Microsoft has announced the release of XNA Game Studio 2.0 promising new crossplatform Live networking utilities and full Visual Studio support, and Gamasutra talked with XNA general manager Chris Satchell to learn more about the release, its student focus, and the company's continued plans to create a community-based YouTube of games.
Satchell called the 2.0 release "the next step along the path of democratizing game development," adding that the release's biggest feature was opening up network support through both Xbox and Games for Windows Live.
"While you could always do networking on Windows," he said, the benefit of this release is that "you get Matchmaking. On Windows, this is something quite hard -- you normally have to write some sort of esoteric matchmaking thing.. We've just made it simple and easy to use," also noting that the functionality is completely cross-compatible.
This release also brings in full compatibility with the entire Visual Studio range, something Satchell said he believes will have not only professional ramifications with companies beginning prototypes in Game Studio and then moving the work to Visual Studio.
Satchell here noted the work of Torpex with its forthcoming Live Arcade title Schizoid, which was created entirely through XNA Game Studio. We asked about frustrations Torpex admitted to during its Game Fest talk on using XNA, and he admitted that the company has been instrumental in providing guidance for the XNA team as it's developed.
"Specifically one of the things we've been working on a lot is getting performance profiles similar on both Windows and the Xbox 360," he said. "Torpex are really pushing the system, so they had a lot of really good feedback for us to make it more similar between the platforms, and we've delivered on a number of those promises in 2.0."
The Student Solution
Commercial applications aren't the only focus of XNA, though, but also universities. Satchell noted that while in the beginning he'd hoped to get some 20 universities on board, Microsoft has seen to date over 300 facilities teaching XNA, and to that end announced that the company would be giving out free academic trial Creators Club memberships in January for faculty members and students to use Game Studio for instructional purposes.
The company also announced that later this month it will be announcing the opening of its next Dream-Build-Play contest, this year themed around AI, an idea lent to Microsoft by Peter Molyneux and Lionhead. As with last year's competition, the winners will be given the chance to attend GDC, but also said that this time around winners can also interview for an internship at either Rare, Lionhead, or Microsoft Research's own Machine Learning Group in Cambridge.
The Community Revolution
Finally, Satchell said that next year Microsoft will announce full details on, and its vision for, opening XNA creations to the community. "Think of it as publishing channel for the community," saying when launched it will create "a revolution for the industry."
Satchell referred to development of XNA as coming in three tiers -- first with the initial release of the package and the Creators Club, now opening up Live networking, and finally providing the publishing channel. "Nobody's done it," he said, "we're really opening up the console."
Asked just how much Microsoft would be managing the service, or if it would be opening it up entirely as a true YouTube, Satchell said full details would have to wait until the new year, but offered, "We want it to be open so people can participate in it, and we want to stay true to principle of owning your own IP. There's going to be some innovations in what we do that bridge the gap between fully free for all and completely managed portfolio."
He similarly said no announcements could yet be made on whether the service would allow players to freely download community creations, or whether it would continue the Creators Club scheme it currently employs.
Concluding in its official statement, Satchell said, “When building XNA Game Studio 2.0, we wanted to offer everyone the opportunity to utilize the rich gaming environment of LIVE used by AAA developers for titles such as Halo 3 and Gears of War. We accomplished our goal with this new toolset, and, best of all, it remains highly accessible to students, hobbyists and pros alike.”