New to XNA? Start here!

So unless you’re living in a cave devoid of any game development news, you’ve heard about XNA even if only as a buzz word. When I first heard about it, the only thing I knew was that I could use it to make games for my Xbox 360. I didn’t know what programming language it used, what software I’d need to install, or even where to start. All I had was a good knowledge of general programming concepts and experience with Actionscript 3.0 programming.

After doing some research online, I discovered the XNA Creators Club Online. That handy site was EXACTLY what I needed to get jump started. Their Newbie FAQ was extremely useful, as it answered every question I had about XNA but was too embarrassed to ask. I mean, come on, how can I be taken seriously as a developer when I have a stupid question like, “What exactly is XNA?” Shouldn’t I have already known this? Apparently not, since the FAQ answers that simple question and more, and the Creators Club site is very developer-oriented. In fact, the community is very helpful and inclusive to people of all skill levels (similar to the Flash community), so you don’t ever have to be worried that someone will look down on you for your lack of experience.

While I learned the answer to most of my questions, like the fact that XNA programs are usually written in C#, it did NOT tell me what programs or applications I would need to write C# code. I had worked with Visual Studio when I was in school and I remember C# being one of the options, but back then I had not even gotten into Actionscript so the entire program was an extremely daunting task. Plus it used to cost a pretty penny, and I am averse to spending ANY money when learning and testing out a new technology. Fortunately for me, Microsoft has released new lighter versions of Visual Studio for free, including a version that lets you write C# source code.

For those of you that may need help with that step, Microsoft has already done a fantastic job of making an introductory video for people who start with literally ZERO experience. You can find that video on this page (just click the link “Video: Introduction to Visual C# 2008 Express Edition” at the bottom to have the video open in Windows Media Player). The whole download and installation process may take a while, up to an hour or two with a poor internet connection. Once that is complete, do a Microsoft Update. SURPRISE! Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

When the update is complete and you (have been forced to) restart your computer, you are (finally) ready to install XNA Game Studio 3.0, which is a toolset that integrates into Visual C# 2008 Express. It serves as a sort of “template” with pre-built code and code libraries that come right out of the box to make your game-development much easier.

Once it is installed, I recommend restarting your computer once more. The program should now be loaded in your start menu.

  • STEP #4: Run Visual C# 2008 Express (START -> PROGRAMS -> MICROSOFT XNA GAME STUDIO 3.0 -> Microsoft Visual C# 2008 Express Edition)

If you have done everything correctly, you should see something like this on your screen at this point:

Visual C# 2008 Express - Startup Screen

Visual C# 2008 Express - Startup Screen

So now that we have our work environment set up and ready to go, it’s time to dive into the meat of the topic — coding your first XNA game. The Creators Club website has a marvelous little 2D tutorial that spans a little over 20 bite-size videos divided into 9 chapters. Admittedly it’s just a very basic 2D shooter game, but hey it’s your first time with XNA, right? For those of you who, like me, are already familiar with Actionscript (or another similar coding language), this will be a piece of cake. If you are learning how to program for the first time, it’s going to be very difficult, but give it a shot anyway.

That about sums it up! Once you are finished, you will have a basic functioning 2D shooter that you created in XNA! If you feel brave, you can even tackle the “Extra Credit – Community Tutorials” section. I checked out all of them and they are all great. A few final comments:

  • The tutorials were finished using XNA Game Studio 2.0, but 3.0 should work just fine. Your startup and project selection screens may be different but everything should still work.
  • I believe there are a couple of places where the code is just a tiny bit different than what the video states, but theses should be obvious if you have any experience coding. I’ll try to find those places and update this post once I have them.

That’s everything! Have fun making your first XNA game! :)

2 Responses to “New to XNA? Start here!”

  1. […] They have a tutorial that serves perfectly as the next logical step from the previous XNA tutorial (Simple 2D Shooter) I posted about earlier. It’s another complete shooter but this time with a title screen, animated sprites, power […]

  2. […] learn from George’s years of experience developing games. If you’ve been meaning to get started building games with XNA, hear about the 2009 GDC, or are just looking for game development resources. Related Posts:Casual […]

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