Lionhead’s “Project Milo” is damned impressive.

Microsoft’s Project Natal, the 3D sensing camera for the Xbox 360 I mentioned last night, is already resulting in some interesting applications. Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux shows off what they’ve been working on in the few months they’ve had access to Microsoft’s new toy. A fully interactive computer generated character called Milo:

Peter’s a legend among gamers for having invented several genres as well as some of the most beloved games of all time, but he tends to over-hype things just a bit. No doubt the demo is impressive, but when you consider the limitations of the Xbox’s processing power and storage you have to wonder if this is little more than a novelty. It’s one thing to simulate, say, a racing game. It’s another to simulate spending an afternoon with a virtual best friend. He’s certainly incorrect in stating that no science fiction writer has ever dreamed of this possibility as I’ve read several books that have proposed similar ideas. Hell, this isn’t even the first attempt at providing a virtual interactive friend on a computer. There have been dozens of such programs over the years stretching all the way back to Little Computer People on the Commodore 64. All of them were fun for a few hours and then the limitations of their programming became apparent. I have little doubt Milo would be the same though, again, it’s certainly the most immersive of the simulations I’ve seen so far.

I also find it somewhat ironic that Project Milo attempts to simulate exactly what a kid would be missing out on by sitting in front of the TV playing with their Xbox 360. Specifically the chance to go outside and play with a real live friend. I’m no Luddite by any stretch of the imagination, but for all the gaming I did growing up I also spent a fair amount of time outside with friends exploring the neighborhood and getting dirty. Whatever amount of interactivity Milo may have will always pale in comparison to the real thing. At least for the foreseeable future. Still, Milo does present a tantalizing glimpse of what the future may hold.