Interview with Chris Satchell
- General Manager for Game Developer Group, Microsoft -

Leipzig Games Convention 2006, August

English version
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

XCN (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.

XCN : Could you give us an introduction to what you do at Microsoft?
Chris 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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : Just how powerful is XNA Game Studio Express going to be?
Chris Satchell : 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?
Chris 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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : Will our games created in XNA Game Studio Express be playable over Xbox Live?
Chris Satchell : Not with Express. That is possible with the professional tools but not with Express.

XCN : 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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : But I can't be 100% certain that if I download some code that it won't harm my console?
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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : 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 and when?
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.

XCN : Can you see competitions or challenges springing up around XNA Game Studio Express?
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.

XCN : 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.

XCN : Do you think professional developers working on big titles will use XNA Game Studio Express to get some of their own ideas out?
Chris Satchell : 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?
Chris Satchell : 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 360.

XCN : Many thanks for your time Chris!

Related links :

- XNA on


- XNA Forum

- XNA demo videos

- XNA Team Blog

- Garage Games

- Other Xbox 360 interviews

Max73, Xbox Gazette, September 7th 2006

Thanks to : Chris Satchell, Graeme Boyd, XCN