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Microsoft adds XNA Game Studio 4.0 to its Windows Phone 7 arsenal

This week, at the Game Developers Conference, Microsoft is slated to begin explaining part of its Windows Phone 7 tooling story -- specifically how it plans to get more games developed for its new mobile platform. One key to that story is its XNA Game Studio tool suite.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

This week, at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Microsoft is slated to begin explaining part of its Windows Phone 7 tooling story -- specifically how it plans to get more games developed for its new mobile platform.

One key to that story is its XNA Game Studio tool suite. This week, the company is sharing more about version 4.0 of that suite and providing attendees of the San Francisco conference with a preview of what's in it.

The current version of the XNA Game Studio suite (3.1) allows developers to build games that can run on Windows PCs, Xbox 360 and Zune media player devices. Version 4.0 is going to support Windows PCs, Xbox 360 consoles and WIndows Phone 7 Series phones (but not the Zune HD), according to a blog post by Michael Klucher, Lead Program Manger for the XNA Development Platform.

Microsoft officials have been releasing bits of information, piece-by-piece, since Microsoft first shared a preview of its Windows Phone 7 plans in mid-February at the Mobile World Congress show. Company officials have been telling developers, customers, partners and press that "all will be revealed" about its phone-development story at Microsoft's Mix 10 conference, which kicks off on March 15.

But this week at GDC, Microsoft officials are sharing more information specific to the XNA side of the Windows Phone 7 story. (The Silverlight details aren't slated to be shared until next week.) Klucher has some of those details in his March 9 post:

"Yes, We have hardware accelerated 3D API’s on Windows Phone 7 Series. Yes, We have Visual Studio 2010 integration with our toolset. We’ve even added buffered audio support to the Audio API’s that many of you have asked for.

"The other key component of XNA Game Studio 4.0 that we’ve enabled exclusively for Xbox partners is Xbox LIVE and a premium gaming experience on Windows Phone 7 Series. Through the Gamer Services API’s you can pull in a user’s Gamertag and 2D Avatar as part of the game experience, unlock achievements on the platform, and leverage notifications for asynchronous turn based gaming."

Klucher said Microsoft will continue to support game development for the Zune via the XNA Game Studio 3.1 release, but said programmers who've built games for that platform will be encouraged to port them to Windows Phone 7.

"We tested this (migration of Zune games to Windows Phone 7) a lot during development and had games like Hexic and Goo Splat up and running in an hour or so, it’s very easy!" Klucher blogged.

It's not too surprising Microsoft isn't continuing to make the Zune players one of the targets of its "three screens and a cloud" strategy, especially given the company's decision to turn Zune into a service, instead of a device, over the coming months/years. Microsoft officials reiterated in February that every Windows Phone 7 device will be Zune-enabled.

However, I've gotten a few tips that Microsoft is working on a "Zune HD2" type player that will be similar to an iPod Touch -- and that it could potentially ship later this year, so the company's decision to cut Zune HD from the list of targets for XNA Game Studio 4.0 may rile some developers/users, I'd think.

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