Silverlight Pirates! Arr!

Thought I would post a screenshot of the game so far. I still have a lot to do but it is coming along pretty well I think. I am hoping to get a playable prototype in the next few days, just depends on how development goes.



Silverlight Pirate Game and Farseer Physics Engine

I have recently been working on a Pirate Game in Silverlight 1.1 Alpha and decided to use the Farseer Physics Engine to handle collisions, etc. I used Andy Beaulieu's Getting Started with Farseer Physics and Silverlight to create my SpriteBase class. I originally used the Silverlight Games 101 tutorials to get started and got turned on to Farseer from that site.

Since this is a Pirate game you will be sailing around in a ship encountering other ships and various islands. One of the big challenges I ran into right from the start was getting the Vertices setup for collision with an island. I am unable to visualize more than a view Vertex points at a time so I was having trouble getting the island border setup correctly. For those unaware, Farseer provides a Body class which just represents a body in space. You can assign the Body a Geometry object that actually defines its physical structure within your world. The GeomFactory class provides methods for creating circle, rectangle and polygon geometries.Since I have a island I was in need of a ploygon geometry which is created using a collection of Vector2 instances within a Vertices instance.

Geom g = GeomFactory.Instance.CreatePolygonGeom(this.PhysicsSimulator, this.Body, vertices, 1);

When creating the Vector2 instances to add to the Vertices collection you have to specify the X and Y values in relation to the center of the geometry. In other words, if I have a geometry that will be 64 X 64 and want to set a Vertex at the top, left of the square the Vector2 instance would be new Vector2(-32, -32). For an island that is 512 X 512 that is a lot of going back and forth with the calculator.

Anyway, not matter what I did I still couldn't get the vertices correct. I eventually created a helper method in a Utils class that will accept the Vertices collection, a width and height and create a Path instance that I can add to my Canvas in order to see the Vertices. This greatly helped me to understand where I was placing my points. Here is the CreatePathFromVertices method I created:

public static Path CreatePathFromVertices(Vertices vertices, double width, double height)
            Path path = new Path();
            path.Stroke = new SolidColorBrush(Colors.Magenta);
            path.StrokeThickness = 1;
            path.Fill = new SolidColorBrush(Colors.Transparent);
            PathGeometry pathGeom = new PathGeometry();
            PathFigureCollection figures = new PathFigureCollection();
            pathGeom.Figures = figures;
            PathFigure figure = new PathFigure();
            figure.StartPoint = new Point((double)vertices[0].X, (double)vertices[0].Y);
            figure.Segments = new PathSegmentCollection();

            foreach (var vector in vertices)
                LineSegment line = new LineSegment() { Point = new Point((double)vector.X, (double)vector.Y) };

            TranslateTransform trans = new TranslateTransform();
            trans.X = width / 2;
            trans.Y = height / 2;
            path.RenderTransform = trans;

            path.Data = pathGeom;
            return path;

To use it all I do is call it after creating my Vertices collection and add the returned Path to my UserControl Canvas:

this.Root.Children.Add(Utils.CreatePathFromVertices(vertices, this.Root.Width, this.Root.Height));

This was working better but I wanted to be able to create the Vertices collection a little faster. I had originally created my island image in Photoshop and so I opened up the PSD and added a new transparent layer called Vertices. In the Vertices layer I proceeded to draw points around the island using a 1px Pencil of Magenta color. After I created a point based structure around the image I saved just the Vertices layer as a PNG. I then wrote a C# WinForms application to load up the PNG and parse it pixel by pixel, creating a Vertex for each of the Magenta points located within the image. The WinForms application then writes out the Vertices code required by the Farseer engine based on these Vertex instances.

Doing this gave me the Vertices I needed but not in the order I needed. The CreatePloygonGeom method requires the vertices to be in a clockwise or counter clockwise order. Parsing each pixel of an image only gives you the pixels in order from each x to y or y to x. I ended having to add the Image x and y location of each pixel as a comment to the end of the Vertices.Add line of code being generated by my WinForms application. From there I was able to use Photoshop to re-order the Vertices so that they rendered correctly.

vertices.Add(new Vector2(-208f, -173f)); // 48, 83
vertices.Add(new Vector2(-126f, -240f)); // 130, 16
vertices.Add(new Vector2(-61f, -200f)); // 195, 56

Using my CreatePathFromVertices method I was able to see the outline of the shape I created as the collision geometry for my island. One this I did notice was that I needed the very first line of the Vertices code to be repeated at the very end in order to join the geometry shape.

vertices.Add(new Vector2(-208f, -173f)); // 48, 83
vertices.Add(new Vector2(-126f, -240f)); // 130, 16
vertices.Add(new Vector2(-61f, -200f)); // 195, 56
vertices.Add(new Vector2(-208f, -173f)); // 48, 83

Here is a screenshot of the game with the Path around the island displayed. Granted the path is not perfect but sufficient for the game I think. I can always alter it but the more Vertices you add the longer it takes to load.

