XNA Game Studio Express – it’s just the beginning

359 stories so far on XNA Game Studio Express

Here’s the Garage Games press release

And here’s the Microsoft press release

Note media outlets like the New York Times and the BBC are all over this one, right from the start.

Some highlights from Microsoft:

In the 30 years of video game development, the art of making console games has been reserved for those with big projects, big budgets and the backing of big game labels. Now Microsoft Corp. is bringing this art to the masses with a revolutionary new set of tools, called XNA Game Studio Express, based on the XNA™ platform. XNA Game Studio Express will democratize game development by delivering the necessary tools to hobbyists, students, indie developers and studios alike to help them bring their creative game ideas to life while nurturing game development talent, collaboration and sharing that will benefit the entire industry.

Not only will XNA Game Studio Express turn the community into creators, but a second XNA toolset geared toward game development professionals is scheduled to be available in spring 2007, fundamentally changing the way commercial games are developed.

“The GarageGames mission has always been to provide top-tier technology, tools and community to independent and aspiring game developers,” said Josh Williams, CEO of GarageGames. “We are excited that Microsoft is demonstrating leadership by taking the revolutionary step of opening up game development for Xbox 360 to hobbyists and students. In aligning our tools and technology with XNA Game Studio Express, we’re helping even more individuals with the creativity and drive to make video games bring them to life on both Windows XP and Xbox 360.”

And some from Garage Games:

During a keynote presentation today at developer event Gamefest hosted by Microsoft in Seattle, GarageGames President Mark Frohnmayer showcased the Torque suite of game engines, ending with a presentation of Xbox 360 Live Arcade hit Marble Blast Ultra running in XNA. “Today, Microsoft is taking a revolutionary step forward in enabling hobbyists and students to create games in the next generation console space,” said Frohnmayer. “We could not be happier that XNA Game Studio Express and our tools can connect to provide the quickest and easiest solution for anyone with the creativity and drive to make games to bring them to Windows and the Xbox 360.”

Recognizing the new possibilities that XNA represents to game developers everywhere, GarageGames began collaborating with Microsoft to port their technology to XNA for use with XNA Game Studio Express earlier this year. Users of the Torque Game Engine and Torque Game Builder on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms will find Torque X to be a familiar environment in which to make games, while those new to Torque will enjoy the intuitive yet powerful tools available to them. “At GarageGames, we strive to provide top-tier technology, tools and community to independent and aspiring game developers,” commented Josh Williams, Chief Executive Officer of GarageGames. “Torque X is an exciting addition to our existing efforts, and an incredible step forward for game developers of all kinds. Never before have indies, hobbyists, students, and educators had this kind of access to professional tools for console game development.”

And some editorial additions, of course.

So how important is it that console owners can, for the first time in 30 years, write games to run on their consoles? Important doesn’t begin to cover it.

This is part of a much larger trend, as users become more and more savvy, and tools and technology get easier to use – so that regular people can create and publish their own content. Web pages, blogs, videos, music, photography – these are all hot. MySpace hot. YouTube hot. Nintendo and Sony don’t just need to pay attention to this – they need to scramble to put something into their own user’s hands.

XNA even uses the YouTube analogy in their PR. The idea and the opportunity aren’t new to us in the Phrogram Company. I’m sure Microsoft was working on this before we presented it to them, but at a brown bag presentation last September we showed KPL to the Visual Studio team, and we ourselves pushed on the console scenario. But we pushed even farther into the mainstream – we pushed on how cool it would be for a beginner language like KPL to run on an XBox. I even plugged this scenario in an article I wrote way back in January about our KPL version of Asteroids.

So yes, XNA is industry-changing-important, and it’ll be great to see where it goes. Note from their own stated plans, Microsoft is also looking upward into professional game developer scenarios early next year. This has the potential to be important to far more than just the game industry. Anyone else think that Visual Basic (1991) did more to drive Microsoft’s success though the 90s than anything else did? Platform success is a function of the applications that are available on that platform. VB did that for Windows by making a flood of new apps available on the platform, and bringing a flood of new developers to the platform – and OS/2 and Mac had nothing to compare. XNA has the potential to do that not just for Windows games, but also for XBox 360 games and, if the Seattle Times rumors are true, for Argo/Zune games. Nintendo and Sony and Apple and Nokia don’t just need to pay attention, they need to scramble.

