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Microsoft has enlisted the Guildhall, the specialist video gaming faculty at Dallas's Southern Methodist University (SMU), to help it boost the fortunes of its XNA suite of game development tools.

The Guildhall was one of several academic institutions which backed the original XNA launch when the first beta version was released last summer. The university of Southern California and Georgia Tech College of Computing were also named.

XNA Game Studio Express is a game development toolkit for students, hobbyists, and independent game developers. It is based on Visual Studio and .NET and enables developers to build games for Windows and for the Xbox 360 console. Microsoft released an upgrade to XNA in December 2006, which is available as a free download.

Dr Peter Raad, founder and executive director for the Guildhall at SMU, says the collaboration aims to raise standards in game development: "By working with industry technology leaders such as Microsoft, we believe we will be able to help set new standards in video game development and provide new research, case studies and curriculum that drive advances in interactive media educational programs across the country."

Microsoft says the relationship with the Guildhall will give it a useful proving ground for future development of XNA. It will, of course, also expose a new generation of game writers directly to Microsoft development tools.

The Guildhall says it has the premier graduate video game education programme in the US, claiming a 95 per cent placement rate in the video game development industry. SMU graduates are said to work at more than 60 video game companies around the world. ®

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