Microsoft seemingly could do no wrong at their GDC Keynote this year. After the typical drabble about numbers regarding how much money Microsoft is making, John Schappert, The Corporate Vice President of Live, Software and Services at Microsoft, went on to make some huge announcements. Some are bigger than others, but this was an important event for Microsoft and boy did they deliver.

The first big announcement came with regards to XNA, Microsoft’s free collection of game development libraries for creating content on the PC. It costs money to put them on the Xbox, but not much (about one hundred bucks a year). XNA is a great way to get some console programming experience under a budding developer’s belt. Now, developers will also be able to create games for Microsoft’s Zune. The games can be played online via the Zune’s wireless feature and can utilize songs stored on the device for playback during gameplay. Also, the community arcade is finally getting started. For those not in the know, the community arcade will allow anyone who creates an XNA game to put it up for download. This means the Xbox 360 will be the home to a potential torrent of home-brew games; this is a first for the console business. Obviously there are some restrictions; games must be submitted for review and anything containing objectionable content or abusing others’ intellectual property will not make the cut.

Next, the focus shifted to big name Xbox 360 titles beginning with Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden 2. If there was one word to describe this game it would have to be “bloody.” If one were afforded two words, they would be “bloody” and “fast.” This game is looking absolutely phenomenal. The action is so quick and the blood so…thick. Itagaki was on hand to personally show the game off and this gave way to some new features. Players will now be able to record clips as in Halo 3 and upload them for others to view. Ninja Gaiden 2 is looking amazing and now we have an official release date; mark June 3, 2008 on your calendar as the day. Do it…right now!

Next up, Peter Molyneux came to the stage and shed some light on some cool new details surrounding the upcoming Fable 2. First he showed off an Xbox Live Arcade game that was a sort of gambling mini game where you could earn money and then transfer that money to your character in Fable 2. What was shown was not very extensive, only a single game; we’re not sure if there will be others included or if users will have to pay for it or not. He then jumped into Fable 2 and collected the money before showing off something unexpected: co-op play in Fable 2. This is a huge addition and it looks like Molyneux and company are pulling it off thus far. At any time, another player can jump in and become your assistant. You can decide how to split loot and xp and when the other player leaves, he or she can take all the xp and whatnot gained in your game back to their own game. How cool is that?

Teaming up with a partner will also allow players to gain bonuses in combat. You can pull off flashy combos and get more experience points as a result. The actions of your partner can also affect your game world. In the demo shown, Molyneux’s cohort killed his character’s husband in the game. No worries though, just as in the first Fable game, you can just pack up and move on to another city and start a new family there. While the co-op was shown in offline mode only, we do expect to see it on Live as well.

The last thing that happened was exactly the kind of thing Microsoft needed to have at the show; Epic’s Cliffy B came out and announced Gears of War 2 will be hitting store shelves this November as an Xbox 360 exclusive. A short, stylized video was shown in which Marcus Fenix used the world famous chainsaw bayonet to saw his way through an enemy Locust. No gameplay was shown and nothing about the story was revealed; the trailer ended with Fenix saying, “…damned Locust…it never ends.” before fading to the Gears of War logo. What a way to end a show.

By Ryan Schaefer – 02/20/08

Screenshots for Special Report: Microsoft Keynote at GDC 2008