Microsoft Releases Unified Gaming Development Platform

Microsoft unveiled a new software development environment this week that the Redmond, Washington-based company claims will remove the chains that have shackled developers to creating different versions of one gaming title.

Unveiling its XNA software development platform at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California, Microsoft said the platform — the foundation of all of the company’s future game platforms — will deliver breakthrough games without higher cost or complexity through “interchangeable, interoperable software tools and technologies.”

The company said that by integrating both PC and Xbox development tools and aiding the creation of games that can be easily distributed and sold for both types of hardware, it will eliminate mundane developer tasks and allow game makers to be more productive and creative.

“At the heart of XNA is choice,” said Microsoft Xbox vice president and chief XNA architect J Allard. “No game today is built with just one tool, and no game tomorrow will be either. By creating an environment where software innovations flourish and work together, XNA will allow game developers to redefine what’s possible in games and give gamers the freedom to pursue their own paths.”

Industry Effort

Microsoft called XNA an industry-wide initiative and touted the support of some of gaming’s biggest companies, including ATI, Epic Games, Nvidia and Valve.

Valve founder and managing director Gabe Newell, whose company produced the popular PC game Half Life, said the combination of PC tools, such as HLSL, and Xbox tools, such as PIX, make XNA a “best-of-breed platform.”

Epic Games founder and president Tim Sweeney called the platform dilemma “the age-old problem of game development,” adding that time spent on tools and technology cuts into time spent on game design.

“The better the tools and technology, the better — and faster — you can make your game,” Sweeney said. “The more Microsoft does to provide developers with tools, the easier it is for game developers to develop better games.”

Console-PC Control

Also at the developers conference, Microsoft said that to meet strong customer demand, it will make its Xbox Live development tools for billing, security, login, friends and matchmaking available to Windows developers.

As part of XNA, the company also is developing a common controller reference design and aiming to unify input application programming interfaces (APIs) and button standards across multiple platforms.

“The result will be a family of common controllers for Windows and Xbox game players,” Microsoft said in a statement. “In addition, the move will fuel a whole new wave of compelling, cross-platform input devices from peripheral manufacturers.”

Microsoft added that the combination of graphics and audio tools from PCs and Xbox development will enable “movie-quality graphics while forming the impetus for new software that will help developers cope with the looming complexity of high-definition video and audio.”

Second to Sony, Still Smart

While Microsoft expressed optimism about prospects for XNA, with more than 20 game development and middleware companies signing on, the company is struggling to find revenue from its Xbox console venture, which was supposed to bring in profit through software games.

However, Microsoft has failed to make progress in closing the gap between itself and Sony, which dominates with its PlayStation 2 console and games.

Michael Cai, an analyst with consumer technology research firm Parks Associates, nevertheless told TechNewsWorld that the integration of gaming platforms was a great idea and will eliminate a major barrier to wider game sales while possibly boosting Microsoft’s gaming outlook.

“You don’t see too many games for both consoles and PCs,” Cai said. “It is cheaper to adapt games for one console to another. Microsoft’s new effort will help the adaptation of successful console games, and, of course, they’ll figure out a way to make money through licensing fees or royalties.”

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