Questions on the future of XNA, Windows 8, ARM and more.

Trying to sort out the various messages coming from Microsoft related to the future of gaming platforms and supported technologies and languages has been fairly difficult to say the least. Mostly its been hearsay, speculation, and rumors, based of various MS employee blog posts. I just received the following from our MS student representative:

Here is my take on what is happening at Microsoft re game development. It is not official.

XNA apps can work on the traditional Windows 8 desktop but not on (Windows on Arm) WOA or the Windows 8 store? Yes.

But Microsoft is telling developers to move to something more advanced (C++ with DirectX) or different (Javascript) to get all the benefits like the store.

My understanding is that MSFT is converging on multiple platforms (C++, .NET, JS) all utilizing WinRT as the next supported developer platform for Big Windows. The general message seems to be that if you don’t use one of these supported systems (even if it is a variation of these like XNA which is built on .NET) then it’s time to move.

This actually creates more questions than it answers. This is where my understanding currently stands:

While there has been no actual announcement on the future of XNA (at least last time I checked), there has been the discussion of WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) for “Next-Generation User Experiences” (in addition to discussions around XAML, Silverlight, Metro Styling, DirectX 11, WRT, etc). From what I can tell, the development community is fairly confused about where MS is going. Will there be a new release of XNA that wraps DirectX 11 or is the XNA project being discontinued?

As you may know, professional game programmers have resisted the transition from DirectX9c to DirectX11, mainly because current generation gaming hardware (XBOX360) will only run DirectX9c. In my year-long graphics courses I take the students on a journey from XNA to OpenGL to DirectX9c … and wrap it up with a mention of DirectX11.

As for XNA, there’s significantly more to XNA than just DirectX calls, and it still remains the only way to build games for both XBLIG and WP7 (which just happens to be the basis of our MS gaming hardware at Champlain as no Windows 8 devices have been made available and the Windows 8 desktop OS is still in beta). It is also the basis for the official Microsoft training that occurred here just 5 months ago by visiting MS evangelists. However, a few presentations during GDC indicated a move away from educational support for game libraries (the new game networking features in both C# and C++ will only be available to register developers). This in itself is a troubling shift for educational institutions, not to mention Indie game developers. There was some indication during GDC2012 that MS was ‘getting the message’, but I’ve not heard anything since.

It is fairly clear that MS is scrambling to address the loss of game platform market share to iOS and Android. But it’s unclear what technologies to focus on. Is a move toward ARM based tablets the basis for a new MS strategy and thus the need for a focus on WOA and supported languages?

As I’ll be teaching two courses in the fall that rely heavily on MS graphics and networking language, I’m very interested in getting a clear indication of what this direction will be so that I can come up with an educational strategy. It is looking like at the very least I’ll need to do some major sample code rewrite for the Fall semester.

If any of you hear about official MS announcements/training/conferences on these topics (other than blog posts and rumors) I’d be very interested in attending.

Perhaps some answers will be provided at Foundations of Digital Games 2012 (Thanks to Dean Lawson for the link)


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