Microsoft unveils 'anybody' XNA

Everyday gamers can get a shot at making cross-platform PC, Xbox 360 games with XNA Game Studio; company envisions user-created games as "fully realized" as Halo 2.

Looming over the game industry are big problems, Microsoft warns.

Stressed game developers are burning out, universities are graduating fewer programmers and game designers, and small-game developers--forced to pay large licensing costs to make games--don't have the time or money to turn their innovative ideas into playable games, the company says. But a new piece of Microsoft's development technology is aiming to wipe those troubles out, all at once.

On the eve of Gamefest, the company's conference for developers in Seattle, Microsoft announced the XNA Game Studio development platform, "a far easier environment" that small developers, game enthusiasts, and students can use to make games. XNA Game Studio is an extension of Microsoft's cross-platform XNA technology, which offers gamemakers a standardized set of tools for both PC and Xbox 360 development.

Anyone can freely download the toolset, available in beta form on August 30 and full form by the end of the year. The toolset comes in two flavors: the entry-level XNA Game Studio Express and the advanced XNA Game Studio Professional. Developing games using Express and releasing them on the PC will be free, but those who want their games available for download on the Xbox 360 must pay $99 a year as part of Microsoft's Creators Club.

In spring 2007, Microsoft will release the professional version, the only way to sell games created using the toolset. The pro version will feature "new capabilities more geared toward professional game developers" and a higher price, said Scott Henson, the director of platform strategy at the Microsoft Game Developer Group. Henson declined to reveal the amount. All the various methods of selling games--digital distribution, Xbox Live Marketplace, and boxed retail games--will probably be available to gamemakers, but the details haven't been decided, he said.

Launching alongside the August 30 beta toolset is a starter kit containing tutorials and basic but "fully realized games" that beginning developers can tinker with to learn the ins and outs of programming.

Ports of classics like Pac-Man and Galaga on Xbox Live Arcade are just the "low end" of what the toolset can create, Henson told GameSpot during a phone conference prior to Gamefest.

"Our ambition is to get a game as fully realized as, maybe, Halo 2," he said. "We don't know if we'll get there...but certainly we envision being able to do that with this technology."

As larger companies focus solely on making guaranteed hits, they often fail to imagine new ideas or genres, Henson said. Counter-Strike--the mod to Valve Software's original Half-Life that became one of the most popular games in history--is one "great example" of ambitious game hobbyists producing something fresh.

"Who's going to be the next Doom? Who's going to be the next Counter-Strike?...All [their developers] were, quote, hobbyists at some point," Henson said. "And that's where the really inspired ideas that really bubble up and create the next phenomenon come from."

More than 10 universities, including the University of Southern California and Georgia Tech, have agreed to use XNA Game Studio Express in their curricula, said Dave Mitchell, the director of marketing at the Microsoft Game Developer Group. In an industry whose developers are only 1 percent female, university-sponsored "boot camps"--where kids, and especially girls, can get an early introduction to programming and game development--are crucial, he said.

Though some criticize best sellers such as The Sims 2 and World of Warcraft for stalling innovation--the two regularly dominate sales charts, pilfering money away from new titles, critics bemoan--people forget that Blizzard's massively multiplayer online role-playing game and EA's virtual-life sim were landmark innovations upon release, Henson said. And it never hurts to usher in new blood.

"All of the dynamics that we've talked about--why we're so excited from an enabling perspective--is why [World of Warcraft] is so popular," he said. "We've got a growing industry in terms of overall dollars, but we don't have a growing audience. And if we're going to grow the audience, we're going to have to see more than the types of games topping the charts."

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Discussion

488 comments
Sidrat2004
Sidrat2004

You can have all the coding and pixellated graphical experience as you want. If you haven't got a good idea in your body then no amount of coding will make an enjoyable game. I'm going to take a look at the suite and see what it can do and how it does it, as I do have ideas in my head. Maybe not good ideas but ideas nonetheless. And from a bad idea, great ideas and story telling mechanics come through, eventually. So thank you Microsoft. And if I have to learn to code properly, then having the support of an MS forum won't be as bad as all that it could be.

Larrymon2000
Larrymon2000

And with one fell swoop, hundred of voices were silenced - silenced by the cries of millions of teenagers asking what class templates and encapsulation are.

LordAndrew
LordAndrew

It's certainly interesting, but a lot of kids are going to be disappointed when they realize they actually have to know how to code. :(

slingshot_ylo
slingshot_ylo

For what it's worth, I do think it is a good gesture by MS because our industry is growing and it will need new blood and new ideas to sustain it in the years to come unless everyone wants to play sequel after sequel of the games we already have. Who knows, this might inspire the next Miyamoto or [insert favorite designer here] . It's not for everyone but I think in the end it will benefit the gaming community as a whole.

raviki
raviki

I think this is gong to be great. Now everyone can make his own games. I dont know how many people are able to use it but I am sure that it will gives people a lot of posibilities that are simply not possible without it. Glad to have a 360!

