In my last blog post about Imagine Cup, I mentioned that we provide you all the tools you need to get started on your own Game Design, so I thought I’d fill you in on what you need, and where you can get it all from.

XNA Game Development

Building games in XNA is incredibly easy, and getting the technology set up is just as straightforward.

Firstly, you need a PC – preferably with a decent graphics card. Particularly when talking about 3D games, where we take advantage of Direct 3D shading and other capabilities, you need a card supporting DirectX 9 and up (I just don’t want someone puzzling over why their shading isn’t working like I was when I ran a hands on lab with a laptop with a not-so-great graphics card).

Next up, you need Windows. Yes, the developer tools you’ll need only run on Windows. Shock, horror. And to make matters even more specific, XNA 4.0 will only run on Windows Vista or Windows 7. Again, from experience having a student turn up with a Mac, running Bootcamp and only having Windows XP installed, it’s a sad day when you can’t install the actual tool you need to build your own awesome games because you’re using an OS that’s, in technology years, ancient.

<edit>(Ah, and this is why you shouldn't write blog posts at 2am on a Saturday... thanks to one of my awesome student buddies back in Oz, I have been corrected. You CAN install the standalone version of XNA 4.0 on Windows XP - it's just when you install it as part of the WP7 tools that you'll hit the problem. Thanks Michael!)</edit>

And we’re halfway there.

Next – the actual development environment. For XNA 4.0, you should install Visual Studio 2010. If you can’t get your hands on the proper version of Visual Studio (and more on that in a moment), you can always get the Express version of Visual C# 2010 for free. Whether you get the free-to-everyone Express, or one of the professional level versions of Visual Studio, you’ll be armed with one of the best development environments I’ve ever worked in, and will allow you to create applications for Windows, web, Xbox 360, Phone and more, along with supporting technologies like web services and WCF services.

And that’s it for getting it all set up and ready – the final piece in the puzzle is XNA itself. The latest version is XNA Game Studio 4.0 which allows you to build games and game components for Windows, Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7.

When XNA is installed, it adds in the XNA .NET Framework extensions, and integrates into Visual Studio or Visual C# Express, including project templates and the extras you need for things like debugging, deploying and project management of multiple project types. It will also install a Device Center for managing connections to actual Xbox 360 and Phone hardware.

As an “optional” extra, if you want to develop for Windows Phone 7, you’ll need to install the Windows Phone 7 tools, including emulator. I put quotes around optional, because the easiest way you’ll get XNA 4.0 installed is to download the WP7 developer tools. Smile

Silverlight Development

You can build Silverlight games for the web browser, or for Windows Phone 7, in a couple of different ways: Visual Studio or Expression Studio. If you’re content building your games in Silverlight in Visual Studio, follow the above instructions until you have Visual Studio installed, and you’re done. You don’t need any extras unless you want to build Silverlight WP7 games, in which case you’ll need the WP7 developer tools as well.

The other way to build Silverlight applications and games is to use Expression Studio, specifically Expression Blend. Blend allows you to do more “design” orientated solutions, than development heavy ones. And, of course, you’re able to leverage the power of both tools in the one solution, going back and forth between them as best suits your needs.

Getting the Tools

So, that’s all you need. But how do you get it? Hopefully, it’s just as easy to get your hands on everything you need, as it is running through the list of what you need. Smile

If you’re a student, you can get Visual Studio 2010 Professional and Expression Studio 4 Ultimate for free at DreamSpark. www.dreamspark.com

If you’re faculty, you can get Visual Studio 2010 Professional and Expression Studio for free at Faculty Resource Center. www.facultyresourcecenter.com

If you’re a university, college, school, and want to setup Visual Studio in your labs, you can get Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate and Expression Studio through MSDNAA. www.msdnaa.net

If you’re not in the academic space but still want to try your hand at game development, you can either buy Visual Studio 2010, or get Visual C# 2010 Express at our main Express website. http://www.microsoft.com/express/downloads/

Getting XNA and the Phone tools, head over to the App Hub and download everything in one go: http://create.msdn.com/en-us/home/getting_started If you’re just after the XNA Game Studio addin without Expression, etc, you can use the Microsoft Download Center: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=9ac86eca-206f-4274-97f2-ef6c8b1f478f

Deployment

One last note. If you’re building games for the Xbox 360 or Windows Phone 7, you need to be able to connect to your devices. XNA Creator Club and membership to the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace are what you need. Students get access to both for free through the DreamSpark program.