XNA Hones C# For Game Programmers

    April 6, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Although it still isn’t ready for prime time, Microsoft did give game developers and C# programmers the chance to take a peek at the first pre-release of the XNA Build at the Game Developers Conference last month.

Microsoft gave out a lot of copies of the XNA Build DVD to GDC 2006 attendees. Then they did something that makes the typical geek wonder why no one else does this either: they made the DVD available online for developers to access and install the XNA Build.

They also included source code for MechCommander 2 for review. For developers, working with XNA will mean working with C#, aka “C Sharp,” Microsoft’s C variant and answer to Java.

The XNA Framework closely resembles the .Net Framework, but with game development-related libraries. Scott Henson, Director of Microsoft’s Advanced Technology Group, described in a Team Xbox interview what this means for those programmers who develop games for the Xbox 360.

He walked through the process of taking a Windows CE game, Pocket Mahjong, and bringing on a programmer to port the game to other platforms:

While the programmer had little trouble moving the game over to Windows, Henson claimed that it only took a day to accomplish-and then just another day to take the same code to create an identically playing version for Xbox 360. Finally, collaborating with Henson’s team, they worked to upgrade the art and add richer backing music for the more advanced platforms. The stunner is that they were able to transform the portable game from a very simple version and turn it into fuller-featured entertainment running on Windows and Xbox 360 in less than a week’s time.

Casual games, of course, can be developed and ported in shorter time frames than more involved titles. But it appears that XNA offers a way to make those games available as ports in a narrower time window as well, according to Henson’s account of the development of Culture, a 3D version of the venerable 2D Life game:

The player fires seeds onto the planet’s surface, which causes different-colored flowers to grow, and the proximity of like colors to each other changes the growth patterns (either by absorbing the color in the minority or by spawning another of the same color, much like a child added to a family).

Explaining how the program was created, Henson said that the programmer started by building a Windows version using the existing .NET Framework and learning the C# language from scratch. In just a couple of weeks, he had a working version running on the PC. From that start, he was then able to port the software and construct an identical version on Xbox 360-in a single day.

Ideally a platform that enables speedier creation of games should lead to the development of more games for a console’s library, in this case the library for the new Xbox 360. That should lead to greater desirability for the console from new users, and then more substantial efforts by big game studios to reach that expanded userbase.

In turn, that should lead to greater demand for C# programmers willing to do game development with the XNA framework. And maybe even a bit of Sony’s share of the game console market too.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.