Wasted256
Wasted256

Not a bad idea, just not a good one either.... what they must create is a tool that anyone with ambitious ideas can use. Simple interface to create complicated rules. Being a programmer myself, i can surely agree with slingshot_ylo that; if you have had no experience with program language it isnt going to come to you easily. I like the idea, so let's see what comes of it - hopefully microsoft doesnt start coining mandatory publishing laws or something

SuicidalManiac9
SuicidalManiac9

I think that this will be quite cool but I am worried that it will be like other game developing tools and just be really frustratingly complicated.

slingshot_ylo
slingshot_ylo

Not trying rain on anyone's parade, but I seriously doubt anyone here without some background in programming is going to be able to create anything "as fully realized as Halo 2." Game development is a long, difficult, frustrating, and expensive process. It is also a TEAM process. Think about all those names you see in the credits of games. It might take a team of hundreds of people SEVERAL YEARS to create a game, and these guys are the supposed professionals. I apologize to all of those budding lonewolves out there, but I am just trying to be realistic. If you want try your hand at game creation,try GameMaker (www.gamemaker.nl). If your games actually turn out to be any good, then move on to programming and see if you can translate your ideas and game logic into workable code. Good luck! By the way, something like this has been done before with the PS1 (NetYaroze) and PS2 (Linux Dev Kit).

doffythebest
doffythebest

I'll just leave the gaming buisness to profs..

swollenmember89
swollenmember89

WOW! this is so unreal!!!! OMG! im am going to create the sickest newest most innovative piece of gaming artwork this world has ever seen!!! everyone will remember what game i made! ......it will revolutionize the games we have now..

coltACP
coltACP

It seems like a counter to the Wii, with normal people creating the NEW ideas in gaming which are very likely going to have xbox esque graphics-but one downside i see is tha controller is still standard form so what we are going to see from this is alot of fan based CLONES of game we already know, or poor inplementaions of 'nice' ideas. It is hard to make a new type of game using the same interface, but it is a positive step trying to get us back to the 1980's of gaming. As to developers burning out? nonsense, we will have just as much trouble making games as them, only we won't have the time constraint constantly over us(except maybe a 5 year one). If something similar was done for Wii i would likely choose that platform due to the possibilities of the new interface. The liscensing issue is STILL an issue though even with back room games creating, likely people can be sued for infringing on others ideas-it could get overly complex and messy-esp in U.S.A.

MxBlackDragon
MxBlackDragon

This are good news but Didn't Sony did this already with the PS1?

GPSnake03
GPSnake03

This is gonna be great....................

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

Video games get easier and easier to make just like 3D graphics. One day we should see the ultimate/fun game making software. -Making GOOD games will remain extremely rare no matter how easy it gets.

Zemper
Zemper

jahahahahaha everybody thinks they will make a "BEST GAME EVER" but...it is very hard to make games....VERY

tunels
tunels

yes finally. i get a chance to begin my career in game developement.

footballguy101
footballguy101

Hopefully it evolves and becomes even more user friendly

alcarazo9
alcarazo9

sweet!!!!! i bet some people have gret ideas including me :D

thefjk
thefjk

That is why M$ is kewl, helping the industry like this deserves a medal... this means that in 20 years to come GS will not have to shutdown their site due to the possible lack of 'games'... becuase steps to prevent that are taking place now! Am so happy now!

MASTERMOSQUITO
MASTERMOSQUITO

Is just the starter kit going to be $99 a year or are all the attachments included?

surid
surid

great news for x360 gamers indeed :)

lord-azrael
lord-azrael

This reminds me of the black playstation where you could make your own games,but I never seen one but a playstation mag used to give discs away with loads of homemade games that sucked but in a funny way

aliens1234
aliens1234

I think this is great news, nice to see microsoft doing this

kittencrusher
kittencrusher

This is dumb. There's already plenty of EASIER TO USE game dev tools available to Independent Game Devs. Blitz Basic simplifies Direct X programming, I'd use Blitz Basic WAAAY before I attempted programming in MS's workstation software. Another good app for programming in 2D games is Multimedia Fusion 2. For those interested, just go to www.blitzbasic.com and www.clickteam.com . You'll find all the game development tools you'll ever need at those two addresses. What Microsoft is doing is neat I suppose, but you can ALREADY DO THIS ON YOUR OWN ON THE PC, AND FAR EASIER.

