GDC: Microsoft Keynote LiveText Finished
Hello and welcome to Eurogamer's LiveText coverage of the Microsoft keynote address at the Game Developers Conference! You're a little late for the actual keynote, but you can read exactly how it unfolded by starting at the top of this page and working your way down. Apologies for any minor typos and sarcasm.
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Hello! We're in the Moscone Center waiting for the keynote to start. Should be about 25 minutes. There's green flashlights probing the walls and a big screen with developer nonsense floating around it: Nurbs, Breadcrumbing, Binary triangle tree, Trapezoid corners, Gouraud shading, Inverse kinematics. Brilliant.
It's filling up. Blah blah blah. Will this be the first speech ever to start on time? Who knows? I know some things though: Fable 2 will be involved - watch out for our embargoed preview at 8pm UK time. More from the spinning developer word animation: Resolution independence, ActiveNode.
Some of our favourite journalists are here: popular US blog superstar The Lion is here. We love The Lion. Come on The Lion.
Vanity board, Collision detection, Client, FOV, LOD, Yaw, Bezier Sphere. Presentation to start "in five minutes". Loudspeaker says can we turn off our electronic devices. No we cannot, loudspeaker man.
Bit twiddling, RenderState, Blend Weights, OOBB. OOBB! OOBB! They're playing the James Bond theme tune.
Shane Kim is sitting about four seats away, chewing gum. His "people" are forcing a cameraman in front of him to move his kit because it's obscuring Shane's view. Shane says nothing. "The presentation is about to begin." One minute.
Phil Harrison's here, looking tanned. The lights are going down. Come on The Lion.
So it begins. GDC man Jamil Moledina's here. "Good morning everyone and welcome to the Game Developers Conference." Incredibly faint cheers.
He's saying that it's not about the old structures of gamer/developer/technology/social connectivity any more, but changing in favour of some sort of community artform. High-minded stuff. All part of a long introduction for John Schappert.
John used to work at EA Tiburon, EA Canada and some other bits of EA, but last year "transitioned" to the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft. "Please join me in welcoming John Schappert." Boom boom music. "Thanks Jamil for that kind introduction."
He says it's an honour to talk to developers. He wants to clear a couple of things up. He apologises for having no tattoos or HDTVs for us, but he does have "one of the best jobs in the industry". That's not good enough, John.
He used to work on an Apple 2e "way back in the day". "My first real job...was Desert Strike for the Super Nintendo." Whoops and cheers. "All that fun stuff fit in an 8 Megabit cartridge. While I was programming by day, I was also gaming by night..."
He's talking about Madden games from the early '90s, which he loved. "Good stuff there!" Apparently he thought the SNES was a bit inferior to the Megadrive (Genesis), and "pushed hard" to work on that game. He was given a weekend to try and make Madden '94 run faster on the SNES.
Which he did. Lots has changed since then, he points out - technology, money, volumes of people have all leapt forward and multiplied enormously. "But one thing has stayed the same - the industry has continued to grow thanks to you - the content creator."
He pulls up an old EA ad that says "We See Farther". "I like this poster because it's a powerful reminder...it's the developers who are the true pioneers of our industry."
He says he's long admired Xbox for pioneering things in the industry, so it's probably just as well he's got this job isn't it. "When the Xbox 360 arrived, it ushered in high-def gaming and connected gamers around the world" - to TV and movies as well as games.
Oh good, he's bringing out the graphs. The US racked up USD 18 billion in revenue in 2007, which is huge.
The US games industry, obviously.
He says videogames are now bigger than the music industry in revenue terms. That's pretty big news. Well done, John!
He says they've been struggling to keep up with stock needs. "Don't worry - more Xbox 360s are on the way." Now he's thanking devs again - the BioShock folks, Halo 3's devs, Madden, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, COD4, Guitar Hero III.
He's very chuffed that Madden "sold more units on a non-Sony platform than anywhere else". "That made me smile quite a bit."
