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Interview with Chris Satchell
Want to build your own video games? Chris Satchell, head of Microsoft's Game Developer Group gives us the inside scoop about XNA

Labeled With  XNA Microsoft XBOX 360 Chris Satchell
Written by Josh Lowensohn on Monday, November 13 2006

While many folks spent their time playing Gears of War and checking out the new movie service at Microsoft’s XBOX 360 Showcase event last week, in a small room in the back sat Chris Satchell, quietly showing off XNA, a cross-platform game development tool that is essentially changing the buy-in of console game development completely. Microsoft’s new product XNA is Satchell and his team’s new baby. With some select tools, creating a game is quick, and the results are very polished. Even cooler, you can move this game to your XBOX 360 with the click of a button. So how can you, the gamer with little or no coding experience make your masterpiece? Read on.

GR: So for the average person, how could they come into this arena and figure out how to use this program without any sort of coding or knowledge of C++ or C sharp, etc.?

Satchell: So I think there’s a couple ways people can really easily get into this. When we launched, if you joined the creator’s club on XBOX 360, you can also then take anything you do and push it to the XBOX 360. And as you said, people want to get into this, and a lot of people don’t have programming experience. So there’s a couple of things they can do. One is, we work with a thing called “starter kits.” And what start kits are is, imagine you want to make a racing game. Without having to build all the assets yourself, and do all the code yourself, we give you one with the licensing to change source code, licensing art access. You can just start right away playing it. You can get in there and mod a few things. So it gives you a really easy way to start playing around. Now I think if you’re working with a design or art site, and want to start building games, I think a great thing is to get XNA and then pair it with the tools from our partners at Garage Games with their Torque game builder. When you’ve got Torque game builder and XNA together you get a system where you can build whole games using just drag and drop game development. You just do it with a mouse. Drag game elements in, drag behaviors on top and you’ve got a whole game without having to do any coding at all. And then using XNA, what you’ve got working on Windows you can push to your XBOX 360 to play it there as well. So you’ve kind of got this really easy way to go build stuff. You probably already saw what they were doing over there with 2-D (Satchell is referring to a nearby demonstration of the Torque engine from Garage Games), so imagine being able to do that and push it to a console and play it right away. So it really opens it up for a whole community of people who haven’t been able to build before. They’ve always had great ideas, but not the tools to support them.

GR: So is this going to be available straight out of the program? I know you’re in beta right now, but are people going to be able to purchase a retail pack and have that be able to be played right on a retail console, or are they going to have to get a development kit?

Satchell: This will work with the retail console. So the Windows side is absolutely free. You go get all the tools and start right away and make the games with the tools and do whatever you want with them. On the XBOX 360 side, it’s a $99 a year subscription to get all abilities to play and debug and share on XBOX 360. But also you get all this community content we’re doing. So if you can imagine, you go to an art site like say Turbosquid. And you might go buy a model and it will cost you get a cheap one for $10 or $50-100 for a good 3-D model. In our subscription, we’re going to be giving away whole games and they come with all the artwork. So we’re going to give away white papers, and samples and tutorials. Lots of things about “how to be successful.” So this is going to go live, our v.1 is coming out the second week of December. You can get the beta now and everything you do in the beta now, will just transition into the final product. And because it’s a cross-platform game development environment, what you build on Windows will often work on XBOX with no modification at all, or only need a little bit of modification. So that’s very different from any other game development system we’ve had to date.

GR: What’s been your touch on this whole product? What have you been working on that you’re you the most proud of?

Satchell: (jokingly) I’ve managed to get promoted to the point where I’m not even useful anymore. No, I’ve been from XNA right from the beginning, and there’s an amazing team of people there that are just passionate about enabling the community. So I’ve worked with them right from the beginning to really drive the direction of XNA with Boyd Multerer who really runs the XNA team. Both of us have had this vision of enabling creators, and it’s a vision that is really shared by J. Allard, and you know J who made XBOX, the three of us last year got really passionate about it— let’s be all about community, let’s let the community create. So, all three of us have been driving this year to get a really great product. It’s just great to see it finally coming out.

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