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Microsoft XNA: Ready for Prime Time? : Page 10

How far can XNA take you in game development? Find out what seven experts in the game development industry have to say.

XNA Game Studio Professional
Microsoft announced that XNA Game Studio Professional will be available later in 2007, but Mitchell remained tight-lipped about the feature set we can expect, only saying "We'll be sharing details on the professional offerings based on the XNA Framework at our GameFest conference August 13-14. This offering is designed for commercial game development scenarios."

Michael Austin: "The way to inspire passion and energy in students is to get up and running fast and make it as easy as possible to learn what it takes to have a complete game."
Fristrom has been alpha testing the professional XNA offering and remains confident in the potential. "Schizoid is being developed on a version of XNA Game Studio Professional that's still under development, and the sequel to Schizoid will use the same tech."

As for the professional features developers can expect, Fristrom shares some of these highlights. "Network play is the main exciting thing. And it's a pretty nice API; it has support for lobbying, host migration, guaranteed and unguaranteed packets, and managing game state—a lot of stuff you'd have to write yourself if you were using a plain vanilla TCP/IP stack. It also gives you everything you need to pass certification on the Xbox 360—achievements, leader boards, and integration with the Xbox dashboard, for example."

Judging from the Microsoft GameFest 2007 session list advertised online, it certainly appears like networking is in fact a new feature being added to the XNA Framework. Session titles also indicate that XNA Game Studio 2.0 is being announced there. It remains to be seen if 2.0 is only for the Professional Edition, or if XNA Game Studio Express will get upgraded to 2.0 as well.

Josh Williams: "Higher-level languages, and higher-level systems usually win in the end because developer time is more precious in the long run than processor time."
Some of the highly requested features like built-in font support and Windows Vista support have already been shipped by the XNA team as part of the XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 Refresh that Microsoft released in April 2007. But our subject matter experts had a long wish list for the Professional Edition of XNA Game Studio, and the most requested features were:

  • Network play on the Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE integration accessible to developers
  • Better sound API or access to low-level sound devices, maybe even to the DVD
  • Support for current and future versions of Visual Studio
  • Easier multicore and multithreading support
  • An instrumenting profiler for the Xbox 360
  • More features to the art pipeline tools
  • Fristrom also asks "Can they make a change to the C# spec? I wish members defaulted to 'public'—data hiding is for languages that don't have properties."
Fristrom even jokes, asking for "support for PS3 and Wii. (Maybe right after Microsoft acquires Sony and Nintendo.)"

Williams hopes Microsoft has been taking notes because he sees a lot riding on XNA Game Studio Professional and the community tools that will follow. "The viability of XNA and managed code in the commercial realm will depend heavily on how they implement XNA Game Studio Professional, the community features, and the marketplace."

XNA: The Future
XNA Game Studio 2.0 seems to be just around the corner, but for now, Mitchell wants to get as many game developers as possible to try XNA, saying, "If you're a professional game developer and haven't downloaded and played with XNA Game Studio Express, I strongly encourage you to do so. We'd love to gather even more feedback as to what you like, don't like, or would like to see changed in the professional offerings we'll be delivering soon for commercial game development. XNA Game Studio Express is the foundation upon which we're building those professional components, so it's absolutely a great way to get a preview of the capabilities and performance characteristics of what we're building."

Fristrom is optimistic about XNA's future and thinks Microsoft is on the right track. "XNA can help Microsoft continue to take over the world. All the programmers I know got their start making games for fun whether they ended up on Wall Street or in the game industry or what. Today's generation of games makers is tomorrow's generation of programmers, and if they're downloading XNA instead of GCC or PyGame to do their development in, that's what they're going to be comfortable with and want to use in the future."

Nitschke wants Microsoft to stay the course but urges the XNA team to pick up the pace and open more doors. "[If Microsoft allowed] XNA games to be marketed on Xbox LIVE Arcade it would also attract a lot of people to XNA and the Xbox 360 itself, which is a double win for Microsoft. I cannot see any reason to start developing games for the Wii or the PS3 [since] small game companies will have no chance of ever getting a big publisher deal without doing many smaller and mid-sized games first and building their way up. Microsoft is one step ahead!"

Austin is sold on C# and XNA and intends to keep using it at many levels at Hidden Path, saying "I've been thoroughly converted to making C# an integral part of our development process. Every non-game tool we use now is based around C#, and it's been amazing how much it's streamlined our pipelines. I even like it enough that when I am required to go use C++ in a tool (because of an external API), I find a way to wrap that API in managed code. I haven't yet explored how well C++ and C# work together for direct console code, but I can envision us moving to a hybrid approach on Xbox 360/Windows exclusive games where we use C++ like we used to use assembler and use C# like we used to use C++."

Terrano has high hopes. He wants gaming for the masses, for gamers and non-gamers alike, and anything that can help achieve that is a good thing. "Games are my passion. There is no medium in history that has had the potential to change hearts and minds, to teach and influence and connect as games have today. Games can communicate across race, nation, and ideological boundaries—to truly connect people in new ways and deliver new experiences never possible before. We are just touching the surface of where we can go with gaming and delivering that educational or entertainment experience to our audiences. Anything that makes the creation experience easier, more fun, or accessible to more people is a great thing—I'm all for it."

Benjamin Nitschke: "Do you know anyone still doing pure assembler programming? Probably not, and in 10 years you will find it hard to find pure C++ programmers too."
Just like .NET has allowed enterprise developers to spend less time on application "plumbing" and more time coding their business logic, XNA brings that paradigm to game developers. Austin concludes, "XNA does a great job of letting the game developer work on the part of the game that is entertaining. Great tools open up lots of new and exciting options, but it is still up to the creative developer to make something fun."

Want to Hear More about Microsoft XNA?
If you want to hear more about XNA, Game Studio Express, and game development and learn directly from the Microsoft product teams, industry experts and Microsoft MVPs, join me and thousands of other developers and dig into the latest development technologies for game development with XNA at the following events:

Nickolas Landry, MVP is a principal architect and practice manager in New York for Infusion Development, a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner that offers quality software development services, developer training, and consulting services for large financial firms in the New York, Boston, and Toronto areas, as well as London, UK. Known for his dynamic and engaging style, he is a frequent speaker at major software development conferences worldwide such as Tech-Ed, MEDC, and DevConnections. He's a member of the MSDN Canada Speakers Bureau, a Microsoft MVP on Device Application Development, and is the vice president of IASA New York. Nick provides design and mentoring services in architecture and .NET development, authors and teaches .NET classes, performs system audits and business analyses, and profiles technologies for various enterprise scenarios. He specializes in .NET mobility, OOP and SOA, architecture and design patterns, high performance computing, and application security. He also lectures on XNA at various events, is a production advisor for Frozen North's Project Hippasus, was producer and game designer for Infusion's Mobile Kombat for Microsoft MEDC 2006, and was a volunteer beta tester for two Star Wars Galaxies expansions. He has written about mobile development for magazines and has helped to develop several .NET mobility courses for Microsoft, has been a technical editor for many book titles, and holds several professional certifications from Microsoft and IBM. Read his blog for more information.
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