Adventures in XNA 1: Mind Balance Reborn


I sank my teeth into XNA last week and have both the rings under my eyes to prove it, as well as a complete game running on my XBox360!


I’ve heard the XNA vision articulated as “enabling the YouTube of Games.”  XNA has opened up the XBox360 game console to enthusiast developers and designers, who can build games using .NET code that works not only on the PC, but also on the 360 console.


To step beyond toy tutorials (but not quite take on Halo), I needed to set a “big bold goal,” so I tried to re-implement Mind Balance, a game that was originally written in .NET and Managed DirectX using an engine called Symphony, which I worked on as architect and lead developer before I joined Microsoft.


As you can see from the screenshot, the week’s work was a success.  The game is running now on my XBox360 at home, as well as on my laptop, controlled not with Mind Balance’s original brain-computer interface, but instead with a rumbly XBox controller providing your character’s balance feedback.


Along the way, I’ve joined the XNA Animation Components project on CodePlex, which is being led by a very enthusiastic and talented guy called David Astle. 


And I also got the thumbs-up from Phil McDarby, creator of the original Mind Balance characters, environment, sound effects and background music.  He also stars as the voice of the tightrope-walking Mawg. 


XNA doesn’t allow network access or external inputs on the XBox360, so I wasn’t able to re-create the original brain-computer interface on that platform.  But everything else is in there!


I had a LOT of fun.  And I have heaps to say about the experience, and so over the next few days, I’m going to tell you about my first real foray into the land of XNA.


It’s about time!

Comments (4)

  1. Jonas says:

    You did Mind Balance?! That’s just super cool!

    I read about the game way back in a Norwegian Popular Science magazine (Illustrert Vitenskap). And now I know the creator. That’s really cool!

    You mention that there is no external input (so you can’t create a "driver" for the brain interface). But what about the Xbox Live Vision camera? Can you access it trough XNA?

    I think Microsoft is moving in the right direction. The moment Microsoft hits v2.0, creates a "portal" where avarage joe can download games for free, and you can access Xbox Live/Network, this thing is going to take off!

    The only problem I can see with XNA, and opening it up in the "youtube" sense, is Xbox Live Arcade. I can imagine some of the Arcade publisher feeling threathened by "clones" made available for free etc. The other thing might be emulators.. I mean, everyone (except layers?) want’s em 😉

    Anyhow, good work! I’m signing up for a Creators Club subscription this weekend, so I’ll get in touch on how to download your game.

    Later!

  2. Robert Burke’s Weblog has recent posts on ‘Adventures in XNA’. Adventures in XNA 1: Mind Balance Reborn

  3. RobBurke says:

    Jonas, thanks for the comment, and sorry for being so long in responding!  The day-job shouldn’t get in the way of cool stuff like this 🙂

    Yes, I was a part of Mind Balance back in the day.  In fact it was a big part of my life – I never will forget my housemate and his fiancee telling me that I had "lost the plot" when I came home at, like, 5AM one August morning, and the next morning at breakfast trying to explain to them what I had been implementing into Mind Balance the night before 🙂

    Thanks so much for the note – I didn’t realize it had made it into Illustrert Vitenskap – but upon hearing that news, I forwarded it to all my Tromsoe friends 🙂

    At this point, you can’t access the camera through XNA, nor can you access the internet.  However, these are obviously two things that a lot of us are begging them to enable.

    The camera is a challenge because you have to handle memory carefully.  Garbage collections on the Compact Framework are more expensive.  Every frame you capture means a whole lot of memory.  I have no doubt that we’ll ultimately have access to the camera through XNA, though 🙂

    And the internet is a bigger challenge.  It needs to be done carefully, for obvious security reasons.  (Wow – what an understatement.)

    What you mention about clones and intellectual property issues is also a big challenge that is being discussed internally.

    Wishing you well and I look forward to seeing you on the Creators Club!!

  4. Robert Burke’s Weblog contains a nice series of XNA related blogs: Adventures in XNA 1: Mind Balance