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At GDC, one of the biggest announcements was Microsoft's Xbox Live: Community Games, an extension of its indie-driven XNA development platform that will allow regular Xbox Live users to connect with independent, potentially non-commercial games on the service.
The major details of the upcoming Community Games Beta can be found in a Gamasutra sponsored feature posted during GDC, but separately of this Microsoft-supplied factual information, we had an opportunity to sit down with Chris Satchell, general manager of the XNA group at Microsoft, and pick his brain on the burgeoning service.
From its compatibility with three platforms -- Xbox 360, PC and Zune
-- to its business model, to how the XNA development platform might
be most effectively used, there was no shortage of questions to ask.
So what's the shape of the announcements you've made about extending XNA's reach?
Chris Satchell: The main thing that we did at the keynote -- and these are the bits that I get most excited about -- is that we're going to allow community games to be distributed on Xbox Live. If you think about that, there's 10 million active gamers on Xbox Live, and it's growing quickly. We're going to connect those 10 million gamers with creators out there that I think have got amazing ideas.
They just need an audience, so we're going to make that audience. That was the big news. For the first time ever, we're going to connect those two communities by allowing the independent community to distribute new games onto Xbox Live using the XNA development environment. That was one big piece of news.
The other big piece of news was that
this year, you'll be able to use XNA Game Studio to build games on Zune.
I don't know if you guys have seen that yet, but... that was another
big piece of news. Now you can use XNA Game Studio to build on Windows,
on Xbox, and later this year, on Zune. It's the same code that goes
between them, so it's very easy to move games between platforms.
Obviously the Xbox 360 and PC have a lot of very high-end capabilities. What kind of capabilities, relatively, does Zune have? And when making a game between them, what issues have to be kept in mind?
CS: That's a really good question.
Obviously, there's no way you can do on this what you can do on that.
There's things like screen resolution that you have to keep in mind,
and the fact that this doesn't have a 3D accelerator, so you're going
to be software rasterizing everything. [Zune] has a pretty good processor,
but it's still not even one of the cores on the 360.
Having said all that, you actually have quite a lot on Zune. Probably the best way to do it if you want to build across all three is to target this one, and then you'll find that you'll be able to go on Xbox and Windows without doing any code at all. You just move it across.
That's what we showed on stage. We had a game that we built with a team, just as a proof of concept. We built it on Zune, and we just had it running on Xbox and Windows. We had better graphics on Xbox and Windows. We put sidebars in to keep the aspect ratio the same.
So you can do the code, and use the same core code that's the part of the game that runs logic and stuff, but the graphics can actually be improved?
CS: Yeah. That's exactly what we did.
We just had higher-res graphics for Windows and Xbox. It took no time.
I could see Geometry Wars on the Zune without...
CS: Oh, definitely. Apart from... you know that thing in the background? The grid in Geometry Wars that floats? That is one of the most mathematically intense applications on the Xbox 360. I know the guy who wrote it, and it was just fun how we did it, so it was a great exercise on our machine. So you might want to drop the background.