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Published on June 9th, 2009 | by Cameron Woolsey

E3 2009: Hands on Milo

Cam: Hmm. I don’t believe I agree with the title.
Craig: It grabs attention, right?
Cam: Erm…
Craig: Let’s get started…

Cam: Peter Molyneux is as much a dreamer and innovator as he is a designer. If this happened to be a renaissance time, he would spend all his hours gazing at the stars and creating crazy-ass inventions he believes will change the world… only to spoil the surprise by telling everyone about them before they’re even invented. OK, I kid I kid, but as one of many who have been a little disappointed by some of Lionhead’s more recent outings, you can be assured that I did feel a little skeptical when I walked in that claustrophobic and cramped room inside the Microsoft booth. However, though I am a little skeptical about this latest technology, I do hold some hope that it can live up to the promises given by Microsoft’s favorite little dreamer. But enough of that, onto the show!

Craig and I are among the lucky few who got to not only see Milo in action, but I was able to actually play…erm..talk(?) with him (it?). Whatever. During Peter’s presentation of Milo, a few people in our small audience were chosen to walk forward and interact with the game. Since IGN was there, they pretty much got the first dibs on interacting with Milo. Once the first guy dropped back, I quickly volunteered myself right before the second guy walked up. You can call me an ass, but there was no way I was going to stand there and lose the opportunity that so few will ever have. Now, Peter was not showing anything new during this presentation. Everything that was shown at the Microsoft Press Conference is what I was able to experience, and if you saw the conference then you can recall the fish scene; the part of the presentation that I pirated from one of the poor IGN staffers*.

There is a certain distance you need to stand when using Natal. It is not like the conference where someone can just casually walk next to the TV to be recognized. I had to be at least five feet away for it to recognize me and place me in the right position within the game. I guess couch gaming with Natal just isn’t there yet (damn that suggestive conference trailer!). Looking around in the game is as easy as moving your head. While this is a pretty cool feature, it didn’t help that I still needed to keep my eyes glued to the screen just so I can see what I was supposed to be seeing. When I got down to the water under the dock, my image was reflected in the water. I was able to move my hand and the water and fish reacted accordingly. In fact, they reacted a little too much. Apparently I was too close to Natal at the time (remember I said there was a limit) and I found my other self practically emerged within the water. Walking back a step was all that I needed to get things in working order. The scene wasn’t necessarily jaw-dropping, but I was amazed at Natal’s accuracy as I moved both my hands in and out of the water, watching fish dart away as I lunged to seize them.

I suppose one of the main reasons why I am relating these scenes to you is simply because there is a notion out there now that the interaction with Milo during the press conference was fake. Hell, there are some people out there analyzing the video, swearing that some of it is even green-screened. Well, they may be right about it being faked—of course it’s a press conference so most of it was an act—but I can assure you guys that Natal is very much real. Maybe not as precise and advanced as what we were led to believe during the Monday conference, but it is real and it does work for the most part.The only issue that was experienced during this time was the fact that Milo is still unfinished software. He’s not a real person (don’t feel sad), so he cannot possibly react to everything one may expect him to.

When the IGN staffer whom I had initially shanghaid a turn from finally walked forward, he was able to give his name to Milo. When the man said, “My name is Jeremy” (not a direct quote), Milo promptly replied, “Hello Jeremy. I see you’re wearing blue today. It suits you.” Woah. Creepy. Recognizing colors and names is Milo’s more impressive feat. However, Peter stressed to Jeremy that Milo cannot understand questions, only tone of voice and certain phrases. Jeremy tried his hand at talking to Milo, mistakenly trying to ask a question during a couple times, but he couldn’t break through. Milo, apparently growing bored, started to do his own thing. Jeremy eventually yelled at Milo, asking for his attention. Milo responded accurately, looking both stunned and attentive.

Like all things must end, so did our time with Milo. I left feeling both impressed with the technology, but also a little confused. What is Milo? Will we ever see him as a guide to our Xbox 360s? Are Seaman fans giddy with excitement over possibly having a true talking fish-man-monster who, instead of complimenting their shirts, will let fly a random barrage of low brow insults? I believe, no. As interesting as the experience was, we may never see Milo in his current form again. Instead I view Milo as Peter Molyneux’s attempt to try and spark curiosity within the development community. Perhaps he wants to Milo to be the poster child of casual Xbox gaming. Perhaps he wishes to see Xbox 360 expand more into the casual community with real motion control gaming and player recognition. Perhaps he wants to kick the s@#t out of samurais whenever he logs online. Who can really tell but Peter himself?

During the fish scene, Milo threw the goggles at me. I told myself I wasn’t going to reach for them, but I still did. I guess I really am a tool…

*I have since discovered that the guy I cut off was none other than Jeremy Dunham, the Editorial Manager for IGN.com. I sent him a letter in which I promptly made fun of his inability to play with the fish pond. I am sure he find himself to be slightly annoyed. Take my better-looking, anti-ponytail wrath, IGN! BUHUWAHAHAHA! *twists mustache*. Check out his preview here: http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/991/991348p1.html

Now gather ‘round, Craig is next to speak.

Craig: As I stand in a room, with several IGN editors, Peter Molyneux, and my good buddy Cameron waiting for the tech demo for Molyneux’s new game “Milo” to start, I can’t help but think that his last two games have been disappointing. Not that they were bad games, in fact they were decent, it’s just that they failed to live up to some of the promises that were made. As the room fills and the door closes our sneak peek at “Milo” is about to begin.

Before I go into the details of “Milo” I should first explain “Project Natal”. Natal is a camera that is going to be the Xbox’s answer to the Wii. It can recognize movements and allows players to play games without the familiar feel of a controller. I was not too impressed with the overall presentation of “Project Natal” as I really do not find much appeal in flailing my body around like a fish out of water. Video games for me should be relaxing and after a long day of work I want nothing more than to relax with a good game and a good beer.

“Milo” uses Natal, and rather than have you kick your legs and throw your arms around, it allows you to interact with the game world in a way that has yet to be seen. First off, the way you look around the world is most impressive, as you turn your head and move the camera moves with you. This allows the player to really feel like they are in this world and can interact with it. Milo is a young boy that can recognize your name, face, tone of voice, and color of shirt. As of right now, Milo cannot understand questions, but rather tones in your voice. If you sound happy he smiles, if you sound stressed he asks if you are ok, and if you sound angry he might try to lie to you to see if he can fool you. At one point he stops paying attention and by yelling Milo he says “I was paying attention I swear.”

Milo can also interact with you by using in game objects. There is an instance where he throws a pair of goggles and tells you to put them on. He will continue to wait until you have made a motion of putting on your goggles. You then proceed to play with the water and run your hands through it as the water reacts accordingly. After this demonstration a new person that had never interacted with Milo before stepped up to the front. After the he stated his name for the camera we went back to Milo. Milo was able to recognize the voice and thus new the man’s name and color of shirt. This showed that this demo truly worked and was not set in stone by the programmers.

As it stands now “Milo” serves as a wonderful demonstration of what technology Microsoft is developing. The possibilities for this can be tremendous and if this is just the tech demo I am excited to see what other ideas will be incorporated into “Milo” I am not sure if as of now “Milo” will be a game that truly holds my interest but the technology and the idea sure does. We will have to keep a close eye on this project and see what develops.

Special thanks go out to Peter Molyneux for the gracious invite and to Jeremy for being such a good sport.

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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit

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