By Matt Cabral
February 2008 - The Game Developers Conference has long been known as E3's quieter cousin, foregoing glitz and glamour for modesty and moderation. Even in light of E3's swag-starved, booth babe-less makeover, GDC's still a wallflower next to gaming's SoCal-based buzz-generating big brother. The thing is, Microsoft, it seems, has disregarded GDC's well-respected and reserved reputation, and assaulted San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center with an E3-like blitz. Their keynote presentation, delivered by John Schappert--Corporate Vice President --was less a geeky business-focused tech talk, and more a gaming rock 'n roll show reminiscent of Peter Moore's tattoo-revealing E3 press conferences. In fact, upon taking the stage, Mr. Schappert joked that he didn't have any surprise tats to reveal; while technically, he was confessing the truth, it turned out he had goodies up his sleeve that'd top Moore's inked arms any day.
If you're a gamer (with a pulse), then you already know Microsoft used this event to drop the Gears of War 2 buzz-generating bomb. However, long before Cliffy B stole the stage, the big M's keynote took a hype-inducing turn that made showy E3 press conferences of days past seem like big 'ole gulps of antihistamine-laced cough suppressant. Sure, in expected GDC fashion the presentation started kind of slow, revealing minor tidbits that might get tech-school students excited, but wouldn't exactly get gamers buzzing or blogging; a video montage of developers--including BioShock's Ken Levine--hailing the Xbox 360 as a dream development machine, a lengthy presentation on the democratization of gaming, punctuated by the announcement that XNA dev tools would soon make everyone and their mothers game creators, and a tech demo of Epic's latest Unreal engine all upheld GDC's tech-focused rep. But then, as audience members began to set into a sulk because the Epic demo didn't include a Gears of War 2 announcement, the keynote pulled a Jekyll and Hyde.
And what better way to kick-off a transition to the dark side than with an appearance by the bad boy of gaming himself, Team Ninja's top assassin, Tomonobu Itagaki. Clad in black leather and dark shades, the Dead or Alive dev set the keynote on a welcome course to wicked cool. Through a translator, he quickly countered the recent trend of claiming Japanese gaming is growing stale with a straight-forward and crowd-pleasing "Japanese games don't suck!" before launching a balls-to-the-wall demo of Ninja Gaiden 2. The over-too-quick demonstration was a blinding barrage of green demon blood, flying limbs, and blurring blades. But, despite the fast-pace and continuous flow of "holy crap" moments, we were able to cull some goodies from the ultra-cool carnage. Traversing a dark level titled the "Temple of Sacrifice," Ryu takes on horde after relentless horde of demons sporting chainsaw arms. One of the buzzing-blade beasties knocks our ninja hero on his stealthy ass and repeatedly drives a mechanical limb through his chest. Of course, this is Ryu Hayabusa, so he quickly retaliates with some Ginsu-slicing goodness. The demo's midpoint sees Ryu reaching a save point that also happens to reveal one of the game's slick new features; upon saving, gamers can upload videos of their preceding butt-kicking session to Xbox Live. This not only allows gamepad assassins to brag via video, but it also offers a great way for ninja noobs to learn from the masters. Just think how much better Ninja Gaiden Black would've been if you could jump onto Live and find out how your buddies beat Alma. The Gaiden goods wrapped with a winged, scaly, screen-filling boss blocking Ryu's corpse-littered path. Thankfully, Itagaki's demo spilled more than demon blood as it also dropped a June 3rd release date for this awesome ninpo-fueled epic--consider our jaws dropped!