Thursday 25 June 2009

XAGE Publc Alpha v0.4 - Download

I'm not sure of the exact date, but it's been more or less a year since I began working on XAGE, and it's a relief to finally have something to publicly show for it. You can now download it at the following link: (2.8mb, mirror)

This includes:
  • XAGE Editor (with embedded Default Game)
  • Skeleton Visual Studio Projects for Xbox360 and Silverlight (included for the people who have expressed an interest in trying them out).
It has to be pointed out that this release is more than a bit rushed as I'm completely swamped. There are quite a lot of known issues and unfinished sections, but as a whole product it's the most feature-complete version yet. It's fair to say that the included game is a little underwhelming compared to previous ones, due to lack of fancy Lucasarts graphics and varied scripting, but it should serve as a pointer on how to achieve the absolute basic effects.

As usual, XAGE is hungry for feedback and bug reports, both of which can be submitted in seconds via the built-in menu options. Likewise it would be interesting to hear the experiences of anyone attempting to use either of the VS projects or the AGS conversion tool.

Sunday 14 June 2009

'Avatars may leave innocents or bystanders slightly injured, but not dead'

Precautionary swine flu quarantine aside, the weekend has provided some much needed relief. Easily the biggest thorn in XAGE's development has been dealing with all portability issues. I was pleased with the heavy-duty Rjindael encryption but unfortunately it was not compatible with either Silverlight or the Xbox. After scouring the web I was able to find three different, working ports of SharpZipLib, meaning I could begin work on the ...

Unified File Access:

All assets are now zipped up for published games, reducing the size and number of files. With regards to file formats, it's not even a case of working with the lowest common denominator, as there is no way of freely (i.e. without licensing issues, either by using mp3 or commercial libraries) using any two formats on all three target platforms. After a lot of trial and error and about half a dozen open source audio components, I've finally implemented a solution that satisfies all the requirements for the new integrated publishing system:
  • XAGE can now play one piece of background music at a time, and any number of sound effects.
  • Music is initially stored as Mp3s and sounds as Wav files. These are used when debugging on Windows (via SdlDotNet).
  • For published windows games, the user is given the option of swapping the Mp3s for Ogg tracks to bypass any licensing issues. The Wav files are untouched.
  • For Xbox games, the Wav files are automatically converted to Xnb via MSBUILD. The Mp3s are converted into Wma.
  • As Silverlight cannot natively play Wav files, they are coverted into Wma and Mp3s are left untouched, covered by Silverlight/MS.
  • All three platforms are capable of loading assets from the pre-prepared zip files (with the exception of the Xbox Music as it cannot stream a compressed Wma file).
Just thinking about it is exhausting, but it all works as expected. Publishing an XAGE game is designed to be as simple as possible (K.I.S.S applies to UIs too), so the user will be oblivious to most of the above. The Xbox and Silverlight platforms are a little more involved, and require a free installation Visual Studio 2008, but even then it's mostly just a case of hitting the big green 'Start debugging' button.

What does this all mean? Well, after debugging a game via XAGE Editor it's possible to play the same game on the 360 and a Web Browser in a matter of seconds (minutes if you've made changes to the graphics or audio):


Xbox Live Indie Games:

Community Games has been rebranded by Microsoft to 'Indie Games', which seems like a sensible move. This coincides with the release of the Xna 3.1 framework, which from XAGE's point of view doesn't yet provide a compelling reason to update. The inclusion of Avatar support is a nice touch, though there are some strange guidelines regarding their use in games.

As DBP09 closes in August, I've taken the decision to wrap up any loose ends, release v0.4 and then see if I'm able to complete my game within the competition deadline. I'd essentially be submitting a demo (not that there is any chance of me winning anything), but it will be a good exercise in finally putting the engine through its paces and will give ideas on areas of improvement. The resulting 4 month Creator's Club access will be handy too, giving me time to take a proper stab at it before releasing to XBLIG.

Sunday 7 June 2009

AGS's 'Demo Quest' on Silverlight

I'm currently rewriting how content is handled, in order to make it trivial to publish XAGE games on various platforms (more about this later). Part of this is targeting the Silverlight platform, so I've rebuilt Demo Quest (as per the xbox video) and temporarily uploaded it to play in your web browser here. It's playable but VERY sketchy, as most of the optimisations and memory issues won't be sorted until Silverlight v3.