Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Xbox 360 Game Software Development - make your own games!

Microsoft just announced that they will finally make available to the general public its Xbox 360 game development platform called XNA Game Studio Express. The development platform requires you to have a Windows XP computer, and pay an annual $99 fee for the permission to build, test, and share your home-grown XBox 360 games. They are promising access to other useful development resources as well.

This is something I called for back with the original Xbox, and as a Microsoft Certified Partner I even called my Microsoft contacts to see about getting a development kit for the original Xbox - to no avail. When MS originally released the game platform, you had to go through all sorts of ridiculous steps just to be considered as a possible Xbox game developer, regardless of your software development capabilities. This basically kept just the large game studios in the fold, and left any would-be game developers out of the action. The supposed reasons used at the time were that Microsoft wanted to control the quality of all games for the Xbox, approve the content and game/story flow, and be involved (of course) in the marketing efforts and release-timelines. I remember watching videos of them working closely with the Halo crew and the Crimson Skies crew throughout development -- talking all about how this ensured great games. Well, that may have been the case for like the first 10 games or so, then it seemed that MS (under pressure to crank up the number of games available for the Xbox) let this approval process and scrutiny of games for the Xbox platform just go down the tubes -- as I began to see 10s, 100s... of "new" games coming out for the thing; most of which were pure junk (rebranded from other platforms; games with zero innovation; sequel after sequel that required very little thought for many; etc). Well, in the end, it seems that MS is admitting they do not really control the quality of the games being sold, and as such we can all have our chance at creating one if we desire.

Part of me wonders if this new strategy is more about gaining users than developers, under the guise of giving the average software developer a chance to create the next great Xbox 360 game. It surely couldn't be about the $99 annual fee could it? That would seem hardly worth the bother. Though current specs call for an XP Desktop to perform the software development on, I also wonder how long it will be until you are required to use Windows Vista for this task.

Either way, once I get myself one of the Xbox 360's (perhaps early 2007), I will likely buy the development kit. I started in computer programming by writing video games when I was 13 years old. At the time, I was cranking out Z80 Assembler in attempts to make a program run fast enough to mimic Space Invaders or similar on the beautiful high resolution (not) black and white screen of a Radio Shack TRS-80. Leap forward 25 years and I can have some seriously impressive 3D color-graphics power at my fingertips, and joysticks that do not require me to build my own interface boards to the external bus on the back of the machine.

Having been out of the video game writing thing for so long, a lot has changed -- but, when I read about Microsoft opening up the Xbox 360 game software development (finally), I started to feel that urge to see if I still had it in me to create my own game(s)!

1 comment:

Kirby said...

My theory behind Microsoft's move is to encourage the indie game developer to write games for Xbox Live Arcade. Xbox Live Arcade has the potential to be the ultimate haven for downloadable games. I for one am already hooked on a few Xbox Live Arcade games.