with Chris Satchell
General Manager for Game Developer Group, Microsoft -
Leipzig Games Convention
(Xbox Community Network), with which Xbox Gazette is affiliated, has been able
to ask some questions to Chris Satchell from Microsoft, about the XNA at the Leipzig
Games Convention 2006.
: Could you give us an introduction to what you do at Microsoft?
Satchell : Sure. Basically I look after anything to do with the game development
side of things at Microsoft. XNA is a very broad effort here and it goes across
all of our different disciplines, but if it has anything to do with games development
then I'm involved. XNA Games Studio Express is a big focus for me.
: What is XNA Game Studio Express?
Chris Satchell : XNA Game Studio
Express is a development tool that will, for the first time ever, let you take
the console you've got at home and use it to build, test, play and share games
with your friends. It's our next generation of developer tools made as simple
as possible so everyone can access them. It's also a cross-platform tool so that
I can build and play my game on Windows or on Xbox 360.
: What does it mean for gamers?
Chris Satchell : What it means
for gamers is that for the first time in this industry new people with new ideas
and innovations can actually make their ideas into a game. I think we'll see some
really off-the-wall games and ideas that we never would have seen without XNA
Game Studio Express. There are people out there with tons of creativity but the
tools are too hard and it's too expensive to get a game out in this industry.
XNA Game Studio Express lets that creativity shine.
: You're working with universities to take XNA Game Studio Express into the
classroom. How will this affect the industry?
Chris Satchell : This
is going to bring a whole lot of new talent into the videogames industry. We're
working with 15 universities in the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. That's just
the tip of the iceberg. We've had a lot of interest already but the best thing
is that it's getting high school students and university students excited about
technology and gaming. That excitement is going to grow into a wealth of new talent
and innovation in the games industry.
: Just how powerful is XNA Game Studio Express going to be?
: Are you familiar with Marble
Blast Ultra from Garage
Games? I have a new version of Marble Blast that is running completely
on XNA Game Studio Express. It's got full reflection on the marbles, full shading
on the tiles, a full 3D world and new visual effects. And it's only running on
our debug alpha kit. Garage Games did this because they weren't convinced they
could recreate Marble Blast to the same level with XNA Game Studio Express. What
we're hearing from them is that this version is within 5% of the performance of
the version they built with their full, professional developer tools. So there's
nothing stopping you doing that kind of ambitious 3D work.
XCN : If I'm a complete game
development novice where do I start with XNA Game Studio Express?
Satchell : What we're going to do is have something called the Creators Club
on Xbox 360. Once you join that you'll have access to Starter Kits. So rather
than having to do everything from scratch, we'll give you a racing game Starter
Kit with everything you need to make your first racing game - a bunch of cars,
tracks and code to get you going. We'll have other Starter Kits too like an RPG
pack and so on. The other thing we're going to do is give away the code and assets
for some Xbox Live Arcade games that we build and put up on Arcade so that people
can play around with them. The goal is to get everyone to join the Creators Club
because it will make creating games a lot easier for them.
: Are those Packs available for paid download from Xbox Live Marketplace?
Chris Satchell : No, they're part of your subscription to the Creators
Club. They'll be free once you're joined up. The service will keep growing. You'll
get upgrades to the system, new packs to play with, and we'll give you articles
and instructional papers. We're also predicting a whole ecosystem to spring up
on Windows with people creating their own kits. We're changing the whole process
of how you get content into a game. We're already seeing it. The Garage Games
guys tell us about games that go up in their community, then two days later someone
else has improved it by upgrading the graphics. Then someone else does the sound
effects. I can't wait to see that kind of community collaboration and the games
it will create.
XCN : Can you
create your own graphics and sound or do you need to use pre-provided packs?
Chris Satchell : No, you can create your own. These tools aren't included
though. We're using the .fbx file format to allow people to import files from
their own graphics and sound packages into XNA Game Studio Express. What it does
is provide a very simple pipeline for you to get them into your game - something
that in the past was very difficult.
: Will our games created in XNA Game Studio Express be playable over Xbox
Chris Satchell : Not with Express. That is possible with the
professional tools but not with Express.
: If we create a game in XNA Game Studio Express will we have to have it checked
by Microsoft before we share it with our friends?
Chris Satchell :
First of all I'll warn you that this will get a little technical! Okay, so what
we've done with XNA Game Studio Express is recreate our Windows CLR - Common language
Runtime - on Xbox 360 in such a way that it is very, very secure. We've spent
a lot of time on that. Because we can be sure that the games are secure, we don't
need to sign them before they're brought onto Xbox 360. We've pre-baked all of
our security into the CLR so you don't have to send your game off somewhere to
have it signed off.