Big cheers for Mass Effect and COD4. Even a bit of whistling. "Do you know one things all these games have in common?" They all sold over one million units on 360 in the 2007 Christmas period.
"Games sell better on Xbox 360 because they simply play better on Xbox 360." He's using Metacritic to justify this. We have more titles rated 80 or 90 or above than the other main consoles put together, he says. 7/10.
"We've got the best development tools and the best online service. You can simply do more on our platform." He's pointing out that Achievements are amazing. What's your gamerscore, Eurogamers?
"The Xbox 360 community has now unlocked over 1 billion Achievements." BINK!
"Of course, the big innovation that I'm biased towards is Xbox Live." He points out what it does. "Gamers have activated almost 20 billion [Microsoft] Points" - that's over USD 250 million spent online, not including Xbox Live Gold memberships. Raking it in.
He's paying tribute to Halo 3 Saved Films. Apparently "the Halo 3 community is uploading approximately 100,000 pieces of user-generated content every day". That's more than all of the daily uploads on YouTube, apparently - 30 per cent more.
"Xbox Live is truly changing our industry." "Xbox 360 is the console of choice for creators of our industry." Now he's going to hand over to video testimonials. Ken Levine is a fan, as are other men.
Bethesda's Todd Howard likes how the 360 is "a very nice network device". Dan Greenawalt (Turn 10) likes not having to worry about things like making online tech from scratch.
Dany Lepage from Ubisoft Montreal says it's "faster than most things out there" for trying things out.
What an epic circle jerk this is, eh? Levine's back again. I can't really hear what he's saying because it's too loud. According to Eran Egozy from Harmonix, the record industry finds all this fascinating - over 3 million songs downloaded for Rock Band, he says.
And that's the end of them. Blib. John's back. "And that's why I'm so happy to be here today." He says he feels nostalgia for the old industry, 25 years ago, "where all you needed was your father's computer and a good idea". Which is why he is happy about XNA.
He illustrates this with Poker Smash, which was three guys scraping cash together and working in their living rooms. He says we've "got to unleash" the potential of amateur devs. We need the democratisation of game development and game distribution, he says. "An awful lot of democratisation going on today."
He's introducing Chris Satchell, who apparently is the "Xbox bench press champion". He's the chief XNA architect.
"Today I'm here to talk about the community side." He says 18 months ago Microsoft revolutionised the industry by democratising development with XNA Game Studio. "The response has been incredible." Over 800,000 downloads of the toolset. "That's a lot of creativity and passion that we've tapped into out there." Working with over 400 universities.
He reckons it's very educational, too. "But it's not enough just to release the software - we also needed to spur the creativity." They did this with the "Dream Build Play" competition, he says.
"The results were incredible - we had over 200 games from all over the world." The top 100 were great, the top 50 were excellent, the top 20 amazing. They had to pick one to get the contract for Xbox Live Arcade. "In the end we did what any great management team would do - we completely wussed out and gave four (contracts) away instead."
James Silva was one of them, apparently. Larry Hryb knocks on his door on video. Oh, it's a skit.
I'm not going to describe this [lazy - Ed].
Oh alright then. They're doing comedy testimonials from his friends and family, in which they joke about how he grew up. Major "Larry Hryb" Nelson now appears to be a TV presenter. Good work, Larry!
Everyone claps. James is quite a cool customer by the look of it. And now he's on stage. "Community Game Creator". He's going to show off his game. Dish Washer.
You're some sort of samurai taking on cyborgs. "It's sort of a personal story." It's a 2D hackandslash with a neat combo system, by the look of it. He says the greatest thing about winning the compo is that he can get up at 12, and that "thanks to the magic of XNA" he can put off growing up for another five years.
Bye James! We liked James. Chris Satchell says he's excited to play Dish Washer and the other games. "But what about the other games?" What indeed, Chris. He thinks it's a shame. "We can change all this starting today."
