I can’t tell you all how great it is to finally talk about what we’ve really been building in the XNA team. At GDC this year we showed off managed code running on an Xbox 360. We positioned it as a tool to help the professional industry, which it is. I expect it to be an excellent environment for casual games of all types and it will make inroads into FPS and other big games over time.
When we showed this off, there was quite a bit of speculation about how cool it would be if we let the community at large have access to managed code on their Xbox 360. We all smiled and bit our tongues and looked forward to today, when we could talk about things for real.
The essence of our announcement today is this. We will ship XNA Game Studio Express this fall. It is all about helping the community at large develop games using the Visual Studio environment on the Windows computers. Then they can run those games on either Windows– or on their retail Xbox 360. Yes. That is right. You will be able to run your own code on a regular, bought-at-a-store, Xbox 360, including the one that you already own.
That is the part of the announcement that I expect will get the most attention, however, I want to emphasize that this is a program that will help you learn and develop games in general. Following the path we explored at GDC when we gave away the source code and art to the game MechCommander, we will continue to give away working examples of games that can run on either platform. You’ll be able to get the first one when you download the (windows only) beta of the tools in September.
After GDC in spring, someone correctly pointed out that opening the Xbox 360 would be a tough business model for us, as Microsoft, to support because of the economic realities of the game console business. They were right. Running unsigned code on your Xbox 360 will require a yearly subscription of $99.00. The tools Windows runtimes will be free of charge. The subscription allows us to open up the console within the bounds of the Xbox business model, invest in interesting sample games, and keep the program going.
When I was a kid, I begged my parents to get me a computer. They finally relented and I became the proud owner of a Timex-Sinclair 1000, with the 16k ram expansion. This machine couldn’t do much, but I was able to write several very simple games on it. This is how I learned to love programming, and it was the start of my career. We want to give this same experience to as many people as we can. We’ve heard from many parents who want to turn games into a creative, educational experience they can do with their child. There are several schools who are working on introductory game engines aimed at teenagers.
The program we are building, however, is more than a beginner tool. You will be able to write full-on games with shaders and high-end graphics if you want to go deeper. For example, we have an excellent relationship with Garage Games. They’ve been creating a managed code version of their tools and engines that work the XNA technologies. They’ve built a souped up version of Marble-Blast entirely in C# that is just rocking.
They’ve also got lots of tools that will make game development much more accessible to the story tellers and artists who aren’t as into fancy code.
Anyway, we are all very excited about this stuff. It feels good to do something that will improve the community around us and create innovative new games at the same time. There will be much more new stuff to talk about as we move through the year.
Because this is a blog and not the actual press announcement, I can talk about the big obvious hole in the plan. When we ship XNA Game Studio Express this fall, you will be able to share your final product with anyone on your windows machine that you want, but there is no support for sharing Xbox binaries other than sending your source around. We fully intend to fix this in the future, and if I have anything to do about it, it will be sooner than later. The more people that sign up for the subscription and start showing cool innovative content that everyone wants, the easier it will be to get this done.
The last thing I want to say is that I feel very fortunate to work with such a talented and prolific group of people as we have on the XNA team. We want to bring game creativity to the world and do it this year. We are all looking forward to seeing and playing with the innovative games the community makes with XNA Game Studio Express.
Product Unit Manager – XNA