Ever since the video of someone playing a game on the Zune at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco hit YouTube, the forums at zune.net and xna.com began buzzing with impatient excitement. When will we be able to download games to our Zune? Will games be available via the Marketplace? How much will games cost? Can I send games to my friend’s Zune wirelessly? Many people even took the video as a demo of a feature that already existed or at least had a planned release date.

Playing games on the Zune was originally something I was opposed to. I am not really into handheld gaming and I bought my Zune for its media playing abilities. I also do not think the buttons on the Zune were designed for the abuse that gaming is going to put them through. I have since warmed up to the idea a bit since the XNA framework could be used to design any application, not just a game.

To set the record straight, here are a few points taken from the Zune Game Development FAQ over at the XNA Creators Club site:

What is the XNA Framework?
From Wikipedia:
“The XNA Framework is based on the native implementation of .NET Compact Framework 2.0 for Xbox 360 development and .NET Framework 2.0 on Windows. It includes an extensive set of class libraries, specific to game development, to promote maximum code reuse across target platforms.”
What this means, is the XNA runtime runs on your Zune, you write code that XNA will execute. The Framework is designed to help you develop games faster. Since it is a .NET technology, you can code in any .NET language, but C# is the only one officially supported.
The current version of XNA Game Studio (2.0) works with Visual Studio 2005. However, XNA Game Studio 3.0, when released, will only work with Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 Express.

What about WiFi support?
Only Zune-to-Zune ad-hoc networking is supported. Games must be written to be multiplayer, and all players must have the game. You will not be able to access the internet or download content via WiFi.

Can I share my games with my friends?
No. Downloading of games is via USB only. Game Studio will not initially allow sharing game files, although it’s planned for a future release.

Which Zunes will be supported?
All Zunes are supported. This is great news for those of us with first generation hardware. The only difference will be the controller. The first gen Zunes will use a Dpad style controller, while the second gen Zunes will use a thumbstick type control.

Will the game have access to content on the Zune?
Yes and no. Games will have access and full use of pictures and non-DRM-tainted music.

When can I have it?
The preview release of the XNA Game Studio 3.0 is scheduled for any day now. The FAQ lists it as “Spring of 2008”. Since only one month is left of Spring here in the northern hemisphere, it should be coming soon. The final release is scheduled for the 2008 holiday season. I suspect that this is when XNA support and the ability to use games on the device will be added to the Zune. I will go even further and speculate that it’s release will coincide with the third generation Zunes.

What kind of graphics support will be available?
The Zune will only support 2-D graphics. Those of you hoping for a Doom port, may be waiting awhile. Of course don’t forget the Zune’s screen is only 240×320 or 320×240, depending on how you look at it.

What about memory usage?
Code and content for your application will need to fit in 16MB. The FAQ is not clear as to what this means. Does it mean a running game must fit in 16MB? Or does it mean a compiled game with all it’s resources must be no larger than 16MB?

Will there be XBox Live support?
No. As mentioned above,all networking is ad-hoc via WiFi.

As long as you work within the listed constraints, you can write anything you want. That’s what I’m excited about. It does not have to be a game. What would you write for your Zune?