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DIY games for the Xbox

Microsoft releases developer tools for creating Xbox games as part of a push to create a YouTube-equivalent for video gamers.

Microsoft released free developer tools on Monday that will allow amateurs to make their own video games.

XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 is a framework for creating games with the C# programming language and a content pipeline for incorporating 3D-rich content. It includes libraries of 2D and 3D content that can be applied to games. XNA games can be played on the Xbox 360 itself or a Windows PC. The development tool package is free to download, though a subscription service is required for developers to share the games they create with anyone else with an Xbox 360.

The new tool is part of a push from Redmond to create a YouTube-equivalent for video gamers. Microsoft also plans to release a professional version of XNA Game Studio in 2007 that will allow independent developers to create commercial games.

Microsoft has not enabled the created games to be shared on Xbox 360 consoles by burning them to DVD or a memory card. Instead, developers will need to use the XNA Creators Club, a subscription-based service where gamers can debug, share and play each other's games on the Xbox 360. The club subscription, available in the U.S. via the Xbox Live Marketplace, is $49 for four months or $99 for the year.

XNA-created games can be burned to a DVD or memory card from a Windows PC and played on another Windows PC, but not on the Xbox, according to Dave Mitchell, director of marketing for Microsoft Game Developer Group. The XNA game launcher on the Xbox will only look to one approved location to retrieve games; it will not read DVDs or memory cards. When you transfer an XNA-created game from a PC to an Xbox, XNA uses an encrypted transport and places the game in that approved location on the Xbox hard drive. Only the home-networked PC associated with that Xbox via a generated connection token can create and place games in that location. Players can play or delete a game from their Xbox, but they can't move it, said Mitchell. To share with others, they have to subscribe to the XNA Creators Club.

"We're tremendously excited that people can more easily create games, and now for the first time ever in the history of retail video games, people can play their own games on an Xbox 360. From what I've seen, the community is very talented and I think we are going to see some true innovations as a result of this," said Mitchell.

The XNA platform does not support Xbox Live, the networking which allows Xbox gamers to play against one another. According to the XNA FAQ, that is something Microsoft is "actively working on" to include in XNA's next release.

To generate excitement about the new tool and video game-sharing site, Microsoft is also launching a "Dream-Build-Play" contest in January for the best original game created with XNA Studio Express.

The hardware requirements needed to run XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 are the same as those required for Visual Studio 2005. They include Windows XP SP2 and Microsoft Visual C# Express 2005. A beta version of the software is in development for use with Windows Vista, according to Microsoft.