Creating Indie Games On The Xbox One | Analysis Of Xbox Indie Scene At Developer Day 2014

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Several years ago, Indie Game development for consoles was a rate thing, instead pushed primarily on the PC. But the release of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 went a long way to changing this, with one of the consoles launch titles being the rather excellent Geometry Wars. While PC’s are still the larger market for indie development (with getting on Steam’s front page being the holy grail for indie development) more and more titles are being released on consoles, and some of them are doing rather well.

Despite Microsoft’s successes with titles such as Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360, it wasn’t too long ago (just prior to the Xbox One’s release) the Xbox division was taking a lot of stick regarding their policies and attitude towards smaller developers. Both indie developers and gamer’s hammered home the message to Microsoft that their rather restrictive fee structures and not allow indie developers to self publish was bad business. These issues weren’t present on Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s rivals quickly gained lots of momentum due to great indie development policies and an easy to use system.

But fortunately, times changed and back in late August 2013 Microsoft saw the light and vastly changed their policies to openly embrace indie development. While it’s true most indie titles don’t pull in the crowds of the Far Cry’s and the Battlefield’s (possibly with the exception of maybe Minecraft) they’re an important staple in the library of a system. There can’t be a big AAA release each and every week, and even if there was a gamer might not like it. If a month arrives and there’s only two AAA titles, and you don’t like any of them – essentially you’ve nothing new to play. Indie development helps add extra titles in the library, filling the holes between AAA releases. And who knows, you might end up with a huge release on your hands.

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In June 2014, Microsoft held their annual Developer Day conference and during which they discussed how they were willing to help indie developers – effectively showing off their shiny offerings and tantalizing free development kits to lure in potentials.

To clarify, you receive two free Xbox One development kits, complete access to all of the documentation, support forums and middlewear that’s required. If you need a game engine (as in you don’t have one already programmed or not using say UDK), Microsoft help out by supplying you with a Unity Pro license (unsurprisingly valid for the X1 only) complete with the Add-on to function on Microsoft’s shiny new console. There are some caveats to your creations – you can’t make anything considered too vulgar, offensive and the like – and of course your title must pass Microsoft’s certification process. Microsoft place emphasis that they’ve far fewer requirements than they used to have, but they do make the reasonable request on asking that the release isn’t a complete broken mess and doesn’t randomly crash out.

Fortunately, because of the Xbox One’s rather unique OS design (discussed more in a hardware breakdown here) if the title does happen to crash, there’s a fair chance it’ll not take out the entire console. Regardless, Microsoft don’t want repeats of ‘Air Control’ on Steam – which many would agree is not only a huge broken buggy mess, but isn’t a good game to boot.

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As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, the front page of Steam is where developers likely make their most money. The same thing could be said for the Xbox One, and Microsoft point out that you’ll be able to find your creation featured on the Spotlight, Trending and Recommendations. While the Spotlight is run and controlled by Xbox, trending is based on what’s currently popular with your friends and the community as a whole. Recommendations meanwhile is taking a ‘Netflix’ like approach – basically trying to figure out your taste profile and that of your friends and saying “hey, you might like this”. Clearly this isn’t a foolproof approach, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your title will be a resounding success, but it is better than alternatives. Besides, since the machine is still fairly new there are less titles competing for precious ‘store front’ space.

Getting selected depends on their merits, Microsoft point out that Professional Indie Studios, who’ve previously shipped on the PC or mobile market are very desired, but falling (or not falling) into those criteria doesn’t automatically mean success or failure.

Xbox One Development Software

You’ll be required to work with Visual Studio 2012, which is pretty much the industry standard – interestingly enough VS 2013 isn’t yet supported by the development kits. Windows 7 or 8 are required, and of course you’ll be required to be running 64 bit. The whole experience is similar to a Windows Store App – featuring remote debugging and running of the application.

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Although better discussed in our breakdown above, the Xbox One OS architecture is fairly unique. There’s a HyperVisor which controls two other Operating systems. One is an exclusive partition for games, taking up the bulk of the resources (including GPU, CPU and RAM) and there’s also a shared partition which runs the shared apps, Xbox Shell, OS and services for the console. As we’ve mentioned earlier, this helps games not crash out the system. It also means that (in theory) updates to the Xbox One’s shared OS won’t break the game OS. Meaning if you developer kill-a-thon 3000 today, you’ll not need to go in and release an update to fix it because an OS update stopped it working.

Xbox One | XTF Tools

Xbremoterecovery installs the various Xbox Live updates from a PC to the Development kit in question. Fairly self explanatory – but ensures you’re running the latest version of the consoles software. An example as to why you’d want to do this would be the recent update which increases the GPU reserves available to game developers. Simply put, it’s to ensure they’re working on the latest versions of the software.

XTF API Set is an API that allows you to create and develop your own tools to work with, depending on your studios needs and the project (game) you’re developing.

Xbdeploy is where things get a little more complicated and can operate in two different modes, Push or Pull. Push is slower, effectively forcing you to move all of the files over from the Development PC to the Xbox One dev kit. You can’t play the title until all of the files are copied over – meaning that if you make a little change in the code, it won’t allow you to ‘try it’ until you’ve copied over everything back to the Development Kit – basically not a ‘live preview’ to adjust assets. It’s perfect for demo booths though, as you don’t need the development kit hooked up to the dev PC.

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Pull is pretty much the reverse. The title isn’t fully installed to the development kit, thus most of the files are running from the Development PC, so only the main EXE really needs to be pushed over. While this all sounds great in theory, the draw back is that you’ll need the dev PC hooked up to send data to and from the Xbox One. If you’ve ever mapped a network folder on your home network, or used FTP the principal here is fairly similar. The host system is simply using the files which are located on the development PC. This is likely how most studios will work when they’re ‘fine tuning’ their game as it offers faster work flow.

 

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