Over the last few years, Microsoft has invested heavily in the games market with its Xbox product line. However, developing for the Xbox has required the XDK (Xbox Developers Kit), with the result that the Xbox platform has been marginalized in comparison with Windows.
With XNA, Microsoft is merging its XDK toolkit and the DirectX Kit to provide a unified development and build environment that can target both the PC and Xbox, and even mobile gaming.
The Hollywood-sized budgets of game producers have tempted Microsoft to be even more ambitious, says Tony Goodhew, product manager at Microsoft.
XNA Studio is the product slated for release next year. The plan is to include three compelling tools for game producers. First, it will contain the unified multiplatform software development kit. Second, it will have a scriptable build engine that can handle the tens of thousands of resources that go to make up a complex game. Finally, it will support collaborative workflow based on the Visual Studio Team System.
Goodhew says that many games producers have surprisingly inefficient development and change-control processes, with much building and testing done using ad hoc scripts that are game specific.
With game developers using tens of thousands of graphic and 3D model resources and their various dependencies, Goodhew expects XNA Studio will offer games developers the opportunity to focus more on developing games and less on the development and configuration of build environments, and change management.
In addition to the direct support of games designers and developers, Microsoft will also try to make project tracking far more transparent with the bundling of various reports. With the capital intensive nature of games development this should provide comfort to both venture capitalists and games publishers involved in the production and distribution of new games.
Microsoft is also hoping to bundle a testing environment that will help the games designers improve the story line and player experience. By providing a suitable test harness, designers will be able to determine, for example, that 90 percent of players' characters "die" in a particular room.
Goodhew hopes XNA Studio will reduce the costs of games while enhancing their playability.
Smaller games developers may have to wait for these goodies, however. The first version will be targeted at the larger production teams and, no doubt, priced accordingly.