XNA Studio Interview
With the impending release of the next Xbox later this year, Microsoft introduced a new toolset for game developers last month at the Game Developers Conference. XNA Studio is based on an upcoming version of the Microsoft Visual Studio development suite. Since John and I are both software developers, we just had to get the scoop on what Microsoft had planned for this version of the tool we use in our day jobs. Luckily Chris Satchell, the General Manager of the Game Development Group, took some time to answer our questions
GamingNexus: On a general level, how different is the IDE of XNA over Visual Studio 2K5
Chris Satchell: Our focus with XNA studio is to deliver the incredible productivity and collaboration services at the heart of VS2005 in a way that allows all members of the game development team to take advantage of them easily. While game programmers and testers are familiar with Visual Studio and can access the team collaboration services through Visual Studio itself we recognize that the game content creators and game producers may not be familiar with Visual Studio. One of the main pieces of work we are doing is making the collaborative services available in a form that is natural to these other roles and it could take many forms: small stand alone clients, direct integration with the major DCC tools etc. The key concept is to keep each team member in the environment where they will be most productive.
GamingNexus: As a big believer in test driven development, are there tools that help you develop with this methodology such as developing Unit tests and also provide code coverage reports?
Chris Satchell: VS 2005 has a unit test framework and can automatically generate unit tests from existing code (you can of course write unit tests manually). VS 2005 also has numerous code related reports one of which is unit test coverage. The VS 2005 Team System product also supports different development processes and will ship with process support for Agile Software Development. In future releases of XNA studio we will also look at delivering testing tools that are specifically tailored to games. There is some amazing work done by our first Party studios in this area and where appropriate we want to leverage this experience into the game development community.
GamingNexus: There are already powerful tools such as Eclipse and many open source alternatives that provide a great development tools base. Why should developers choose to use the XNA software if they are already comfortable with Visual Studio or some other development IDE?
Chris Satchell: XNA Studio is built on top of Visual Studio and allows programmers to leverage the skills they already have, while also providing tools for artists and content creators.
XNA Studio takes all that is great about developing on Visual Studio and tailors it for the game production process to increase the efficiency of the whole team. Today artists and programmers work in silos and there is little consistency between the process of building content and writing code. Developers are demanding a better way to make games. XNA Studio puts content at the core of the game development process by delivering reliable, controllable, repeatable methods for managing and building content. It delivers one, integrated pipeline to streamline data and content through the production process, saving studios time and money.
GamingNexus: With development times on games increasing, how do you feel XNA will help cut down this development time?
Chris Satchell: XNA Studio will speed development time and decrease development costs by delivering an advanced build framework and a suite on integrated tools to solve common production challenges. The build framework is based on a unified file format and fully integrated into the tool suite to optimize the game production process for all team members. By delivering reliable, controllable and reusable methods for managing and building content in synchronization with the game code, XNA Studio will free time developers used to spend fighting with their build processes to be spent adding new content to their gamesGamingNexus: Did you receive any feedback from game developers on how to enhance the tools?
Chris Satchell: Everything we do in the XNA program is driven by listening to the game development community and planning around what they need. We didn’t invent all the ideas going into XNA studio; we talked to the community and found that much of the thinking aligned. Everyone is facing similar problems and often developers know what they need to be productive they just do not have the resources to build the required solution. By building on VS2005 we can use the huge investment Microsoft has made in developer tools to solve these problems for the game development community.
We will continue to spend a significant amount of time working with game developers, publishers and game middleware companies to understand how best to enhance our hardware, software, services so that they have the tools to deliver their creative visions to customers.
GamingNexus: Will you be taking into account game developer's comments on the tools to improve on XNA?
Chris Satchell: Absolutely. Just as we continually take and act on developer feedback with in our DirectX and Xbox programs, we will follow that pattern with XNA. We only succeed if we solve game development problems and make developers more productive. The only way to do this is to listen to feedback and incorporate it into your design.
GamingNexus: What are some of the praises from developers already using XNA? What are some of the negatives?
Chris Satchell: We continually get great feedback from developers on our development tools and libraries for both Windows and Xbox. Developer love PIX, it has become the standard for graphical debugging and optimization. Nearly every Xbox development team use it and now windows developers and starting to follow suit. We also found that developers really appreciated how similar and familiar we made the development environments between Xbox, Windows and our next generation console. We continually get feedback on how easy it is to transfer their ideas and systems between the platforms. Being able to concentrate on creativity rather than relearning everything as you move platforms is the one of the key XNA tenants.
GamingNexus: Is XNA studio/XNA limited to just developing Xbox, Xenon, and PC games or could it be used to develop games for other platforms?
Chris Satchell: Our priority is always to make sure the Microsoft gaming platforms are always the best platforms for developers to realize their vision. However, since Windows is the de facto platform for game development, and XNA Studio is based on the incredibly popular Visual Studio suite which is used to deliver on just about every target platform there is, so we think developers will use XNA studio for cross platform development. The reality is we can add components and services to XNA on our platforms that make it even easier for developers to develop their games. GamingNexus:Is this a developer only tool or do you see other people on a project team using it?
Chris Satchell: XNA Studio is for all members of the game production team from artists to designers to programmers to producers to QA. To enable a successful game development team in the HD Era you need to make sure all disciplines within the team are fully integrated into the production process. This is why we are targeting tailored interfaces to the core XNA Studio services; so that team members can take advantage of the features, such as asset management and workflow, in a way that fits their work style.
GamingNexus:One of the great things about Visual Studio is it’s extensibility (third party developers can build add-ons), is this functionality retained in XNA studio?
Chris Satchell: Yes. Third part developers can extend XNA Studio through the Visual Studio Integration Program (VSIP) program in exactly the same way they can extend Visual Studio today. XNA Studio will also support Visual Studios add-ins.
GamingNexus:This may be kind of a stupid question but one of the killer features for Visual Studio 2005 is the new DSL software modeling tool (Whitehorse), is there a similar product for XNA studio or is that something that game developers would not need?
Chris Satchell: Visual Studio 2005 has a lot of great modeling tools for different domain areas. We are talking to game developers about what modeling tools might be useful when creating games. However what we are focusing on in the first release is solving the challenges we know developers have as they make the transition into the ED Era of gaming. This is why we are delivering the build pipeline and fully integrated suite of digital collaboration tools.
We’d like that thank Chris for taking the time to answer our questions as well as to Ted B for hooking us up with the interview. Anything that helps developers build games quicker (and hopefully cheaper) has got to be good news for gamers.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.