Here is the full code from the Constructor of my island class:

public SpringIsland(PhysicsSimulator physicsSimulator)
            : base (physicsSimulator)
            System.IO.Stream s = this.GetType().Assembly.GetManifestResourceStream("Pirates.SpringIsland.xaml");
            this.Initialize(new System.IO.StreamReader(s).ReadToEnd());

            this.Body = BodyFactory.Instance.CreateRectangleBody(this.PhysicsSimulator, (float)this.Root.Width, (float)this.Root.Height, 1000);
            this.Body.IsStatic = true;

            #region Vertices
            Vertices vertices = new Vertices();
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-208f, -173f)); // 48, 83
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-126f, -240f)); // 130, 16
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-61f, -200f)); // 195, 56
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(9f, -201f)); // 265, 55
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(43f, -241f)); // 299, 15
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(152f, -256f)); // 408, 0
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(235f, -209f)); // 491, 47
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(218f, -155f)); // 474, 101
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(118f, -145f)); // 374, 111
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(23f, -50f)); // 279, 206
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(114f, 55f)); // 370, 311
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(90f, 92f)); // 346, 348  
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(152f, 97f)); // 408, 353
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(235f, 148f)); // 491, 404
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(216f, 219f)); // 472, 475
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(147f, 252f)); // 403, 508
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(26f, 241f)); // 282, 497   
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-62f, 234f)); // 194, 490
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-118f, 203f)); // 138, 459
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-126f, 167f)); // 130, 423
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-156f, 143f)); // 100, 399
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-218f, 129f)); // 38, 385
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-233f, 103f)); // 23, 359
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-232f, 35f)); // 24, 291
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-200f, 16f)); // 56, 272
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-195f, -32f)); // 61, 224
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-230f, -95f)); // 26, 161
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-199f, -141f)); // 57, 115
            vertices.Add(new Vector2(-208f, -173f)); // 48, 83

            this.Root.Children.Add(Utils.CreatePathFromVertices(vertices, this.Root.Width, this.Root.Height));

            Geom g = GeomFactory.Instance.CreatePolygonGeom(this.PhysicsSimulator, this.Body, vertices, 1);
            g.CollisionHandler += new FarseerGames.FarseerPhysics.Collisions.Geom.CollisionHandlerDelegate(this.HandleCollision);

The code in the "Vertices" region was generated by the C# WinForms application and I re-ordered manually. I will release the source to the Pirate game once it is complete, if you want the prototype code just contact me. I will probably post the prototype online once I get the Ship AI and cannons working so at least there would be more to do that just sail around the island. :)

Here is the code for the C# WinForms app that will read the image pixel data and create the Vertices code segment:


A Silverlight Pirate Game

I've decided to take a little break from working on Perenthia and focus some time on building some smaller, shorter life span games. I have two reasons for doing this; the first being that by building some smaller games I can get the games completed faster which is very encouraging and allows me to have new projects to work on. Perenthia is very time consuming because I keep making it complex, I feel it needs this complexity though to be a fun and engaging game. The second reason is that I want to get my feet wet in Silverlight and building some smaller games would give me just that. I will continue working on Perenthia but want to get a few more of my ideas built and playable before finishing it out.

That being said the first Silverlight game I will be creating will be a Pirate game where you sail around, avoiding the navy, attacking ships and finding buried treasure. Doing something like this will enable me to get core mechanics worked out in Silverlight along with animation, collision detection, etc.

As it stands right now I have the basic player movement and ship movement down. The graphics are pretty bad as it was just something for prototyping. The game will be a top down view and hopefully provide some fun gameplay in short intervals. I want to be able to persist the player information so you can pick back up where you left off and ultimately complete the game.

The goal of the game will be to attain the buried fortune of a long dead pirate named Rough Hand James. He created a map to his treasure and scattered the pieces all across the globe. It will be your adventure to find those map pieces and locate the treasure. You will start out on your ship with the first clue to the treasure and along the way you may encounter the Royal Navy, sea monsters and other pirates. You will engage in sea and land battles, loot merchant vessels and follow clues through towns, uncharted waters and wilderness all to find the greatest fortune every massed by one pirate.

