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Connecting Communities, Redefining Xbox Live: Chris Satchell On XNA
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Connecting Communities, Redefining Xbox Live: Chris Satchell On XNA

March 7, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Obviously you're going to eventually release a new version of XNA. You're still on two, right?

CS: Two, yeah. It actually came out in December. It had a number of upgrades, but the biggest upgrade for two was the platform. You could do networking, and you could do Xbox Live for matchmaking, etcetera. That was really the big deal with Game Studio 2, and then this year, we're doing Zune development, so that's one of the big, major parts of the next major version.

And Schizoid's still not out. Is that still going to be the first XNA-powered game to hit Xbox Live?

CS: Yeah, I think it's getting really close, and yes, it will be. Have you played it recently?

No, I haven't.

CS: It's really good. It looks beautiful, and the co-op is just the coolest thing. The co-op's great, because how it works is you've got this red and blue thing, and the red can only eat reds, and the blue can eat blue, and they're all swarming around you, so you've got to constantly protect each other. It's a really fun game. So yes, Schizoid will be out soon. The Torpex guys have been great. They've just been polishing the hell out of it. It's a really nice game.

Blazing Birds

What about the two winners, The Dishwasher and Blazing Birds? When do they come out?

CS: James?

James Silva: When it's done. I'm mostly done with it, but networking I've been working on lately and it's interesting to develop. We'll see how it comes out.

CS: If you don't like James' answer, use mine. "When I'm finished with it!"

That's the id answer. You're following in their footsteps, James.

CS: And Blizzard.

Actually any of the really high-level PC developers. Valve is pretty much the same way.

CS: "When will you release it? When it's brilliant." I'm not quite sure. I know David's making great progress as well on Blazing Birds, but I don't know what his plan for release is.

That was people making XNA games prior to this community site. How do you review stuff like contests and games? You also spoke now about publishers cherry-picking talent they see. Is that something that Microsoft sees as also an opportunity within this community?

CS: I don't think for us that's the biggest opportunity. The biggest opportunity is taking those ten million people on Live and connecting them with those creators. I think that's the biggest opportunity. I think we'll still do competitions.

It'll be interesting to see if the community's super-engaged and energized, and how the competition plays with the distribution, and do you really need competition once you have distribution? Our AI challenge was super fun, and we got some amazing creativity out of that. Plus, there's something very interesting about tailoring competitions. Have you seen the AI stuff in the lobby?

No, I haven't had the chance.

CS: That was when we did the short competitions, so you're making a game with a strong AI component. The winners get to go for an internship at our MSR -- our research labs -- or Lionhead, because Peter Molyneux is really into AI.

And they've got some great games, like the sheepdog simulator. There's one [called iSheep] where it's a co-op game, and you're a sheepdog, and you get to herd sheep. It's all about the AI flocking for the sheep. It's really cool. So I think that can be good. We take a competition, and push people in a direction they might not have chosen for themselves, and they might surprise you by doing something really cool.

I know we've been focusing a lot on the community and the indie side, which is obviously really cool, and we're behind a lot too, since we just had the IGF and stuff. Aside from that, as a platform of development for professional projects made by publishers and developers, are you satisfied with how uptake has been on XNA and the progress that's making, both in terms of the products and how they're turning out, if you have access to any of those, and just the uptake and the response from established developers?

CS: Yes. We, in general, think that the XNA Game Studio is definitely targeted toward the community, and it's targeted towards people who make Xbox Live Arcade games. But far and away, most Xbox Live Arcade games are made on our professional toolset with our native code environment. So we offer these, but more of its focus is around enabling the community.

You've got to remember, though, that within XNA, we have a whole separate toolset that's for the professional developers. I'm super proud of it, and the guys have worked really hard on it, and that's the best professional toolset in the industry. That's what everyone's using to make those triple-A, blockbuster games. That's what we hear from developers, that it's far and away better than anything our competitors are doing. The good news is that it makes them easier for them to start building great games, not wrestling with our platform.

I've heard of developers using XNA as an easy way to start prototyping, then moving on from there, depending on what their target ends up being.

CS: You have a great point. I went on a developer roadshow that went around touring and talking to major development and publishing studios at the end of last year, and what was interesting was that nearly every publisher had done a project with XNA as a prototype.

The biggest problem they normally get is that they start prototyping, and of course it's a super-productive environment, and they don't really want to go back and go, "Ah, now I've got to go and re-implement in native code, because I want to do a big, disc-based game."

But yeah, they find it really good for just throwing ideas together and testing the gameplay, and going, "All right, that works. Now let's go implement it and upgrade the graphics and everything else."

And also I think that it'll probably help, because if there's one thing I hear from developers, it's that they need more ability on the front end of projects to get those ideas, explore their ideas, because the more pre-production they do, the better things go over the course of development. So it could be beneficial, to have an environment for people to prototype in. That has to be of use.

CS: Yeah, it's much easier to... it's funny, I think the industry is getting away from it somewhat, but eventually, that stage of huge design know, if you wanted to get a contract, you had to have a hundred-page design document!

One hundred? (laughs) Five hundred, seven hundred...

CS: I think what's happening is that people are getting in that, and it's like, "That doesn't mean anything. I want to get my hands on it. I want to play it, and I want to feel it." I think that prototyping really gets you there. Slowly, we're back on the contents. We didn't really want to see big design documents. What we really wanted to see was, "Show us the game."

I think big design docs -- and granted, I'm not a developer -- but I think they're often a waste of time.

CS: I think you want to get in and play the game. Now when you're making a working MMO, you've got some serious on paper, or spreadsheet, or database design to be able to balance that world out. But I don't want to read the doc that's just talking about why this will be fun to play. I want to play it. "Come on, let me play!"

I think what you talk about with people, and you get it from a lot of developers now, is that the play between the disciplines is how you get good games. People writing documents in Word doesn't play between disciplines.

CS: So I think if you can use XNA Game Studio as a way to do that prototyping and get those disciplines together, that's a win. Certainly on the professional side, and I think you can find that in our toolset. They get things running much faster, and they can start iterating on the game, versus fighting with the platform.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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