We massively underestimated just how hard XNA would be. We thought 'We know about computers and games, it'll be easy!', and reckoned we could have a simple Lumines clone knocked up and working in a couple of hours. A couple of hours later and we're still installing the development tools and making the actual system work. XNA is supposed to make creating games easy.
Then it gets worse. The XNA Studio Express system isn't a big and simple thing that automatically makes the graphics for you and generates a game all by itself. This is no games-by-numbers kit, it's a nightmare of proper tools, programming languages, effects and plug-ins. You need to know programming languages, or at least need to know someone who knows them and doesn't mind sparing you a few hundred hours of his time.
The game we want to make is called Luminetris. Like many of the Xbox 360 XNA developments in progress by fans out there it's a rip-off of an existing idea, a combination of Tetris and Lumines that is brilliant in our imagination. So far on the XNA scene we've seen remakes of Breakout, Columns clones, simple versions of Pong, plus all sorts of plagiarised remakes of the games we used to love.
The reason nobody has made much that's original yet? Using XNA is very time consuming and difficult. You can maybe do a bit of coding, but what about the art? The music? The level design? The testing?
Even though XNA simplifies the development process to quite an enormous degree, it still requires Olympic athlete levels of determination to work with. But despite the difficulties and incredible time-consuming demands, many people have their own embryonic XNA projects on the go...
INTRODUCING OUR TEAM OF DEVELOPERS
Markus Ewald - or 'Cygon' if you know him through the internet, is a software developer working by day on non-game projects. He made small components for other people before XNA came along and offered him a complete package. "My ambition is to earn enough money selling my future games so I can do this on a full-time basis," he says, echoing the dreamy ideas of most home XNA developers we spoke to. "Getting my game published on Xbox Live would certainly be nice, but that's not my primary goal for now."
As for the abilities of home developers, Markus thinks - correctly if our hugely time-consuming and frustrating initial attempts are any indication - that creating something of the standard we've seen on Xbox Live so far is beyond the capabilities of most game makers. "The bar has been set pretty high by the big players in the scene and even if an individual had the combined talents to write code, create art, build 3D models, record sounds and design levels, he wouldn't be able to get it all done in a reasonable time frame".
And with our development of Luminetris currently languishing at the make-the-graphics-appear stage, we're sadly inclined to agree. Making something professional that's likely to appear on Xbox Live is strictly for experienced teams and the odd solo genius. Speaking of which, next to explain their XNA development plans to us is Bill Reiss. Bill has made a whole game on previous versions of Microsoft's development tools, and is currently porting Dr Popper, his puzzle game, to the system.
"I started programming as a teenager over 20 years ago. My brother convinced our parents to buy a Texas Instruments home computer, and we started writing games in BASIC for it and actually sold some. So this is somewhat of a return to my roots," says Bill, our second XNA developer who also has a proper programming background. Our GCSE in art isn't helping as much as years of enthusiastic home coding experience, it seems.