Microsoft has released the second beta version of its XNA Game Studio Express toolset, claiming it's "a near final version of the tool".
XNA Game Studio Express' goal is to allow anybody - from fans with zero programming background to academics and seasoned hobbyists - to develop their own little games for Windows and Xbox 360.
The new beta version adds a number of new features, and also coincides with the closed beta release of GarageGames' Torque X, a toolset designed to fit on top of the XNA platform and allow users to create games using a drag and drop interface.
More technical additions to the second beta include the XNA Framework Content Pipeline, which lets users pull in content from other creation packages like Autodesk, 3ds Max, Autodesk Maya and Softimage |XSI, and content importers for .X and Autodesk FBX 3D asset formats.
It also allows users to preview game design for Xbox 360 and pre-compile games ahead of the launch of the XNA Creators Club and the final XNA Game Studio Express on 11th December.
XNA Game Studio Professional, which will allow developers who want to profit from their creations to do so, will be released in summer 2007.
Membership of the Creators Club will be purchasable on Xbox Live Marketplace and will then allow you to migrate games to 360 and play them there - but at a cost of US$ 49 for a four-month trial of US$ 99 for a one-year membership.
For now though it's free to play around with, allowing for the creation of Windows games for nought, and can be downloaded from Microsoft's website.