GDC 2008 Final Thoughts: Microsoft

Feb 24, 2008

The whirlwind of GDC having now passed I just had some random thoughts I wanted to share about what I observed and thought about each console. I’ll start in a Gears of War 2 surprise level esque fashion with Microsoft.

Microsoft – Setting the table for bigger fireworks in a few months

No Xbox-Blu ray connection. With all the hoopla surrounding factors beyond gaming (see Blu ray) on the Xbox 360 I think one thing that surprised a lot of people was the fact that no comment or announcement was made regarding where Microsoft goes from here in terms of offering physical HD video on their console. I mentioned this in my GDC preview and I will mention this again here cause I’m right. It’s just what I think but this past week really did nothing more in my mind than reaffirm this: If, and I mean IF there is a Blu Ray drive for the Xbox 360 you won’t see it announced until at least E3 for holiday release. Don’t bother e-mailing me with links to Joystiq, Kotaku, and 8bitJS cause frankly I am sticking to my guns on this until officially proven otherwise. Prototypes sitting on someone’s desk at Redmond and commercial release is like the distance between the Earth and Mars, especially with what we’re talking about here. Even I think the first bolded line is wishful thinking at best. About 15 minutes ago, Microsoft finally announced what they should have announced about 4 weeks ago. Production on the HD-DVD add on is over. That’s all I am saying about HD movies for now, on to the next point for me…

Peter Molyneux is a genius. A God developer amongst men. An innovator other companies and consoles only wish they could have. Fable 2 will knock yours, your neighbor’s, your mom’s, your wife’s/girlfriend’s, and your pet’s socks off. Fable 2 is the game that will make my holiday. Lionhead studios has gone out and is doing some things we could dream of in an epic RPG. Tired of clunky interfaces and 500 menus and maps on your screen? How about a virtual companion in the form of a dog that will guide you everywhere and point certain things out. And that feature is just child’s play. Seamless co-op. Yes, seamless co-op where a friend can hop into your game and fully interact and even alter outcomes in your character’s life. Come on, who didn’t think seeing the evil character kill the good character’s husband was cool? The child will even be sent to an orphanage now that it has no father. Not only that, the kid gets sent off to an orphanage. The limits of every possible scenario that can happen in real life are being tested by this game and I can only hope the suits and ESRB allow all of the content remain in the game without giving it an AO rating. There’s pregnancy in the game! PREG-NAN-CY. Sort of like Juno, except playable. The final piece of badass in this package is the way in which money is had through a completely separate game in the Xbox live arcade. It’s about time somebody brings this level of integration onto the console and uses the marketplace and arcade for more than the boring 2D shooter and various puzzle games we’ve seen on the machine. Sure, I am biased when it comes to this game without a doubt. But I can’t and you can’t help but think this game is cool and the vision of Fable that unfortunately had so many great features cut prior to release last gen, are finally making it in for what will without a doubt be a memorable experience.

The Gears of War 2 announcement was a REAL major surprise (Note sarcasm). Hey I know! We’ll show off the next iteration of the Unreal Engine with Marcus Fenix as the example for the improvements then wait 30 minutes to officially announce Gears 2 just to screw with everyone. The #2 most popular Xbox franchise behind the Chief coming out this holiday. Everyone saw it from a mile away, but it does make the holiday line up that much more impressive. They didn’t show us much if anything at all, but you know Epic will bring it for Gears 2 and millions of copies will fly off shelves. My big picture question becomes this: Is Microsoft really going to juggle a Halo and Gears game every holiday? (Even more running with the string) If so, Gears of War 3 as a Xbox 360 2, 720, shappadobado launch title?

Ninja Gaiden 2 guarantees more controller throwing moments. The first Ninja Gaiden was a visual and gameplay masterpiece. But, only the hardest core of gamers could handle it. I openly admit to beating it using cheats and unless I am able to do so again I really doubt I am going to be beating this one. Maybe I’ll play the entire thing on Ninja dog. The visuals still looked great but the leap from the Xbox to Xbox 360 doesn’t seem as great as it did last generation for this title.  The gameplay and blood lust however in this one is undeniable. It will be a hit and people will be picking up many copies of this game in June.

The jury is unquestionably still way out on Too Human. Although everyone who played it seem to agree it was much improved and will deliver depth and innovation to the genre and platform, it was all apprehensive. Silicon Knights’ Dennis Dyack at least assured us the release is coming soon but would not give a solid date. I won’t give a yay or nay to this game until I get to play it for a few hours myself. Even more interesting, he still thinks the game will complete the series’ trilogy this generation.

Xbox live is finally starting to allow for the delivery of XNA games over live. Ever since the 360 was announced we’ve been hearing plans of greater community content and how you can be the star and release games. Two years in it’s been no such luck. However at GDC (an appropriate venue for this one) XNA games were announced and released onto the Xbox live arcade. I recommend everyone sign onto live and check it out. There are some very sweet indie titles on there already.  

In the next installment, a piece about a console I’d never think I would write.   

Tags: Fable 2, GDC 08, Gears of War, Gears of War 2, Microsoft, Ninja Gaiden 2, Peter Molyneux, Too Human, Xbox 360, XNA