Hey! What’s that shiny little bauble that Microsoft’s waving in our faces now? Why, it appears to be a game development competition! Gadzooks!

As it turns out, the IT giant has just announced the beginning of its 2009 Dream-Build-Play challenge, a game development competition that allows everyday Joes and Janes to pick up their dev kits and create games for the Xbox 360… potentially winning truckloads of cash for their trouble.

Yeah, yeah, you can tease Microsoft all you want. After all, they brought us Vista. Heck, they even brought us Windows ME (though there’s apparently a valid explanation for that). But with the release of the Xbox 360, Microsoft gave the market a fairly good gaming console which has thus far enjoyed a reasonable amount of success – something which we can all probably acknowledge without succumbing to rabid fanboyism.

SpaceHack. It's a roguelike in space. With guns. And cool stuff.

SpaceHack. It's a roguelike in space. With guns. And cool stuff.

More importantly, Microsoft followed this up with the release of a handy set of Visual Studio libraries known collectively as XNA. This free offer allows pretty much anybody to begin developing games that are compatible with both their PC and their Xbox 360, granting everyday users a level of flexibility that’s otherwise unheard of in the console arena.

Dream-Build-Play revolves around XNA as a development tool and everybody who registers for the competition gets a free 12-month subscription to the XNA Creator’s Club, allowing them to deploy their creations to an actual Xbox 360 and play from the console.

Is the competition worth it? Well, sure: not only do you get a golden ticket to develop your own Xbox 360 games, but there’s no entry cost for the challenge itself and you stand a chance of winning up to $40 000 (that’s US dollars, folks) for a first-place entry.

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Ultimate Quest, another South African DBP entry. Now with 50% extra viking!

It’s not as if South Africa hasn’t already yielded some stunning entries: several local projects have received overwhelmingly positive feedback in previous DBP challenges and a few have even enjoyed their own spot in the competition’s Top 20 list (QCF’s SpaceHack is a good example – check out this video interview to learn more about the developers).

Even if you don’t know anything about XNA, DBP serves as the perfect excuse to start learning: it’s free, it’s backed up by an awesome development network and it allows you to share your creativity with a global audience.

If you’re not scared of programming (and have a hankering for console development), sign up for DBP yourself and have a go. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to learn.

Keen to enter the competition, but not sure where to start? Check here for the latest XNA download and make sure that you have Visual Studio 2008 installed on your system (see link above for the free Express version). Then register for the challenge here and start developing! A beginner’s tutorial is available at the Creator’s Club Website and you can check on other South African submissions by visiting the Game.Dev forum.

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