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Microsoft bolsters XNA offering

Publishes four community games.

Microsoft has announced the winners of its Dream-Build-Play competition, and handed out publishing contracts to four community XNA-built games.

The celebrations were held at Gamefest 2007, the Annual Game Technology Conference, where community development tools XNA took center stage.

First place was tied between two games: Blazing Birds by Canadian David Flook, an action-packed sports game based around badminton; and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai by American James Silva, a stylized platform game of revenge and mayhem. Both received the USD 10,000 prize money, Live Arcade deals, and various other goodies.

Runner-up spots were awarded to Swedish creator Steve Olofsoson and UK brain-box Daniel McGuire, for their entries Gravitron Ultra and Yo Ho Kablammo! respectively. This pair bagged USD 5,000 each, Live Arcade deals, and a bag full of other bits and pieces.

More than 4,500 people took part in the Dream-Build-Play contest in total, which was announced back in March as a way to bring public attention to Microsoft's XNA development tools. A full list of winners and accompanying screenshots can be found on the official website.

Chris Satchell, the Microsoft bigwig responsible for the software, also announced further key tactics in bringing the development tools into the public spotlight.

The first was news that professional and amateur XNA packages would be merged into one offering, XNA 2.0, which will feature full Xbox Live support - previously only licensed versions of the software could access it. In the future, paid-for packages will be granted access to extra plugin libraries.

"We made the decision to make one Game Studio. We think everyone should have access to the same tool," said Satchell. "There should be no friction as you move from accessible development to professional development."

It is expected to move the tool set one step closer to the homebrew adoption Microsoft expected when it officially launched the software back in late 2006. Those of you with an arty side will be pleased to note there is a new free version of SOFTIMAGE|XSI 6 to animate and create 3D models with for your XNA games, too.

Satchell also announced that we will be able to play around with some official Microsoft Game Studios content for our own creative purposes, effective immediately. This means screenshots, footage, and others bits from franchises like Halo, Forza Motorsport and Age of Empires are all up for grabs. Head over to the official site to read the full rules. Don't wind up behind bars.

The first professionally created game we'll see using the XNA software is Schizoid from Torpex Games, a co-op action game expected later this year.

"We truly believe that if you and a friend spend two minutes playing Schizoid, you are going to ignore food, drink, your job and your family and play until they load you up on a gurney and head to the hospital," said Bill Dugan, big boss at Torpex Games. "Schizoid is that rare game that comes along once every few years and we are very proud to make it our first release for Xbox live Arcade."

Pop over to the official Schizoid website for a look at how it is shaping up.