XCN : If
I want to give the game I have created in XNA Game Studio Express to my friend
to play on his Xbox 360, how do I do it?
Chris Satchell : There are
two phases to how people will share games. This year you'll share your game via
websites, email, and whatever else. It's all done in the Windows environment because
you still do all your development in the Windows environment. You can push your
game to your Xbox 360 and debug it like a professional developer would, but you
need to be able to use the keyboard and mouse to create your game. That's this
year. Our end vision is to create that YouTube or MySpace of gaming - a place
where you can put games up there, share them with the community, people can vote
on them, the whole works. We're a little way off that. And somewhere in the middle
we'll let you send your complete Xbox 360 games over Xbox Live.
: What about viruses? Say I'm an evil developer and I want to destroy someone's
Xbox. Is that possible?
Chris Satchell : Obviously we want to protect
Xbox 360s and the last thing we want to see is consoles getting damaged by this.
That's why we've put the CLR in beside the managed language so there's a much
smaller attack surface for viruses and malicious code. Particularly with the graphics
code, because that's a risk in our hardware. We've done a lot of security work
on the graphics code. Security is something we take very seriously and we've spent
a lot of time making sure that people will not get viruses on their system.
: But I can't be 100% certain that if I download some code that it won't harm
Chris Satchell : As I say, we've made it very, very difficult
for people to do bad things to your Xbox. I don't think you can ever have a system
where you're 100% sure, but we've done everything we can to make it as safe as
possible. The CLR does give you a sandbox but we can portion off different parts
of the system resources, so you can try to do certain malicious things but without
that access there's just no way to do it.
: Will XNA Game Studio Express let us change professionally developed games
from the big publishers?
Chris Satchell : No, XNA Game Studio Express
is all about creating your own games. But I do hope that we're enabling publishers
to open their games up more so that gamers can tweak them in more in-depth ways,
while still existing in a safe environment. We don't have anyone doing that yet
but I can see it going that way, especially once we get things up to speed and
publishers realise that it's very secure.
: A dream come true for an amateur coder would be to create an amazing game
and then see it up on Arcade for everyone to download. Is that likely to happen
Chris Satchell : That's definitely the vision. I don't know
what the timeframe for that is yet, but that's why we're looking at creating what
I like to call the Community-Powered Arcade. That's this idea of the YouTube or
MySpace of gaming where you can go and upload your game. Then people can play
it and comment on it. I'd love it if publishers were looking at that too, checking
out who is the next big talent and who has the coolest ideas. There's so much
fun you could have with that too - imagine leaderboards of the best coders, artists,
or sound creators! That's the vision and it'll take a while to get there, but
we're taking it step by step.
: Can you see competitions or challenges springing up around XNA Game Studio
Chris Satchell : Garage Games already do something where they
give people 24 hours to come up with a great game. You get guys who live all over
the world getting together online to create a game in such a short space of time,
some guys working on visuals, others on the code, and so on. So yeah, I can definitely
see that kind of thing happening.
: How are professional developers viewing XNA when they put so much time and
money into their own engines? Are they worried?
Chris Satchell : You've
got to remember that professional developers are at the very top of their game.
For them, native code and huge technology investments is what works. They're definitely
interested in XNA Game Studio Express to see how it can extend some of their technologies.
What we have found is that Garage games has ported all of its tools onto XNA and
they're so happy with it that they don't want to go back. They say it's more enjoyable
and more productive. But it's not for everyone. XNA Game Studio Express is more
for independent developers and enthusiasts.
: Do you think professional developers working on big titles will use XNA
Game Studio Express to get some of their own ideas out?
: Definitely! We're seeing a lot of excitement from people within dev studios
about getting their hands on this. They might have all these ideas but they're
busy all day. But with XNA Game Studio Express they can build a game in their
spare time. I think we'll see more of the Geometry
Wars kind of thing where devs put together great games as a side project.
Most of these guys started as bedroom coders, so this is a great way for them
to get back to that.
XCN : When
will XNA Game Studio Express be available for Xbox 360?
: By Christmas. The beta
for Windows is already available for free and will be until Christmas,
and if you do any coding on there it will be simple to port it all over to Xbox
XCN : Many thanks for your
- Other Xbox
Gazette, September 7th 2006
Thanks to : Chris
Satchell, Graeme Boyd, XCN