XNA returns to GDC

Two years after Microsoft launched its XNA initiative in San Jose, the company is back, talking about progress made in making game development easier.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.--In 2004, Microsoft came to the Game Developers Conference to unveil XNA, an initiative to make game development easier and less expensive for developers. At this year's event, the company returned to tout the progress XNA has made.

GameSpot had a chance to sit down with Chris Satchell, general manager of the game developer group at Microsoft, to get the latest update from the software giant.

According to Satchell, XNA is all about helping developers trim costs and develop better games. And the fruits of that initiative were on display last year with the Xbox 360 launch, which he said was successful partly because of the lineup of games delivered by developers who could rely on the company's familiar DirectX 9 technology to transition to the next generation. Now, according to Satchell, Microsoft is introducing a new wave of XNA tools and technologies.

Microsoft has released a community technology preview of XNA Build, which is a set of technologies that are designed to help studios manage the complexities of game production.

In addition, the company has unveiled XNA Framework, a very "big thing," according to Satchell.

XNA Framework is a set of new tools designed to make cross-platform development simple. To demonstrate just how easy cross-platform development has become, Satchell showed us two screens running the same demo. At least, it looked like the same demo.

The demo showed a small spherical planetoid covered with 15,000 flowers swaying in the wind, along with butterflies, realistic physics, and a dynamic world. It turned out that the demo was actually running on two machines, one a PC and the other an Xbox 360. He explained that Microsoft commissioned an outside developer to make a demo quickly using XNA tools, and the developer was able to port the code from one system to the other in a day. In fact, Satchell said it would have taken less than a day had the tools not been in alpha at the time with many undocumented functions.

In another example, he showed off a game of mahjong on a smartphone running Windows Mobile. Satchell explained that Microsoft had brought the game's developer to its offices and had asked him to port the game to the PC and Xbox 360 using XNA tools. The developer had the game running on both systems in a day, and it took an additional six days of labor to gussy the game up to next-generation graphical standards. The result was a game whose underlying code was essentially identical on all three platforms, save for the graphical updates for both the PC and Xbox 360.

So what does this mean to the general consumer? Satchell explained that if Microsoft can make game development easier, then "content developers spend more time making game features," which hopefully means better games. However, it also means that the company hopes it can entice new developers to its platforms. While XNA was designed to help bring the massive development costs down for the major publishers, it has the added benefit of opening up game development to smaller developers. As a result, the company has released the source code to MechCommander 2, a 2001 strategy game, along with its XNA tools. The idea is to give newcomers an example of a working game so they can dissect it and learn how it works but also to give them a foundation to build on and experiment with.

Satchell wrapped up with updates on Windows Vista and DirectX 10. Even though the consumer version of Vista (and, as a result, DirectX 10) have been delayed to January, he noted that they could still help reinvigorate gaming on the PC.

Vista will sport some gamer-friendly features, such as a game advisor, but, more importantly, DirectX 10 represents an important new start. Microsoft has basically rebuilt DirectX 10 from scratch, getting rid of the older legacy libraries and replacing them with new code. Satchell hopes this will mean better graphical performance for the PC--which is important when so many in the industry are focused on next-generation console gaming.

Discussion

32 comments
SilV3RSix
SilV3RSix

This might mean that the 360 will get a ton of PC games, and vice versa... But what about PS3 games? Will developers shy away from supporting both platforms? That might be a bad thing

homullus
homullus

There's no way that most games would be cheaper -- wouldn't you keep the same price point? The likely outcome would be a little more game for your money, or an extra title or two released in a given time period. Probably the latter, now that I think about it, since a little extra content doesn't mean quite as much with a thriving resale and rental market, where a whole new title release can pay off so much better.

SnuffDaddyNZ
SnuffDaddyNZ

Speaking of legacy code... Back in the day, when Need For Speed 4 was released the game ran very poorly on my PC. I didn't know why, because the game didn't look much better than Need For Speed III which ran really well on my PC. However, if you copied a certain directx dll file from Need For Speed III and put it in the Need For Speed 4 directory, the game ran MUCH MUCH FASTER. I couldn't believe it at the time, and I thought that I'd found evidence that game developer's were deliberately adding slowdown code to games to make consumers want to buy the new videocards. In hindsight, what was probably happening is by using the old dll I'd removed some form of graphical flash from the game, but the graphics still looked good to me. In similar fashion, on a card like the Geforce FX 5600 there is a major performance difference between running in Directx 7, 8 or 9 in Half-Life 2/Counterstrike. There is a clear difference in graphical quality when you go from DX7 to DX8, but the jump to DX9 from DX8 is less perceptible, however the performance on DX9 on that card is atrocious, and DX8 nearly acceptable.

jgardner104
jgardner104

You know, Devil May Cry 3 SE and Resident Evil 4 are coming out for PC this year. It sounds like it would be ridiculously simple to bring these titles to 360 with improved graphics using XNA. I'd be up for that. Yo MS, can you here me?! Rengdar X

