Sunday, 29 March 2009

XAGE: Coming to Mac/Linux/Smartphone?

A couple of posts ago I was drawing together a few ideas for future XAGE directions, one being a port to Silverlight. This turns out not to be necessary as I've discovered a technically impressive little library called SilverSprite which allows you to play XNA games in your browser via Silverlight (essentially Microsoft's version of Flash). It only took about half a day or so for me to get the MI sample game up and running in Internet Explorer:

There are a few things missing, and you might notice that Guybrush walks backwards (sprite flipping is not yet supported), but the library can only mature. Performance isn't stellar but with some optimisations in both XAGE and SilverSprite, I can really see it being comparible to the original formats.

The best part is that Silverlight is not specific to Windows, and there will be no dependancy on the XNA runtimes. This means that there is the possibility that XAGE could offer broad multi-platform support, something I've seen developers of commercial AGS games bemoan. The list of platforms are as follows:

  • Windows PC (XP/Vista/7)
  • Xbox 360
Browser-based (via Silverlight/Moonlight)
  • Mac OS X
  • Linux
  • Windows Mobile 6
  • Symbian (Nokia)
Thanks to everyone who's downloaded the latest Alpha so far. I've already fixed a few bugs, specifically with the generation of the WalkBoxMatrix (characters would sometimes get stuck where three boxes intersect). You should find that XAGE Editor will automatically update itself every few weeks or so.

EDIT: I've just read up on Silverlight v3 which is currently in Beta. Apparently there will be options for developers to allow users to store the SL apps offline and be run outside of a browser. This is all very good news - essentially as good as native support for these platforms but with minimal effort. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out and how well XAGE can exploit these features.

Friday, 27 March 2009

XAGE Private Alpha v0.3 - Download

Being a terrible insomniac is not good for your health, but at least you get more things done - XAGE Version 0.3 is ready for download. I can't be bothered listing all the changes as there's far too many and the major ones have been covered here already. I'm a lot happier with how the XAGE Editor looks and feels and, as this blog has been a little dry recently, here's something to give you an indication of the new layout and features:


The actions now have an actual textual description which makes deciphering scripts pretty painless. A simple but useful change:


As usual, if you'd like to have a play around with it, email and I'll give you the download link. This is the last time you'll have to do this as the XAGE Editor now automatically updates.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Misc. Gumf

Last update before release:
  • Added Copy/Import/Export mechanism - no more hacking through xml to copy items from room to room, or game to game.
  • Added integrated bug reporting, feedback and optional exception logging (all via Web Services) - hopefully this will only improve the quantity of feedback.
  • Added Font preview in FontManager - required quite a bit of work to import the XNA model into the Editor, but it works fine.
  • Tidied up field positions.
Finally I've implemented Asset Protection. What's this? Well, the Editor now has a Publish button which lets you select an empty folder to publish a completed game to. This isn't just a simple copy however - all of the game content is encrypted using a randomly generated key. This enables you to distribute your XAGE game without worrying about others cannibalising your textures, music and game code. Nothing's hackproof of course, but it does provide a certain degree of security.

Implementing this has taken quite a bit of work, and comes with one small sacrifice: Mp3 support. The reason for this is that I had originally been using the Windows Media Player library for PC audio playing but this component would only play the audio from a file rather than a stream, which is required for the encryption. The only way I could get around this was to save the the decrypted audio to a temporary file in order to play it, which of course defeats the whole purpose of the encryption.

Eventually I decided to rip the Media Player component out altogether and have now replaced it with's audio, which supports loading audio via streams and therefore encryption. XAGE now supports the .ogg format for PC songs and, whilst it no longer directly supports mp3, it's easy enough to convert audio formats manually, plus there is the added bonus of future support for Midi and Mod files. Swings and roundabouts.

XBLCG Sales:

Whilst no concrete sales figures have been released, it appears that there's a reasonable amount of money to be made from the Xbox Live Community Games channel. At GDC Microsoft have announced that 'Several Community Games top sellers will be taking home more income from four months of sales than the average U.S. citizen earns in a full year'. Granted that's for the more popular games, but its not bad going - about $50k in 4 months?

The Blackwell Legacy:

For someone who would normally be described as a gamer, I don't get to play a lot of games. Almost all my free time is spent working on XAGE. In the last six months I've rattled through a couple of hours of Left 4 Dead and Mirror's Edge, and that's about it.

Last night, after reading Uhfgood's review. I finally got around to trying The Blackwell Legacy demo. It's a nice looking game, polished and well put together. From what I saw there's nothing in it that XAGE wouldn't be able to recreate - there'd need to be a few UI additions and implementing speech is an interesting challenge, but ultimately there's nothing that I'm yet aware of that would stop a title of Blackwell's quality being released on xbox live using XAGE.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Recent Editor improvements

An quick update as the Editor is not quite ready for the next alpha:
  • Added a new unified viewer control to replace the different ones for managing graphics, animation frames and walkboxes. It includes magnification buttons, xnb support and no longer causes mild headaches due to incessant flickering. The highlighted boxes now flash so you can more readily see what you're amending.
  • Removed local anim offsets due to reworked animation offsets (renamed to the more sensible 'hotspots') - creating animations is now a whole lot simpler.
  • Automated script creation for characters/objects (turns a three step process into one).
  • Added Audio manager to support importing of wav, mp3 and xnb formats, all playable within the editor and for use with scripting.
  • Added Font manager to add/remove different spritefonts to game from stock selection.
  • Integrated OK & Cancel buttons into main editor, removed from dynamic panels (more intuitive, quicker to use, less scrolling).
  • Added saving & loading of Editor user settings (display settings, previous projects etc).
  • Added progress bars for loading and saving.
  • Replaced most of the crappy hand drawn icons with free, professional looking ones.
  • Tightened up field validation.

