Microsoft @ GDC 08

GDC 08

GDC is in full swing now, with Microsoft having given their keynote presentation yesterday afternoon. There’s some interesting stuff in there, although nothing too earth-shattering, and a few notable omissions were apparent as well. Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

After going over the general positive spin on Live and announcing that gamers had amassed 1 billion of the meaningless, arbitrary points Microsoft invented (woo), they got into the good stuff – the XNA Community Games Program. The idea behind this is to “democratize” (they used that word a Bushian amount of times) the publishing and distribution for little indie developers on the 360 platform. Homebrew games created via the XNA toolkit can be submitted and peer-reviewed for possible inclusion on the Marketplace. It’s a great idea, frankly, and this is the sort of thing MS is good at – stealing another idea and re-implemnting it (in this case, “iTunes for games”). That’s ok though. The more the merrier. The real question will be, will anyone use it. There’s a smattering of proof-of-concept things up right now on Live if you care to peruse. Dishwasher is sorta funny; the rest are more like tech demos.

Also shown was some tech stuff from Epic, using the Gears of War engine. Continuing evolution of crazy terms only devs throw around like “occlusion” and “soft bodies”. Demo had Marcus Feenix fighting some sort of…. gelatinous meat cube. Kinda disturbing. Impressive tech though. Then the guy walked off without announcing what everyone expected, which was Gears 2.

Also shown was a new level from Ninja Gaiden 2, demonstrated by consummate Japanese self-styled game star Tomonobu Itagaki. (He’s still wearing sunglasses everywhere. He’s so punk.) Video here. I’m unimpressed, frankly. It still looks just like Sigma did to me but with more particles and blood – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not a new thing. The environments are definitely larger than before. I know the combat will be interesting and difficult and twitchy, and I know I’ll have to fight umpteen bosses repeatedly and they’ll cheaply avoid all my super-attacks, and I will curse loudly. Meanwhile fanboys everywhere will continue to conflate ridiculously rigid level design with “hardcoreness”. (If I sound jaded, it’s because I am. I finished Sigma. It was like giving birth to a tricycle.)

Peter Molyneux and Fable 2 go on after Itagaki. I never got around to playing the original, so I’m a little lost as to what has evolved. Video here. Peter Molyneux is really, really, really trying hard to plant some emotional attachment inside his games. I’m not sure yet if he’s pulled it off. In the video, he explains how his female character (dog in tow) can actually get pregnant and raise a family. At one point his henchman, upon being introduced to the husband character, kills him with a crossbow, and starts laughing. Apropos of nothing. Molyneux goes on to explain how this is all simulation based and there’s no getting him back… but meanwhile, the child character doesn’t react at all to his newly murdered dad, the dog doesn’t so much as bark… nothing is happening. It’s a little surreal. I’m not sure what revolution in emergent gameplay we’re supposed to be witnessing. But hey, it has drop-in co-op mode so that’s fun.

Then finally at the end, Cliffy B emerges with his replica chainsaw gun and says yes, Gears of War 2 will be coming in November. Sort of a half-hearted “one more thing” ploy ala Steve Jobs. Note to Microsoft: that trick doesn’t work if everyone was expecting it in the first place.

Missing in action: Alan Wake, which I’m all-but-convinced is cancelled; and Banjo Threeie, which everyone assumes Rare is working on. Also we didn’t see anything from Too Human, which was… really surprising. (Update: or maybe I just missed it. It’s still listed as a 2008 release.)


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