"For the first time ever this year you'll be able to have community games distributed via Xbox Live." "For free! Say for free!" someone near me shouts. Shut up you div.
Chris is unphased. "With great power comes great responsibility," he says. Good old Spider-Man. He's going to let the community manage the content: create, submit, review and play. "I'm not going to be the arbiter of what the community does." The community's going to have control, within basic ground rules. Democratising game distribution. Woo.
"We've talked about 'Create' a lot, so let's talk about 'Submit'." Your XNA Creator Identity will act like a Gamertag, capturing the progress of your products. You can then roll along blood, injuries, hostility, cruelty etc. on slider bars to tell people what your game's about. Then the game goes out to peer review from other creators.
They will be looking for prohibited content - IP infringement, etc. Probably child porn too. You're not allowed any of that child porn. Then: "10 million people on Xbox Live get to play your game." This means there'll be a thousand games on XBLA by the end of the year, Chris reckons.
He's going to show us a game called JellyCar. It's about physics and soft body something or other. "It's Tonka Toys meets Jello." Looks good. Next game is Belgian, "Little Gamers" - another 2D game, with chainsaws and zombies. A little man with a baseball cap chops up tiny zombies. It's got bullet time and a shotgun.
Chris says he "loves Quake". "I think any action game can be better with the application of rocket launchers." Good thing it's got one then. "We're also proving here that if your theme music is cute enough, you can get away with anything."
He's now showing a reel of other games. ProximityHD - some sort of Hexic-style puzzler. Trilinea - sliding blocks puzzle. Culture - spherical worlds with flower-growing. Rocketball - throwing stuff on the street. Dish Washer again. JellyCar again. Think Elasto Mania drawn on graph paper.
BLB. Clapping. Chris says if you're anything like him, you'll want to play it. You can go to Xbox Live Marketplace right now and download demos of Jellycar, Dishwasher and other community-developed games as trial versions. Go for it, kids. [We can't find them - Ed]
XNA Game Studio is also a great cross-platform tool, he points out. They're showing a testbed game from Redmond running on the PC. Apparently it's really easy to move it between the two. "Wouldn't it be even better if you could take this mobile?"
Not really, Chris. Aha, you can build XNA Game Studio games on your Zune. Woo!
He's going to show us what that looks like. Zauri, the game we just saw, pops up. You move the ship around with the touch-pad thing, and it looks exactly the same. You can even play music from your Zune at the same time. "This is my marketing director's Zune...Mine's in my pocket."
You can also build wireless multiplayer games for Zune. Bertie tells me the games aren't on Live yet - Chris wasn't specific, but he did say that they'd be there and mentioned that we should go for them "after the speech". Anyway: "This year we complete that vision - we democratise game creation."
"Before I go, I just want to talk about professional game development for a moment." Go on then, Chris. He's talking about partners. He's going to bring a leading middleware partner on-stage, he says. "This is a company [insert compliments]."
"Dr Michael Capps from Epic Games." He's going to show off the next generation of the Unreal Engine running on Xbox 360. [Gasp, excitement - Ed]
Mike Capps, president of Epic you know. "You may remember a game we did for Xbox 360 called Gears of War."
Go on Mike. "That's not all we do - we make Unreal Engine." Yeeeeees.
He's showing off a trailer reel of Unreal Engine 3 games. BioShock is one, Mass Effect is another. Lost Odyssey, Gears of War.
BLOODY WELL SAY IT, MIKE. So it's been a while since Gears, he says. "We've been pretty busy since 18 months ago." He's still talking about the Unreal Engine.
He's introducing Tim Sweeney, Epic's version of John Carmack. He's going to show us some of the things they've been doing since the original Gears of War. Ambient occlusion post processing filter - more realistic dynamic shadows off the back of THAT, says Tim.
You can add much more definition. Advanced character lighting is another thing. "We've done significant work on the character pipeline." "There's much greater contrast in the shadows, much greater specular lighting...much more detail on the character overall."
