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Game development is a great career but we all can't be the next John Carmack.  And let's be honest, even though you've got a great resume and a smashing portfolio, the odds are slim you'll get that coveted game programmer job.  To sharpen your skills and expand your portfolio why not take a look at Microsoft's XNA Game Studio?

XNA Game Studio is a library built on top of the DirectX framework to ease game development for students and hobbyists while still providing enough flexibility to create games with the quality of some AAA-titles.  As an added 'bonus', XNA developers can build games for the Xbox 360, distribute the game via the Xbox Live Marketplace, and even profit from their creations.  All in due time young padawan, first you must crawl before you walk....

To get started, you'll need some software on your PC.  The first is Microsoft's Visual Studio.  Preferably 2008, XNA used to run in Visual Studio 2005 and will probably support 2010 in the near future.  Now of course buying Visual Studio would be the best bet considering the quality of the product, but for a whopping $620 (Amazon.com) a lot of us can't afford it.  Luckily, there are a few (legal) alternative methods of acquiring the software.  If you are a student, you may be able to score a free ISO copy of Visual Studio 2008 Professional from Microsoft's Dreamspark Website.  Dreamspark is a resource to provide free Microsoft technologies and software to students.  For the rest of us, Microsoft has generously released slimmed-down versions of the Visual Studio products at their Express products website.  XNA utilizes C# so for the Express products you should grab Visual C# 2008 Express Edition.  Make sure, after you get your respective (legal) copy of the Visual Studio C# editor, that you also make sure you have the latest Service Packs and updates installed.

Next, you need to download and install XNA Game Studio 3.1 (the latest release of the XNA framework).  You can find the download link for XNA GS 3.1 and the aforementioned Visual C# 2008 Express Edition at the Creator's Club website.  Creator's Club is the definitive website for XNA development and your first (and best, in my opinion) resource for XNA development.  The website features tutorials, examples, and starter kits (pre-built games for you to modify), and I can't reccomend it enough!  Check the Resources at the end of this article for some other great websites for you to check out.

As for required software, this is generally all you need to start developing XNA games.  However, if you want to develop for the Xbox 360 console, you'll need to sign-up for a premium membership which costs $49 for 3 months or $99 for a year.  If you are a lucky Dreamspark student, you can grab a free trial membership from Dreamspark.  While the trial will allow you to develop and deploy games to your Xbox console, you will need to purchase a paid membership before you are allowed to submit games for sale on the Xbox Marketplace.  We will go into the process for submitting a game for sale in a future article.

If you are planning on providing all the artwork for your game as well, you will need some kind of image software.  While Photoshop is one amazing program, it can cost between $200-$700 for the latest version.  There is, however, a free program online called Gimp which should be a bit better than your old MSPaint.

By this point you should have stopped reading and started tinkering with all your new software.  The best part?  We have a quality programming environment, a library that supports easy game development, and a full fledged art program for FREE.  You have all the tools to get you started, and this is exactly what Microsoft wanted.  Oh no, we've fallen into a Microsoft trap!!!  Don't fret, this was Microsoft's intention with XNA and it works to our benefit.

I've held your hand a bit during this first article, handing you links and fancy instructions on everything you need.  While the instructions (and maybe the links) will continue in the future, I'm going to go forward assuming you have a familiarity with the C# language.  There are tons of resources online for C# development, and hundreds of books on the subject.  I will be focusing more on techniques used for game development and the XNA framework rather than introducing you to programming.  Now go experiment with XNA you little John Carmack you!

Web Resources:

Microsoft Visual 2008 Express Editions
Microsoft Dreamspark
XNA Creator's Club
Gimp Image Editor

XNA Resources:

Ziggyware
XNA Development
XNA Development Tutorials (my old tutorials)
XNA Resources

Posted on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 7:34 AM Tutorials | Back to top


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