Microsoft wants game developers to make games for its next cell phone platform, Windows Phone 7. And, today, Kotaku got a look at demos of games you might play (or make) on them... to help me raise my Gamerscore.
The Windows Phone 7 platform is coming this fall and represents Microsoft's push to make a more entertaining competitor to the gaming-stuffed iPhone. Today, Microsoft is talking about how the next version of its game development platform, XNA Game Studio 4.0, will support development across the Xbox 360, PC and Windows Phone 7 platform. What you get out of that, as we saw this weekend, is the ability to create a game that can be relatively easily made in three related versions for the three gaming devices.
For gamers? It's all part of a plan to get us adding to our Gamerscore via any phone we have that supports the Windows Phone 7 platform. The platform puts Xbox Live on cell phones. As it was described to me today, you can consider every WP7 user an Xbox Live silver member, paying no extra fee to be connected to their Xbox friends, capable of selecting and accessing their Avatar, unlocking Achievements and upping their Gamerscore, which is connected to that tally that is being raised on their Xbox 360 — if they have one — as well.
The Windows Phone 7 slice of Xbox Live includes a Spotlight channel that provides web links about upcoming games and a notifications section that easily lets players challenge each other in games.
Today, two representatives for Microsoft wanted to show Kotaku some demos of games running on Windows Phone 7, with the caveat that these games aren't necessarily going to be the ones released when the platform launches in phones this fall.
The main style of game Microsoft's demos showcased was asynchronous (generally turn-based) gameplay.
The first demo I was shown was as simple and classically turn-based as it gets: checkers. The demo, running on a prototype handset that looks like a squared-off iPhone, showed a list of checkers matches the player who had this prototype phone was participating in. Each match listing was associated with a name on the phone's Xbox Live contacts list and a portrait of the friend's Xbox Live avatar. Sessions that had a green spot on them were ready for their next turn. I was shown a few checkers hops, the demo person holding the phone making a move and then, somewhere else, someone making a move from their prototype phone. It was pretty much a live match, but the idea was that it didn't have to be.
Checkers is an all-ages game. Microsoft wanted to also show something more hardcore. They showed me two demos of that type: an isometric action game called Harvest that featured a sci-fi soldier shooting aliens and a fighting game featuring cute fantasy characters. The former ran in impressive, slick 3D and was put together in about three weeks on XNA 4.0 (it was slick, but I was only shown about 12 inches of level, so I don't know how big it was). The latter was made by Luma Arcade, an indie studio.
They people behind Windows Phone 7 want the full range of developers making games for the platform, from the indies to the majors. The majors that are on board as "partners," the company says, are EA, Glu, Hudson Entertainment, Konami, Microsoft Game Studios, Namco, Oberon, Popcap and Sega.
Developers making games for phones running Windows Phone 7 will be allowed to offer 200 Gamerscore points, via Achievements, per mobile game. The Achievements will pop up for players who earn them with the the same -duloink!- noise as on the Xbox. The Microsoft people said that voice chat, to name another Xbox Live feature, wasn't part of their plans now. The presentation of Avatar items will be, though Avatars won't be playable in phone games and will only be displayed as a portrait or full-body 2D avatar.
With the news that XNA 4.0 can support game development across Xbox, computer and phone, it seems like we could be closing in on games that overlap devices or somehow connect them. The Microsoft people are not pitching the idea that we'll be playing the same games on our Xbox 360s and phones. But they are pitching the idea that someone who makes a game on XNA 4.0 could modify their game and sell it across the platforms — or maybe create expanded experiences for a game on one platform that extend another. And, at least in terms of Gamerscore, what we gamers do on one machine will have at least one key relation to what we do on our home console.