You can now do lots more things on-screen. Tech demo with "over 100" Locust enemies running around a typical Gears of War environment. Calm down. Water stuff has been improved, he says. Realistic specular and environment bits or something. More realistic splashes, sound effects. It certainly looks a bit special with rolling waves, etc.
He's talking about the in-game cinematic creation tool Matinee now. It's now much easier thanks to a real-time preview, amongst other things. "We've also incorporated Ageia's soft body physics system." He's got a cube of meat rolling around. It's gelatinous and sticky when you touch it. Elastic and buoyant - there's a fluid ball with viscosity and blah blah blah.
Now we can blow stuff up, he says. Another Gears-based demo with blowing holes in wooden fences using the explody crossbow thing [Torque Bow, Tom. Tsk! - Ed]. Destructible environments in Gears of War? That'd be interesting. That's the end of Tim's presentation. He's cheered off rapturously. A lot of Gears-based tech demos there. John's back!
"Having community games on Xbox Live is wonderful news for anybody working with a great idea." So he wants to talk about what all that means for gaming in 2008. He expects to have over 1000 games for 360 by the end of the year.
That doesn't even include the community games. He's excited by the 2008 line-up already - pointing out Burnout Paradise, DMC4 and Lost Odyssey as good examples. Next month the US gets PES 2008, Vegas 2, some baseball nonsense and Army of Two. "On April 29th we're thrilled to have Grand Theft Auto IV from Rockstar Games on our platform from day one."
"Along with downloadable exclusive episodes...starting fall 2008." Had they said the autumn 2008 bit already? I can't remember.
He says to keep in mind that "these are just the titles we've announced so far". He's going to invite to the stage "one of the best developers in the business". Ninja Gaiden 2 is in the background. This must be Tomonobu Itagaki... it is.
Itagaki's wearing sunglasses, a leather jacket and jeans with his trademark hair. Because he's worth it. Speaking through a translator, he introduces himself. He's wearing a pretty flashy shirt and he's going to show off Ninja Gaiden 2.
He's got us a special build for GDC. The translator introduces himself in third person and now he's going to play the game for us. "Please reconnect controller." Oops. We're going to be seeing The Temple of Sacrifice.
Ryu has a bloody enormous sword, and he's staring out over a sort of subterranean Christmas forest of flying monsters and broken dinosauric skeletons. He's running over a sort of Golden Gate Bridge made out of off-cuts from Lord of the Rings, fighting spindly silver Starship Troopers extras who shower him in green blood.
It's very dark. He's coming up on a scene full of chainsaw and stompy arm cannon-wielding enemies, one of whom pins him down with the chainsaw, before he can escape and start performing ridiculously swift double-ended mace and fire combos. Everyone's dead. It's very pretty. The music's epic and swooping, and now he's murdering some sort of angry grey scorpion.
Bad luck, angry grey scorpion! He switches weapons (not in real-time - there's a d-pad menu that pauses the action), and runs off in a new direction, staring across at what is presumably the titular Temple of Sacrifice. He runs into a sort of toppled tower then up and around some stony hills. It's a bit hard to follow. He's going to save his game now.
There's a sort of "record" feature for collecting and uploading clips of action so that others can download them and check out what their peers have been up to. Leaderboards with video proof? Excellent. Ryu is now fighting a bunch of ninjas using all sorts of massive windy spells and head-crushing attacks. He's not messing about, as the combo hit counter rushes to keep up in the top-left.
He uses a first-person view to admire the dead. It's okay though, because it's not relentlessly bleak and callous, probably. Aha, some sort of winged monster wants a fight. You show him, Ryu. Oops, the controller's unplugged itself again. "Must be a low battery." Maybe it just can't stand the fury.
Oops, Ryu's getting a bit clobbered by this one, who has a very shiny posterior. No match for our demo man though. ANd now we're into an in-game cut-scene where Ryu surveys the Temple.