I am going to work a little on the graphics and get some animations working and then I will post either a screenshot or working prototype of the game in the next few days. 


More Customer Hassles from Giant Companies

Looks like Microsoft wants to join the ranks of companies with really crappy customer service such as Bank of America, Sprint, Comcast, Dell. Full story...




PBBG Engine Update

Work continues on Perenthia and my PBBG Engine. I think I got the core PBBG engine framework complete, at least complete enough to start porting over the content items from Perenthia. My goal is to get a small area working with a few items, monsters, etc. before I port over the entire database.

I am hoping to improve performance in this new version as well as complete several of the features I didn't get implemented in Beta 1. The engine uses a lof of in memory objects while still persisting the world to the database. Running a lot of this in memory will eat of memory on the web server but will hopefully improve performance in regards to interactions from users. The main bulk of the places or rooms will be loaded up into memory when the application starts. Along with this load will be a load of NPCs and items located in towns and designated areas. Then, whenever a player logs in and begins playing their player object will be loaded into memory as well. At regular intervals the world state will be updated and player objects persisted to the database. Inactive player objects will be saved and then discarded from memory until the next time the player logs in.

Loading these objects into memory will keep the database connection initialization and IO traffic to a minimum and help speed up actions such as moving around and engaging NPCs. Since I don't know of anyone actually doing this I'm not completely sure it will work. :) My testing so far is working great and at most I may need to beef up the RAM on the web server.

I am still planning for a January release of Beta 2 and depending on how that beta goes; a full release in the early Spring.


SQL 2005 XML Data Type, Stored Procedures and Lists

I've seen a lot of stuff out there regarding the SQL 2005 XML data type but most of it is just regurgitates the MSDN documentation. That's fine and all but what about practical uses of it? Well, I have a practical use sample. In building my persistent browser based game Perenthia I have a concept of a Place. A place is a virtual space in which objects are stored. For Perenthia the places represent the various rooms or tiles players move around on. The place or room has exits defined that allow the player to move from one place to the next. The exits are the typical directions; north, south, up, down, etc. In the database I have a Places table and a PlaceExits table. The Places table stores all the information regarding a place and the PlaceExits table stores the placeId along with a directionId and destinationId so I know what exits are available in any room and what rooms they lead to.

The simplified schema for the places would be:

 Places Tables

 In the stored procedure that retrieves the place information I use the following query snippet in the select clause:



                e.DirectionId        AS "@directionId",
                e.DestinationId        AS "@destinationId"
                dbo.PlaceExits e
                e.PlaceId = p.PlaceId
            FOR XML PATH('exit'), ROOT('exits')
        ) AS ExitsXml

    FROM dbo.Places p 

 This creates an XML fragment I can then parse in the application to fill a collection of Exits on the Place object.

When saving place information I pass XML generated from the Exits collection in a stored procedure like so:

CREATE PROCEDURE dbo.Places_SavePlace  (@PlaceId int, @ExitsXml xml)

From within the save procedure I perform an update or insert of the place data and then execute the following sql to insert and update the exits for the current place:

    -- Exits

    -- Process the existing exits first

        DestinationId    = e.ex.value('(@destinationId)[1]', 'int')
        @ExitsXml.nodes('/exits/exit') as e(ex)
        PlaceId = @PlaceId
        AND DirectionId = e.ex.value('(@directionId)[1]', 'tinyint')

    -- Process any new exits

    INSERT INTO dbo.PlaceExits
        ObjectId, DirectionId, DestinationId
        e.ex.value('(@directionId)[1]', 'tinyint'),
        e.ex.value('(@destinationId)[1]', 'int')
        @ExitsXml.nodes('/exits/exit') as e(ex)
        e.ex.value('(@directionId)[1]', 'tinyint') NOT IN
            SELECT DirectionId FROM dbo.PlaceExits WHERE PlaceId = @PlaceId

This is working pretty well and keeps me from having to loop through the exits in the application and make multiple database calls. 


Database Model for a PBBG

I've worked on some large projects in the past with 500+ database tables but I have yet to see any persistent browser based games or any games get up that kind of table count. I only have 61 tables in Perenthia right now with a few more features to add which could possibly add another 10 tables. I would be curious to see a larger model, to see what kinds of things are handled. Right now I have tables for users, roles, places, things, avatars, skills, attributes, quests, guilds, professions and an assortment of lookup tables for things like item conditions, materials, titles, levels, etc.