OK, so what about KPL and Phrogram? Well, consider this. XNA will require C#, and fairly sophisticated use of the Torque engine. So how many of the people who use a computer have the knowledge and ability to program games using XNA? Let’s swag it at 1% or so. I don’t think that’s a low number, but if you do, let’s call it 2%. If someone has better data on the figure of the online population who are also experienced programmers, please do comment with it.

On the other hand, our stated goal with KPL and Phrogram is that any beginner can learn how to program with KPL or Phrogram – if they can read and if they can type. I doubled the XNA numbers to be conservative, but let’s also cut the Phrogram numbers to be conservative, down to 20%. Here’s the full code of a Phrogram: 15 instructions that put a 2D graphical spider sprite on the screen and allow the user to control it from the keyboard. Anyone really want to argue that less than 20% of the computer-using population will be able to do this?

Program LOGO_Style_Sprites

Method Main()

Define Spider As Sprite = LoadSprite( “Spider”, “SpiderDown.png” )

Spider.MoveTo( 275, 0 )
Spider.Visible = True

Define speed As Decimal = 6 // Change the to suit your style 😉

While Not Keyboard.IsKeyDown( Keys.Escape )

If Keyboard.IsKeyDown( Keys.Up ) Then
Spider.Forward( speed )
End If

If Keyboard.IsKeyDown( Keys.Left ) Then
Spider.TurnLeft( speed / 2 )
Else If Keyboard.IsKeyDown( Keys.Right ) Then
Spider.TurnRight( speed / 2 )
End If


End While

End Method

End Program

Note that phrogram code is missing the nice IDE indenting, color-coding and tooltips, so it looks much harder here than it is in Phrogram. 🙂 By the way, making it a 3D model instead of a 2D sprite is only 30 instructions.

Yeah, we think anyone who can read and type can Phrogram, but we’ll call it 20% of computer users. Have you read Dr. Jeannette Wing’s paper on Computational Thinking? She’s head of the Computer Science department at Carnegie Melon, by the way. KPL and Phrogram are our own efforts specifically in support of the idea of Computational Thinking – and we don’t think it’s going to take long for the world to get to computational thinking. It didn’t take long for email to make the mainstream, or IM, or MySpace. Sure, Computational Thinking will take longer than MySpace took – but MySpace has only been three years.

OK, so XNA Game Studio Express (C#) works for 2% of computer users, Phrogram works for 20% of computer users. And if we’re right about Computational Thinking, that number will go up fast year by year.

Also, importantly, KPL and Phrogram have both always intended to graduate users to C# programming. KPL – last year’s release – could automatically do code conversions from KPL to C#. But that was for educational purposes only. Phrogram – which we are about to release – will take that further. C# code generated from Phrogram won’t just be for educational purposes. It’ll compile and run in Visual Studio.NET. Let me reiterate: programs like the one above – or our version of Pong in 160 English-readable instructions – will convert to C#, run and compile in Visual Studio. To bring this back around to the title of the blog post, that’s the same C# and Visual Studio that are the language and IDE which will be used atop XNA as the new XNA Game Studio Express.

Here’s the last piece of the puzzle. GarageGames has other partners besides Microsoft. The GarageGames / Phrogram partnership signed papers that made our own partnership official just last week. We’ve been working on that for months – it’s great to be able to talk about it now! The specific first priority for the GarageGames / Phrogram partnership? To make a version of Phrogram available which uses the 2D and 3D Torque game engine as the core Phrogram game engine. Yeah, that’s the same Torque engine that, as Torque X, runs atop XNA.

Lot’s worth thinking about here, eh?

More news – and maybe even demos – coming soon!


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