A very angry boss man complains about Ryu. The game's out in June 2008. Apologies for the technical problems by the way - you have crippled our web-server, apparently. How dare you? Itagaki reiterates that the game's 360-exclusive. "Early June around the world," comes a translation. Specifically in the US it'll be out on 3rd June.
He says thanks and is applauded off. John's back. Next up he's going to introduce another developer. This should be Molyneux, and is. Hi Peter! I've been in Peter's hotel room - his laptop is quite small. "He's here all the way from Surrey, England."
"Right, now, I'm going to be talking about Fable 2." Two new features - "I think they're cool new features." He's going to do a live demo, which "terrifies" him apparently. First thing he wants to talk about is money. He's showing off a "pub game" called Keystone - "it's a little bit like craps", i.e. gambling.
He's betting on stuff, and now he's got 1000 gold that he can spend in the game world. "What you're seeing there is actually an Xbox Live Arcade game outside of Fable, and what I am able to do is take the money I win from that XBLA game and move it into the Fable world."
"Imagine two games talking to each other." He's very excited about this. "We are going to be releasing this XBLA game a few weeks before we release Fable 2." You can build up stocks of cash with Keystone and then when you get to Fable 2 you can go and buy stuff. Woo.
"Let me just point out that I am a woman." You better not do all the same jokes you did when you showed me this stuff on Monday, Peter. I'm not rewriting the ones in my preview [embargoed until 8pm tonight, remember - Ed].
"I have been pregnant. There is no labour mini-game." Shame. He's going to get some help from a colleague of his, Josh Atkins, who's helping with the combat on Fable 2. Josh is going to show off the co-op, which he's now introducing.
Co-op is available throughout Fable 2 - you can pull in another player at any time in the game. Josh comes in and can use his hero from Fable 2. Up the top you can see Molyneux - "The Molynator" and his Gamercard, while Josh is there too. "Any experience and gold Josh earns while he's co-oping in my game, he can bring back into his game."
He's talking about the dog again. One thing he skipped over without anyone noticing too much - you can actually tax the people who play with you, nicking half the experience points or renown they accumulate while in your world. The counterpoint to that is something you'll read about later in our preview, providing Peter doesn't do it in this demo too. Gah.
Anyway, he's showing off the combat. X does sword, Y does guns, B does magic. Tap for quick hits, hold for big ones. Co-op combat requires coordination. He's now wandering down the hill to his family home. STOP RUINING MY PREVIEW, PETER.
Aaand Josh shoots Peter's husband. "That moment is real - it's not staged. That husband's not going to come back to life." "That's the drama I want," he says.
Everyone laughs and claps. Re-read all of that with better punctuation in about 20 minutes when the now rather moot embargo expires. There's a bit more on the combat and that. John's back on stage. He seems to be wrapping up. "Games by the people, for the people." That's their new motto.
Every bedroom programmer has the chance to become The Molynator, says John. "You are all the future of our platforms." Right, here it is. Big trailer finish. That music. Gears of War 2.
RIght then, so far it's not in-game. Chainsaw bayonet clashes above heads, like saberlock in Star Wars games, and Marcus flips the gun upside down and uses it to skewer the Locust. It's all on a bloody background, and now we have a skull outline. "Gears of War 2." Epic logo. The end.
And now for a bit more - Cliffy B [hooray for the hair! - Ed] busts through a door at the side of the stage with a real chainsaw bayonet. "It's a funny thing about rumours on the Internet - once in a while they're true."
"Gears 2 is going to be bigger, better and far more badass than the first one." This November, 2008.
"Thanks for your time, guys. I'm gonna go kill some Locust. Enjoy the rest of your GDC."
And that is the end. Lights come up. That's entirely it. Enjoy the rest of YOUR Game Developers Conference, Eurogamers! From all of us here - The Molynator, Itagaki-san, Bleszinski and John Schappert, that's your lot. See you again on Friday for LiveText coverage of Nintendo's WiiWare session and David Jaffe's thing. Bye!