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Postcard from GDC 2004: J Allard introduces Microsoft's XNA

In the General Interest Keynote at the GDC, J Allard (Corporate Vice President, Xbox Platform, Microsoft) introduced one of this year's GDC surprises: Microsoft's XNA.

J Allard Introducting XNA

In the General Interest Keynote at the GDC, J Allard (Corporate Vice President, Xbox Platform, Microsoft) introduced one of this year's GDC surprises: Microsoft's XNA. XNA is a software development platform (or, as Allard put it, a game development ecosystem), designed to streamline the creation of games both on the Xbox, PC and Windows Mobile platforms. Its main benefits are component interoperability, and a promise to eliminate a large portion of the boilerplate code developers are repeating over and over again in today's games.

XNA integrates PC-based technologies such as DirectX, the High-Level Shading Language (HLSL) with Xbox classics such as PIX (a pipeline analysis tool), XACT (an audio authoring tool), Xbox Live, common input controller profiles, etc. All these technologies will come together within the familiar Visual Studio working environment, which will be improved with additions specific for game development. By doing so, Microsoft plans to re-define the way games are developed today. In Allard's words, today's developers are spending 80% of their time in the creation of tools, whether it's engines, middleware, or just boilerplate code. Thus, only 20% of the time is devoted to actual creation of games. XNA is designed to reverse that equation, so more time gets devoted to creation as actual construction processes will be greatly simplified.

The session was opened by Robbie Bach, Senior Xbox Officer, Microsoft, by doing a thorough analysis of the current state of game developments, focusing on items like code re-use, timings, budget. As a conclusion, he stated that new tools must be introduced so these processes can keep on growing and bigger, better games be built. He focused on software as the best way to find that solution, as it provides flexibility, and control over the production chain. Allard then focused on the solution, introducing XNA and its components first, and later showing a series of XNA-built demos developed by Microsoft's Advanced Technology Group, along with the more than twenty studios that have already announced their support for XNA. Among these studios were known faces such as Valve, Epic, High Voltage Games, Pseudo Interactive, and many others.

XNA could very well become a re-foundation of how games are coded, comparable only to the impact the original DirectX API had. Allard announced the first XNA-enabled toolkits for later this year. Meanwhile, an extensive FAQ and some demo videos (also shown during Allard's presentation) can be browsed at www.microsoft.com/xna

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