Targeting Win32 and WinRT/Metro at the Same Time

I’ve seen some developers assume that if you write an App for WinRT/Metro, you have to write it exclusively in C++/CX, a variant of C++ with lots of Microsoft-specific extensions. In reality, you only really need C++/CX to interface with WinRT, but everything under that layer can be clean ISO C++! In this post I’ll explain how I’m designing my Ogre game to run inside Windows’ Metro UI while still supporting other platforms such as Win32, Android and iPhone on the same code base.

A good start is to look at what’s different between a normal desktop application and a Metro application and then develop a design concept where these differences are abstracted or wrapped so the core game code does not need to know about them.

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Comparison of SpriteFont rendering quality

XNA Sprite Font Quality

Screenshot of fonts in XNA 3.1, XNA 4.0 and the Nuclex font processor There has been a discussion on the XNA forums regarding a slight decrease in the visual quality of SpriteFonts from XNA 3.1 to XNA 4.0: XNA 4.0 renders SpriteFont differently (and not for the better).

There are two changes that might have impacted visual quality: XNA 4.0 uses premultiplied alpha everywhere (whereas XNA 3.1 processed the alpha channel as-is) and, as revealed by "Krome Studios", The FontDescriptionProcessor in XNA 4.0 generates a texture with DXT3 (a form of compression that limits each block of 4×4 pixels to contain only 4 different colors and reduces the alpha channel to 4 bits of precision or 16 levels, see Wikipedia).

Because I’ve written a custom FontDescriptionProcessor for XNA 4.0 which outputs compatible SpriteFonts but uses FreeType instead of Windows’ GDI font API, I decided to do a little comparison.

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Chart showing the PrimitiveBatch benchmark results in XNA 4.0, clipped to 500 FPS

DynamicVertexBuffer versus DrawUserPrimitives, Round 2

More than a year ago, I did some benchmarking in XNA 3.1, comparing the vertex throughput I could achieve on my GeForce 8800 via XNA’s DynamicVertexBuffer class versus just calling GraphicsDevice.DrawUserPrimitives(). Here’s my earlier benchmark: Efficiently Rendering Dynamic Vertices.

In all cases, DrawUserPrimitives() was marginally faster than the DynmicVertexBuffer, but it appeared to be a very bad idea to use a DynamicVertexBuffer on the Xbox 360. I had a really nice discussion with Shawn Hargreaves on the XNA forums where he provided a lot of in-depth information about how things work on the Xbox 360: .

One of today’s threads on the AppHub forums reminded me if my earlier benchmarks, so I decided to dig out my old benchmark and redo it in XNA 4.0. The benchmark uses my Nuclex Framework‘s PrimitiveBatch class, which underwent some changes since then, so I repeated the XNA 3.1 benchmarks in addition to getting the new data for XNA 4.0.

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MVC in Games

In the game I’m currently working on, it appears that I’m slowly drifting towards a design that’s a close resemblance of the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern, despite originally rejecting the idea because I believed it would require my game world to expose too much of its internal data just so the view could keep track of things.

Because I originally believed to be building a very simple game with very simple logic, I chose a design that would create a nice, non-fractured interface to the world so I would have an easier time building the AI and player controls on top of it:

UML diagram showing an object tree representing the entire game state

In this design, everything could access everything else – a monolithic world component where the public interface was well encapsulated, but that allowed the implementation to take the most direct path possible.

"Everything could access everything else" doesn’t mean my objects directly modified each other’s state, but it meant, for example, that a building had a reference to the island it was placed on and that it could call an internal method in the Island class to inform it when the building was destroyed or moved.

A full design, in contrast, would give the buildings an interface through which they determined properties about the ground (is it too rough? underwater?) and some events so its owner would know when the building was destroyed.

If I had only taken game logic into account, this all would have worked out very well. But there were some things that added a lot of complexity…

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Input Mocking in XNA

I have updated my input library to a level where I think I can release it into the Nuclex Framework now. The design was tailored to make the input manager mockable (replaceable with a dummy object for unit testing), but the effort of mocking the entire input manager (versus just one input device) on an ad hoc basis was a bit too high (or too unreadable when using a dynamic mock object library).

So the final revision has mocked input devices and a matching input manager built in:

UML diagram showing the IInputService implemented by a real and a mock manager

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Quo Vadis, Input System?

