Surviving the credit crunch: Building and selling Xbox games

This week is all about using your Windows PC, Xbox 360 and your artistic skills to manufacture and sell Xbox games to bring in that little bit extra dosh. Or put another way: how to make money easily with Microsoft.

The proposition.

You have a Windows PC, and an Xbox 360. If you add some more free software from Microsoft and purchase a XNA Creators Club membership (£70 12month subscription) you can make and publish Xbox Live Community Games (XBLCG). This might sound hard, but in isn’t because all the coding stuff you need is already out there. In this short series of posts I’m going to show you how to make your own Super Mario Bros (TM) style platform game by pulling together various well documented samples, the provided platformer starter kit and adding your own graphics.

Typical XBLCG games are generating hundreds to a few thousand pounds gross. So lets see if we can get onto this gravy train with the least amount of effort. Clearly, the more advanced and well thought out games are making the most money, but I still think there is plenty of room for some good retro platformer action!

Getting started.

First up you need to get the XNA Games Studio installed on your Windows machine. To do this you need to have at least Visual C# Express installed as the base developer tool – don’t worry if you are not a coder, you just need this tool installed to get all the ‘building’ infrastructure. Really, all you need to succeed with this project is some artistic skill (but even then not a lot!).

For more detail on setting this all up see Wotudo DIY.

Making a more advanced game

I’m going to build on the Platform Starter kit included with XNA Games Studio. You can see the basic set up this game and build your own version by looking at this Wotudo DIY article.

Having got the basic game running we’re going to harvest the wealth of games samples and documentation to make a more advanced game.

Here’s our task list:

  1. Add more game objects such as power up and poison gems
  2. Expand the level sizes by adding vertical and horizontal scrolling
  3. Support player lives and high score recording.
  4. Add game menu, loading and paused menu screens.
  5. Improve/Replace/Add game graphics

If 1 to 4 sounds like to much coding – again don’t worry my complete project ready for your graphics will be published soon.

Coding tasks and resources.

The platformer starter kit is already well supported with how-to enhancement articles which will give us most of our work for activities 1 and 2.

Here is the reference list if you want to read up on the detail and implement these features yourself. I recommend you do this if you want to get into coding the game. These articles will give you a good understanding of the platform starter kit and enable you to build more advanced features into it. Remember: more advanced games tend to earn more money.

The detailed platformer starter kit overview is here. This provides the simplest technical overview. The rest of the platformer starter kit documentation articles from Microsoft Developer Network library are here.

There is one additional gem tucked away in the forums. This is the code for adding vertical scrolling to each level. To keep this post clean and straight forward I’ve blogged about this bit addition of this code to the enhanced platform starter kit project here.

Once you have these pieces implemented the challenge is creating your own level designs and graphics to really define the game as your own. To me the process of building out the Platform Starter Kit has under scored a marketing message we’ve been touting since day 1. ‘In XNA, Microsoft has provided much of the heavy lifting required in code to build games’. What’s left is the over 80% of games projects – the graphical and sound assets.

Creating new graphics for the platformer shouldn’t be hard, and certainly tools and the broader graphical community contribute a lot to those of use with minimal artistic capability. However, I have to say, building new background scenes and animations for characters has been the real time burner on this project. Pulling together the code and implementing some extensions to it (more power-ups, poisons etc – you’ll have to down load my version of the game to find out :-) )was pretty much complete in a couple of days – sure I’ve had a couple of bugs to sort out taking it to the Xbox but nothing to stress about.

I’ll cover my graphics creation activities in another post. Stay tuned!