Microsoft has announced plans to release an "express" version of their Xbox 360 development tools to the public this holiday season.
During the Microsoft Gamefest 2006 event, Chris Satchel, general manager of the Game Developer Group at Microsoft, announced that they would be making a free version of the XNA development tools available to students and garage designers. XNA is a development environment based on Visual Studio® Express and .NET that simplifies the integration and use of game content.
The tools will not allow you to create a game from scratch, but they should streamline the process for independent developers looking to get on the right track. Programs like Microsoft Visual Studio ($599) and 3D software such as Autodesk ($2000 minimum) would also still be required to actually create a 3D game. For developers looking to sell their completed products, the XNA FAQ explains that, "XNA Game Studio Express will enable you to create Windows and now Xbox 360 console games much more easily. These games are limited to non-commercial scenarios for 360 titles created with XNA Game Studio Express. However, XNA Game Studio Express may be used to create commercial games which target Windows."
By joining a "creators club" for an annual subscription fee of $99 (U.S.), users will be able to build, test and share their games on the Xbox 360 and access materials to help speed the game development progress. According to CNN, Microsoft Games VP Peter Moore is optimistic about the new tools. "It's our first step of creating a YouTube for video games," he said. "It will give you everything you need to bring your game to life on Xbox 360."
More than ten universities are planning to add the tools to their curriculum, including Southern California, Georgia Tech College of Computing and Southern Methodist University Guildhall.
The Studio Express beta will be released on August 30th.