[Midnight Rant is a new Game Rant feature brewed in the the darkest moments of the evening, and served appropriately during the midnight hour (where rants belong). The Midnight Rant is meant to promote discussion, and should always be taken with a grain of salt. In other words, it’s a rant written at midnight. Share your thoughts in the comments!]

An interesting discussion popped up between a few Game Rant Writers and myself earlier today. The subject was what Microsoft would be showing at E3 this year. The disagreement was whether, in addition to Natal, Microsoft would announce any new hardware during their two press conferences. I don’t want to speak for the other writers, but their general consensus was that a new hardware announcement of any kind would be unlikely. Still, I can’t help but believe that Microsoft has something up their sleeve for E3 this year.

Is there evidence of such a fact? Of course not, though last year there were odd rumors of a new Microsoft hardware platform to be introduced alongside Natal. Also, last week new rumors leaked about an Xbox 360 Slim, featuring a photo of the thinned down console’s motherboard. Still, these are both simply rumors, nothing more than pre-E3 hysteria and a few clever tricksters, right?

It’s more than that though; there has to be more to Microsoft and this E3 that we have yet to see. Why? Well, follow my thought process here and see if we reach the same conclusion.

Natal is Microsoft’s answer to motion control and the Nintendo Wii. In essence, Natal is Microsoft’s declaration of war against the #1 console of this generation. Ok, but what does that make Natal then? It’s a camera, it’s an accessory, but is it really an improvement over the 360’s current controller-based design? Is it just a different control-scheme for future 360 games?

Does Microsoft have any basis of comparison, to make the Natal release go as smoothly as possible? Absolutely. Sony released the PlayStation Eye, a camera with an extent of motion-control capabilities to little fanfare. Since its release, the Eye has been all but ignored until it was shown in conjunction with the new Move controllers. Nintendo also released an accessory to their motion controllers: the MotionPlus. Similar to the Eye, the MotionPlus was not the hit that Nintendo was hoping for. There are now rumors that the MotionPlus will be built-in to all future Nintendo Wii Controller, potentially as soon as this Fall’s rumored new Zelda release.

Are you starting to see what I mean? Will Microsoft risk releasing¬† a standalone Natal and expect it to succeed on its own? Even with a high profile game coinciding with its release there’s little certainty. Wii Sports Resort was a phenomenal critical success, but that hasn’t helped the MotionPlus in the long run. Can Natal succeed on its own?

So here’s my conclusion: a new hardware release to coincide with Natal. Microsoft should try an release the next generation of Wii before Nintendo has the opportunity. Now, that can be as simple as releasing a new slim model of Xbox 360 boxed with Natal, or it could be a Blu-Ray, DX11 running monster of a machine. Whatever they do, they’ve got to create the atmosphere of a new experience, and not just another junky accessory.

You heard it here first, in the Midnight Rant.

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