XNA Games Coming To Zune, Xbox Live

Microsoft dropped a bomb at the Game Developers Conference, announcing that it is extending support for its XNA video game programming language to its Zune media device.

That means that XNA games (which are easy and mostly free to design and can run on Windows and the Xbox) will be also able to run on the portable music/video player, with developers only needing to code it once to run on all three platforms.

Microsoft’s Chris Satchell made the announcement at GDC, showing a demo of a new side scroller (or, technically, up scroller) space shooter called Zauri. The game is controlled using the touch-sensitive “squircle” pad on the Zune, an excellent gaming control for a small device. Take a look:

Video: XNA Game Running on a Zune

According to Engadget, while the second generation Zune (and its unique and well-suited for gaming control pad) is used in the demo, developers will be able to ship games for the first generation Zune, so long as they create a control scheme for that device.

Wireless multiplayer games, thanks to the Zune’s wifi, will absolutely be an option. You can play with any Zunes in your vicinity, with up to eight players per game. In-game music can be customized, selected from any music already on the Zune, except for DRM licensed music.

Games will be created using the next version of the framework, in XNA Games Studio 3.0, the first beta/preview of which will be out this April. Final release is currently targeted for the Fall. Games cannot be played cross-platform (i.e., Xbox users can’t play against Zune users), but game files will run on all three platforms. Games will not be shared wirelessly, though that may change.

Also coming: Xbox Live Community Games. The best XNA games will be made available on Xbox Live, with game sharing, rating, downloading and playing on your console, without the need to connect to a PC or have a Creators Club subscription. The first seven games are available right now as a special preview (and, presumably, to test the system). For now games are free, but Microsoft is considering revenue models so creators can make money, which will be announced before the holiday season.

To download the games, first go Marketplace, then Game Store, then All Games, then XNA Creators Club, then XNA Creators Club Game Launcher (not “XNA Game Launcher”). Download it, then go to the XNA Creators Club tab in Games Library to download games.

The seven games are:

  • “JellyCar.” Created by Walaber from the United States, this game is about driving a squishy car through squishy worlds, trying to reach the exit.
  • “Little Gamers.” This is a 2-D high definition action side-scroller based on the famous Web comic “Little Gamers” created by Loïc Dansart, a 24-year-old software developer from Belgium.
  • “The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai.” An intense 2-D action platform game created by James Silva from the United States, “The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai” has a unique, highly stylized look and fast and fluid action.
  • “TriLinea.” This puzzle game created by Edison S. Prata Jr., Renato Pelizzari da Silva and Davi da Silva Prata from Brazil mixes fast-paced action with strategy.
  • “RocketBall.” Created by Tyler Wanlass, Patrick Murty and Todd Barrons of the United States, this neighborhood game of dodgeball explodes onto the street with fast-paced multiplayer action.
  • “ProximityHD.” This game, created by Brian Cable from the United States, takes the essence of strategy games – battles for control of territory and armies – and distills it down to a simple, easy-to-understand set of rules for casual players.
  • “Culture.” Created by independent game development company Hidden Path Entertainment from the United States, “Culture” contains challenging games and puzzles based on beautiful flowers.

Check out the games now. I will be, and will try to share my thoughts later.

So, Microsoft has turned the Zune into a serious gaming platform, throwing the full weight of its XNA efforts behind it. The current Zune, in many ways, is better than the iPod, and its games implementation is already more open, versatile, cheaper, and seemingly more fun than Apple’s. If the Zune can at least stand up to Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS, this move will be a valuable step forward in the fight against both Apple and the console companies.

No matter what, Microsoft has released the first convergent device, the first games player with a link to a serious music ecosystem and significant internal storage, as well as the first dedicated media player with a link to a games console. It covers missing pieces in everyone else’s lineup, and overall has a lot to offer users. Expect games to be a major selling point in the future.

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Nathan Weinberg
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Nathan Weinberg writes the popular InsideGoogle blog, offering the latest news and insights about Google and search engines. Visit the InsideGoogle blog.

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