentration on the retro, low-fi ethic and somewhat bringing to mind the virtual world approach of Sony's PlayStation Home environment. The user-created arcades are customizable, and in friends' environments, users can try their games before buying. "I think what we're gonna find is that when people can get 30 or more of these games, they're gonna love it for the experience," Bach continued. "And it's not just you and I who are gonna love it. Even the people who would call themselves 'hardcore gamers' are gonna say, 'Oh wow, this is fun!'" As Bach's CES presentation discussed some of the games launching on Xbox 360 during 2010, he noted that Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake will feature episodic downloadable content after its release, corresponding with the main game's episodic narrative structure. Finally, during a showcase of Microsoft's Media Room enhancement for Windows Media Center, which allows users to stream paid television content directly to their PCs (and therefore, to monitors and televisions), Ballmer also revealed that Microsoft will be bringing that capability, via AT&T's Uverse service, to Xbox 360.

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