Currently working on:

  • Copy room/character/object mechanism (locally and to file).
  • Spritefont preview.
  • Integrated Bug reporting and Feedback.
  • Asset protection.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


I've figured out the distribution method for XAGEditor. In previous alpha releases I've bundled everything up separately in a .zip file. The problem with this is that XAGEditor and XAGE itself have certain requirements (DOTNET 2.0 and XNA GS 3.0 frameworks, DirectX). My temporary workaround was to include a seperate installer, "DummyGame.exe", essentially an empty XNA game which used the Microsoft ClickOnce method to automagically download and install these requirements. That way XAGEditor and the sample XAGE game would work.

This isn't an especially user-friendly solution. I've now changed this so that XAGEditor (which itself contains XAGE) uses ClickOnce. This means that users will go to the website, click on a button and XAGEditor and all the requirements will be downloaded. What's more, XAGEditor will automatically be updated whenever I publish a new version to the website. Brilliantly, this means I don't have to spend a day packaging up and testing a release and uploading it to rapidshare or megaupload or wherever - instead I can just click 'publish' on VS2008 and all end users will find XAGEditor updates the next time they use it (providing they are connected to the internet). I've tested this and it works like a charm.

I've been very impressed with the ease-of-use for the technologies I've discovered in the last few days. If I use ClickOnce, which I'm 90% sure I will, then all I have to be wary of is introducing any changes that break games relying on older versions.

The only issue remaining is that XAGE itself does not automatically install requirements. This is a problem if a creator wants to distribute their own Windows-only game. If they distribute their XAGE game to someone without XAGEditor (or the required frameworks) installed then it won't run. I can see three possible solutions to this:
  1. The creator can include the "DummyGame.exe" installer along with their XAGE game (not ideal but easy).
  2. The creator can build own windows installer for their XAGE game to ensure the requirements are met (more difficult but a more end-user friendly option)
  3. The creator could upload their game to a new steam-like online service (XAGE Launcher?). This would take a lot of work on my part, and there'd be all sorts of of bandwidth costs or even legal issues, but it could be a great way of unifying the game creators with their audience.
AGS offers something similar to option 3, but the catalogue of games is web based and the they are not hosted on-site. My way would be much more like a lite version of Steam or XBLA/XBLCG. And who knows, maybe I could eventually bundle in some payment methods so people can release XAGE games commercially without requiring a publisher. DRM is a thorny issue best left until another day, methinks.

P.S. It looks like XAGETOOL is being renamed XAGEditor. If anyone has any better suggestions I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


Focus remains on XAGETOOL (maybe I should rename this XAGE Editor, or XAGEditor). I'm continuing to make general improvements to ensure its as stable and functional as possible before release. I'll give a general summary when I'm closer to completion.

I've also sorted my web domain and hosting. The hosting is free and supports the .net 3.5 framework - there are a few questions marks over performance but I can always upgrade to a paid plan at a later stage. Irritatingly, all 'XAGE' related URLs were already taken so I decided to go with This will give me more leverage to add new projects as and when they take form.

I laboured a few hours looking at socket programming and managed to get simple data exchange between a client and server, but I was a bit disheartened by how fiddly everything was. I then came across Web Services, which are an absolute joy. After about half an hour I was able to write a program that effortlessly connects to my website. The upshot of this is that I can build nifty little features straight into XAGETOOL/XAGE Editor/XAGEditor like online exception logging, feedback and bug reporting with minimal effort. It would also be possible to have an integrated game upload/download client as a means of distribution (think Steam). Whether my bandwidth could handle this is another matter.

Another possibility would be to port everything to WPF and Silverlight. As XAGE is solely 2D I'm pretty sure Silverlight would be able to handle all the graphical aspects. This would give the added bonus of portability, as Silverlight is browser-specific as opposed to platform-specific, from what I can gather. For now I'll just work on getting the original incarnation completed as I think the Xbox360 platform remains the biggest draw. It's good to know that, whilst there are some very specific project milestones, there are also potentially lots of future directions for XAGE.

I was able to test on a Vista machine (all my development is done on a brilliant little Asus EEE 1000H netbook with XP) and finally found and fixed a bug causing a few people problems when opening XAGE projects. This will now be sorted for the next release, which will probably be a final private alpha in a few weeks time.

Finally, I need to start thinking about documentation. The options seem to be to go with either an included .chm help file or an online wiki, or both. I do like Wikis but they live or die by the popularity of the subject matter. Maybe I'm just being lazy in hoping a wiki would mean some kindly soul will write the documentation for me.