I’ve spent some time thinking about how input is handled by my GUI library. One issue I didn’t cover in its initial design is that people might want to use the GUI library at the same time as their game is running (think of a command palette in a strategy game). I’ve already got some requests on the CodePlex forums (How to determine if a screen-position (i.e. mouseclick) is on any gui-control ? and Unfocusing from GUI) and it’s about time I did something about this.

In the old design, an IInputReceiver was fed by one of two classes: one was the XnaInputCapturer which relied completely on XNA’s input device classes (Keyboard, Mouse, GamePad) to track the status of any input devices, the other was the WindowInputCapturer which intercepted incoming window message for XNA’s main window to obtain the status of input devices:

UML diagram showing the input system with two distinct classes for XBox and Windows input

This wasn’t even nearly an ideal solution because now I would have to copy & paste the game pad polling code from the XnaInputCapturer to the WindowInputCapturer if I wanted game pad input on Windows. The new design should fix this, but still follow the concept of routing all input through a single interface (IInputReceiver) to allow users to easily attach the GUI to their own input handling code.

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To GameComponent or not to GameComponent

XNA provides a neat little system for you to organize your game’s different parts in: GameComponents. You can use them to modularize your game’s subsystems, eg. have a GuiComponent, PhysicsComponent, SceneGraphComponent etc. so you avoid having all that code in your Game class, or can use them for your actual game objects in smaller games.

However, the GameComponent and DrawableGameComponent classes provided by XNA force you to reference the Game class. This is unfortunate if you want to use those components in a WinForms-based XNA application and gets in the way when you try to write unit tests for your components because now you have to create a dummy Game instance as well (and better hope that component won’t go shopping for references in the Game‘s Components and Services collections as well).

UML class diagram of the GameComponent and DrawableGameComponent classes

Luckily, the GameComponentCollection used by XNA to store your components manages IGameComponents and updating/drawing are based on the IUpdateable and IDrawable interfaces alone, so there’s nothing preventing you from rolling your own components without referencing the Game class.

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Using Ninject with SunBurn

First, let me say sorry if I seemed to be absent for the past months. I was quite burned out and didn’t want to do much with computers during that time :).

My “XNA Game Architecture” series was left hanging, and right when it got interesting, too. I’ll try to find the time to continue where I left off. For now, here’s a small appetizer:

The letter N constructed from overlapping blue wave functions

Some weeks ago, Synapse Gaming offered their SunBurn Lighting and Rendering Engine for half the price. This was too good an offer to pass and so I now find myself being able to do much better lighting effects than I had ever hoped to achieve in my game.

The first thing I did was, of course, to adapt SunBurn to Ninject, a very tidy dependency injector that works on the XBox 360 and even on Windows Phone 7, into the SunBurn example application. This article gives a short overview about the overall structure and provides you with an example application if you want to give Ninject a try yourself.

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Logo of the XNA Game Game Architecture tutorial series, three interlocked gears

Game Architecture Day 2

Stylish logo of two engaged gears with the text XNA Game Architecture

Welcome to day 2 of the XNA Game Architecture series!

I have thought hard about whether I should just assume a certain level of object oriented programming knowledge in this series. People picking up these articles likely already have some knowledge about objects and design, so I settled on a quick run-over of the principles that hopefully won’t bore the seasoned developers and provide a good reference for people just starting out!

If you already know all this, feel free to skip ahead until it becomes interesting again or to the next chapter ;)!

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Logo of the XNA Game Game Architecture tutorial series, three interlocked gears

Game Architecture Day 1

Stylish logo of two engaged gears with the text XNA Game Architecture

Welcome to day 1 of the XNA Game Architecture series! We’re about to create a small 3D Shoot ’em Up using the principles of modern software architecture.

If you missed the introduction, this series is about the architecture of games. Instead of focusing on a single concept, we’ll be focusing at how it all comes together and how you can keep your game’s code manageable and clean. You’ll be looking over my shoulder as I write a small game and explain why I do things one way and not the other :)

Today, I will start the project by creating a development tree that contains the actual XNA project and some third-party libraries I’m going to use within the game. Normally, I would add those libraries as I go, but I’ve got a pretty clear idea for this project and it will be easier for you because I can just package them all in a handy zip archive which you’ll find at the end of this article.

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