Chikinware
Chikinware

This is not going to be any easier for non-coders do you not get that. It uses C# a fully fledged programming language!!!!!! If you haven't bothered to use a game engine before this, I doubt you'll learn to code now for this one.

anamnawshad
anamnawshad

Sounds cool but I'll never do programming:P

Chris310
Chris310

Sounds kwl. It's worth a try

dechristo
dechristo

i like this i have never done this before but this looks fun

Dexrid
Dexrid

Though everybody keeps talking about other engines being around ages, it's not about those other engines. it's about M$ making this engine and im pretty sure it'll be far more simplified for coders or non-coders. The fact is that this will encourage a hell of a lot more players to use what little skill they have and be as creative as far as their ablilites allow them to go. I feel that there are opportunites within this ordeal. Someone or some group can make a game so great using this software that he/she/ or they may be offered opportunities at present gaming companies or even get payed to offer their ideas. Im sure everyone would love to be able to play games that we feel should have made it to 3d by now. For example, streets of rage, and uncomplete sagas like shenmue (you may have to consult sega :) ) But the fact of the matter is that many people would love to create games that they like and whatever they chose to do with what they make is their business.

KingXerxes
KingXerxes

There have been many absolutely first-rate mods and maps and TCs produced for free by "amateurs" whose work is of the highest professional standards. May I mention the freeware add-ons for Unreal: Operation Na Pali and Return to Na Pali? The generosity of these developers in the modding community may in the future be rewarded, with the might of Microsoft ensuring the new "fan-made" games reach wide audiences. People like the members of Team Vortex and others deserves to make bundles of money - their work is so good. Overall this is a great idea by Microsoft: it will unleash loads of new talent directing their efforts to the PC and the XBOX360; the average cost of games will probably drop; there will loads more innovation and risk-taking in gaming concepts, and modders now working for free can give up their day jobs. It's brilliant. Everyone wins, ('cept maybe Sony).

agent401
agent401

As much as I want to make my own games, I'm probably not going to get it since I have very little programming expierience (I took a visual basic class last year but really sucked at it). Even if it is "new-user friendly", the most complicated thing I've ever done on a computer was a photoshop animation :(

Chikinware
Chikinware

Barlienb: Being an independent developer myself I can tell you this is no new way to save money. There are several free engines everywhere that use even better features than this one. In no way at all is this any different.

twocinc
twocinc

SH_Algernon: I agree. If developers were willing to use interpreted code, there would already be major games developed in Java, as Java's platform independence and runtime environments already available for Unix and Mac systems would have made ease of portability very attractive years ago. My suspicion is that M$ plans on offloading alot of math to the hardware. Coding DirectX for a specific platform with known hardware would be a lot easier than coding for a range of hardware like you do on most DX projects now, and I'd expect Microsoft to attatch another layer of abstraction to the current DX API to capitalize on this. Halo 2 might become possible because they could opitimize for the specific hardware, as well as because the 360 hardware far outshines the original XBox. That said, the hardware features (3 independent cores with multiple hardware threads) are complex enough, that I think the threading features are going to discourage the casual coder. If Microsoft wants to give casual coders a chance, they'll need to include optimized APIs for physics, AI, video buffer management, viewport and world coordinate translations (that don't take a lot of math to understand), reading input, threading (including mutex and synchronization), sound, etc, and even then it would take a lot of experiementing to produce even rudimentary content. I suspect that most user created games will be, as RMGreen said, arcade style, which isn't bad, but don't expect to see a bunch of Halo 2's. BTW, there are obfuscation tools available for .NET assemblies (like dotfuscator) that make them all but impossible to de-compile meaningfully.

thomasonfa
thomasonfa

This is a good thing for gamer, never before has something like this has been done on a console. Maybe people will get so well at this we will see emulaters and hacked software, also think about the clones that could available of your favorite games, some one should work on a OP Flashpoint game. * HINT HINT* Only thing that I am hoping is that people think big with this because this could lead to some unknown game developer perhaps it is one of you.

BongBoy17
BongBoy17

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

1337pwnage
1337pwnage

Consoles trying to be like PCs again. Not that it's a bad thing.

braceamnell
braceamnell

This is where the Modding Community will start to see the lime light as a whole. Big brother industries beware. It's time to step up your game!

Lazy_Boy88
Lazy_Boy88

Prettymuch no one but small dev studios are really going to be able to utilize this so I don't see why everyone thinks they personally are going to make the next Halo. Still very good for gaming though...

Slaveways
Slaveways

should be interesting to try out...

DeathgiverX
DeathgiverX

Nice idea of the XNA kit, definitely grabbing that. $99 to release a game on Xbox 360 that I will not get any money from? Not a good idea, don't expect any fanmade 360 releases to be popping up, good for the PC though.

yoscar
yoscar

"This is nothing new engines have been available for ages. It still requires coding skills so I don't see why all these code n00bs are getting worked up." Lol! Ignorance. I started coding because I just got interested in it! And I started doing it by myself, not because the school made me do it. It's easy if you go to a web page with tutorials, and just follow the instructions. Hobbyism is about doing something you have passion/interest for, and you start from nothing (saying that you start at a young age, not taking it as school work). All you need is patience, and well, creativity to make it work.