Impulse7
Impulse7

Hmmnm XNA framework. I wonder if this is similar in structure to the .NET framework (given its microsoft, thats probably a fair assumption). Now .NET has its opensource counterpart called "MONO". Mono can do everything .NET can, but it can run on Linux, BeOS, MacOS etc. This means .NET compiled code can run on Linux, BeOS etc. What would happen if there was a "Mono" counterpart for XNA? Say the PS3 comes with a 60gb HDD, some one writes a "XNA-Mono" and installs that on a PS3. And given that the PS2 didn't care what type of DVD you stuck in there and the PS3 probably wont either, you check if the DVD = "Xbox Game" and boot it into the XNA-Mono loader.... You could run 360 games on a PS3..... I'm microsoft all the way baby :D

darkasylum
darkasylum

Huh, I'm suprised there's no Sony fanboys here, talking smack about the 360. Guess it shows that fanboys are actually smart enough to pick a battle they can win, if any.

Vegeta-sama
Vegeta-sama

I wonder if some of the bigger devs make PS3 and Rev kits run with this. The revolution would be an obvious choice seeing as how it shares allot of simularities (processor and graphics card library should be simular)

GreyFoxV1
GreyFoxV1

Since XNA helps to streamline and cut dev costs I hope that the savings will be passed onto us becuase an extra $10 for a 360 game is ridiculous.

lobo1976
lobo1976

I think that since the Xbox came out the it showed that they were all about making great games and also making games look good they showed that sony was not really doing theyre best and it put the ps2 on its ass so to speak i own a playstation 2 and its not bad for what it does but i have played on the Xbox and i can say that halo rocks and if Ps3 stands any chance in that consoles battle it better do what it says and more that being said im still looking forward to a ps3

thefjk
thefjk

XNA... enlighten me????

strahd01
strahd01

this is awesome new for us gamers this means u can tanslate a pc game to 360 no problem which means console and pc users alike won't be left in the dust when it comes to great games w00t for MS!

PazUSA
PazUSA

Fantastic news for North American & European developers - it'll be interesting to see what the Asian developers do with this. Either way, I think it's a very smart, strategic move by Microsoft and hope it leads to great new games.

sanzoku
sanzoku

@ KamaKase: The three platforms where: 1 - WIndows Mobile Smartphone (Original game) 2 - PC (Port A) 3 - XBOX360 (Port B) Go XNA - better games from better development.

KamaKase
KamaKase

"The result was a game whose underlying code was essentially identical on all platforms, " ....ehhh? Which was the third?

bossjimbob
bossjimbob

If XNA encourages smaller, risk-taking developers to make games for 360 and PC for less, then gamers benefit. Heck, if it means larger publishers can shave 10% or 20% off their development budgets, that'll translate into more jobs, more games, and a healthier industry. Nice job, MS.

Mackilroy
Mackilroy

Seems interesting. Hopefully Microsoft will get a lot of mileage out of it

liquidcourage1
liquidcourage1

The PS3 is rumored to be REALLY hard to develop for. This is good news for MSFT. Let's hope they get the 3rd party support to actually use this widely.

MoonUnit
MoonUnit

XNA represents the future of game development. It's a smart move on MS' part that Sony had better pay attention to if they want to start to be known as developer friendly.

NeoJedi
NeoJedi

If developers can take more time making good games because of XNA, I'm all for it.

A_zombie
A_zombie

This shows that Microsoft cares about gameplay rather than graphics. Gameplay is what makes a game and a gamer wants gameplay rather than graphics. Sony needs to be paying attention or otherwise they'll lose a console war here.

ShockwavMk2
ShockwavMk2

This is hella awesome news! Hopefully as more and more creative thoughts start pouring out of Microsoft, Sony will start to realize that they should be doing something besides just selling a product to the gamers. I can't wait to see how devs first start to use these programs effectively. Something like Half-Life 3 running perfectly on Xbox 360 and PC would be indescribably sweet.

sirk1264
sirk1264

This is good news for future game development.

sasuke55
sasuke55

It looks like they are steping up there game this time around. As long as low cost developers translate to low cost games for consumers its cool wit me.

DMTyndareus
DMTyndareus

People rag on Microsoft all the time, but I think they really do have some forward thinking people working there that are helping to give the PC and console games industry a push in the right direction.

pyth0n13
pyth0n13

way to go microsoft, i'm liking them more and more. who woulda thought?

gaiden1024
gaiden1024

I heard somewhere else that there was going to be a $100 dev kit for the XBox 360 , that sounds awesome. If they do that the chances of me buying one will go up a hundred fold. I will save and save until one day I can buy my 360 and the dev kit. This will come after I've bought my Revolution of course :P

gaiden1024
gaiden1024

Sounds awesome , I'm definately keen to take a look and since I've been learning to program in .net recently I think little games and XNA may be my new hobby :)

magus704
magus704

As long as these new tools allow developers to make better games, that's all that really matters.