GDC 2008

GDC 2008: The Microsoft Keynote

Russ Pitts | 20 Feb 2008 19:43
GDC 2008 - RSS 2.0
James Silva's 'Dishwasher' recently won the XNA game design competition. A demo is currently available for download on Xbox Live.
James Silva's 'Dishwasher' recently won the XNA game design competition. A demo is currently available for download on Xbox Live.

Microsoft's big news was XNA, the development platform introduced in 2004 which allows cross-platform development between Windows PCs and the Xbox 360.

"I can't help but be nostalgic for the days when all you needed [to make a game] was your father's computer and a modem." Schappert says he intends to take Microsoft back to those days. The phrase "democratization" was a bit overused, but perhaps appropriate.

Schappert introduced Christopher Satchell, Chief XNA Architect, who tapped the democratization keg again. "Eighteen months ago we revolutionized the industry by democratizing game development," he said, referring to the unleashing of XNA for Xbox 360. Since then they've had over 800,000 downloads of the toolset.

He went on to describe how XNA can allow anyone, from anywhere, to design a game. The silence in the room said more than Satchell could have in twenty more minutes. It was as if every single developer was thinking "if anyone can make games ... what am I going to do?"

Hollywood knows how you feel. The good news is that in any user-created environment, very little - less than 10% - of what's produced will be of any real quality. But that 10% could be created by the guy you count on down the hall, which could ultimately revolutionize not only the way games are created, but the way game companies are organized.

To prove his point, Satchell introduced the winner of the recent XNA game design competition, James Silva, whose game Dishwasher is available now on Xbox Live as a demo.

"I was at the point where I thought it was time to grow up," says Silva, whose inspiration for the game, featuring a samurai dishwasher who battles cyborgs, came from his own days washing dishes at a local eatery. "But thanks to XNA, I can put that off for about five years now."

Starting later this year, XNA community-developed games will be available directly over Xbox Live, making it possible for independent developers to make a game and get it to almost anyone, practically instantly. It goes without saying this could revolutionize the way games are made. The phrase "YouTube for videogames" has never been more apt.

The system uses creator profiles, similar to gamer profiles. The creators upload the game and develop a reputation based on what they've created and uploaded. The service will adopt Wikipedia-style community policing, putting the contributors themselves in the driver's seat. After a game is uploaded to the community, the community members review it. When the game reaches critical mass of peer reviews, it's released to Xbox Live.

It's an interesting system, allowing the creators themselves to ultimately judge what gets released and what doesn't. As Utopian ideals go, I've heard worse.

Free demos of the games featured in the keynote are available now on Xbox Live.

But just as with any good Billy Mays demonstration, Satchell gave us a good "But wait, there's more." You can also develop XNA games for the Zune. Still waiting for that iPod gaming device? Microsoft isn't. This could be the push that puts the Zune back on the map. He showed a simple shooter game on Windows, Xbox 360 and Zune. It was impressive. One envisions a future when games are downloadable and programmed for multiple platforms, something Microsoft has been preaching about for years.

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