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This week in game consoles

Microsoft starred at this week's Game Developers Conference, where it released tools meant to ease the creation of games for the next Xbox.

Microsoft was the star at this week's Game Developers Conference, where it released developer tools meant to ease the creation of games for the next Xbox.

XNA Studio is one of the first major products to come out of the XNA initiative Microsoft announced a year ago to standardize game development across different systems. Developers could use the same XNA tools to create games for Windows PCs, the current Xbox and future versions of the console, Microsoft promised at the San Francisco conference.

XNA Studio is based on Visual Studio 2005 Team System, Microsoft's collection of code-writing tools for Windows developers who work in large teams. XNA Studio will include similar collaboration features meant to facilitate the exchange of code between programmers, designers, quality assurance testers and other members of a development project.

Microsoft offered a few details on the next version of Xbox, showing a few software and online service changes planned for the next Xbox, code-named Xenon. Mainly, though, the company stuck to big-picture themes, particularly the shift of video entertainment to high-definition content.

TV programming, DVDs and other forms of video will all be dazzling consumers with HDTV content within a few years, a Microsoft executive said, and video game creators will have to provide an equal level of visual detail and graphics razzle-dazzle to stay competitive.

Sony was also trying to get game developers' attention, assuring them that while the new Cell processor is big, complicated and shares a fair amount of DNA with IBM servers, there's no reason to be afraid of it. That's because Cell, the chip that will power the next version of Sony's PlayStation video game console, will use programming tools that developers should already be familiar with and new tools that should allow them to work smarter.

Sony has been working on the Cell, in partnership with IBM and Toshiba, for four years. Sony shared some of the first programming details on the chip, promising that Cell would adapt many existing development tools rather than force developers to learn whole new languages.

The president of Nintendo, the third member of the game console triumvirate, previewed some quirky new titles and spilled a few details about his company's upcoming machine during a speech at the conference.

Satoru Iwata said that the console, code-named Revolution, would break with Nintendo's past practices by being backward-compatible and playing games for the current GameCube. Nintendo's reliance on proprietary media formats previously has meant that each new machine rendered old games obsolete.

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