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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 12:46 GMT
DIY developers to make Xbox games
Screen grab of the website for a would-be developer competition
One developer will have their game published
Microsoft has made tools available which will allow hobbyists and students to create games for the Xbox 360.

The software, which has been trialled since August, is being billed by Microsoft as a first step towards a YouTube for videogames.

Would-be developers will be able to use the tools program, called XNA Game Studio Express, to develop and share games via the Xbox Live online service.

DIY games will provide a contrast to those with multi-million pound budgets.

While the games that can be created by these new tools will be rudimentary in comparison to the best-sellers, it would hark back to the days when games were made on a shoestring budget.

The tools are available to download for free but many may want to join the XNA Creators Club, which allows DIY developers access to technical support, white papers, starter kits and other assets to help turn the games into reality.

This will cost 65 for an annual subscription, or 30 for a four-month subscription.

Dancing cheese

As well as being of interest to the casual games developer, Microsoft is hoping the tools will be used by students.

Five UK universities, Derby, Hull, Bradford, Belfast and Nottingham, were involved in the initial trial of the software, suggesting tweaks to the tools.

Rob Miles, a lecturer in computer science at Hull University, has been an enthusiastic convert to the software.

"I played with the first version and immediately set about building it into the curriculum," he said.

"I have been working on a game that involves cheese and bread. It's enjoyable to make a piece of cheese dance around the screen and then make it 3D," he said.

His students are currently developing the Snake game, familiar to mobile phone users, for the Xbox.

"By February they will have it running on a console and can take it home to show their mum," said Mr Miles.

Andrew Sithers, Microsoft UK
It is about sharing games and is envisioned as a YouTube for games
Andrew Sithers, Microsoft UK

The boom in videogame development can be traced back to teenagers making games on home machines such as the Spectrum and Commodore 64.

While there is a healthy market in user-generated games for the PC, producing games for consoles has been much more difficult because access to the hardware has not been available.

"It is about sharing games and is envisioned as a YouTube for games," said Andrew Sithers, the academic lead at Microsoft UK.

"One of the nice features of this is that is will allow PC and Xbox to talk to each other. So developers can execute code on their PC while the game plays on the Xbox," he added.

While the initial version of the software is about sharing ideas, future versions could allow would-be developers to make some money from their games, said Mr Sithers.

To mark the launch of XNA Game Studio Express, Microsoft is launching a competition. Dubbed Dream-Build-Play, the contest will offer the winner the chance to have their game published on Xbox Live Arcade.

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