Some New Stat Panel Designs

Here are some of the new stat panels I have been working on for the persistent browser based game Perenthia. I may use these for other games just depends on the game. I am making these into server controls that will render divs without the INamingContainer scheme of naming so they can be accessed a little easier via JavaScript and my AJAX calls.

Perenthia Stat Panels 



Engine Structure

I am structuring my PBBG game engine to be as flexible as possible in order to build various types of games. In order to do that I need to abstract out the components of the engine. Since persistent browser based games are, well, browser based, I decided to follow the normal n-tier model. I am creating a data tier, my actuall database, an application tier which is the engine and will handle client connections, authentication, commands and reading and writing to the database. On top of the application layer will reside the game layer which will be customizable libraries that will use and access the application layer. This follows along the MUD driver and MUD lib pattern where my engine will be the driver which will persist data and handle all communications and my MUD libs or games will be written in an OO fashion to take advantage of the game engine.

The engine is being written in C# and in such a way to take advantage of features of ASP.NET such as HttpModules and HttpHandlers. 


Command Processor

For my PBBG Engine I am developing a command processor independent of the client interface. The reason for this is that I want to be able to build different interfaces such as a mobile interface, silverlight and/or flash interface. I want all the interfaces to process the same commands and be able to handle the same output from the server in order to update the UI components.

What I have come up with for the command request to the server is a simple pipe delimited string:


Where CMD would be the command to send to the server and the AUTHKEY would be a key generated when the player logs in through the authentication service that uniquely identifies the player for that session.

The response from the server will be JSON formatted objects and I still have not figured out the complete structure yet. The things I need to send back to the client would be:  An array of messages to display to the player, player's new position should they move, the player stats when in combat, their current target and any other players or mobiles they encounter. Could end up being a large set of data for certain actions so we'll see about performance there.


PBBGs and Performance

One of the main things I am concentrating on for Perenthia and my PBBG Engine is performance. A lot has to go on in a game, each action be it movement, combat, etc. causes a lot of code to be executed and database calls to be made. What I am striving for in Perenthia and ultimately in my PBBG Engine will be as few database calls per command as I can get away with. Right now Perenthia makes several calls, one to load the Character and depending on the action 1-4 more database calls and then the final save Character call.

For Perenthia, I was able to get movement into the Character load call, then make one call to determine if the player can move and if any monsters are encountered, then a final call to save the character. That is probably as small as I can get movement but it still does not perform the way that it should.

I thought about caching or storing the map in memory but with over 150,000 records in the table storing the map data that is just not a good idea. Just not sure of the best approach for this. The database procedure for movement runs in under a second so I don't think that is the bottle neck, I think the bottle neck is sending all that data from the server to the client. I may try to asnychronously download the map data to the client while they are playing and just send smaller amounts of data for the map. Maybe a JavaScript file that can be auto generated using custom handlers that would contain the entire map structure with X,Y,Z and Terrain values. Then I can just use the player's current location to position them on the map. since I validate their position on the server I can still perform the monster check and move check and just not send the whole map down the pipe.

Attack is another performance bottle neck that I plan to devote some time to once I get the map movement sped up. 


.NET PBBG Engine

In between updating Perenthia and adding new features I have been pulling parts of the code base into a more generic PBBG Engine I am writing in C#. I started working on it when I upgraded the Knights of the Realm game and used parts of it for Perenthia. I am hoping to put Knights of the Realm Beta 2 on the new engine once I get it finished.

I am building the engine as generic as I can but it will incorporate a base rules set and some basic concepts. The base objects will be Avatars, Places and Things. These objects will contain the properties required to function within the rules set and all objects will derive from a base GameObject class that will provide a properties collection for creating custom properties on derived game objects.

The game will be driven by commands sent from the client. Some objects will handle the commands in the engine framework while other commands will cause events to be raised that deriving implementations can handle and provide custom execution or additional execution of the commands.

The egnine will basically be a commands/rules processor that I will hopefully be able to build a variety of games on. I have plans and ideas for several types of games and do not want to continually build the same thing over and over, hence the PBBG engine. 


ASP.NET AJAX Server Controls and PBBGs

I ran into a major performance issue with the ASP.NET AJAX Server Controls while testing my persistent browser based game Perenthia. I had initially used update panels fro the various regions on the main game interface such as the player stats, map and chat window. Programming this was simple as I could do everything in the server side code and just send back the results. With the partial page rendering feature of the ASP.NET AJAX Extensions only the update panel html was sent back to the browser.

Once I moved the application into a production environment and had people on there playing and testing the web starting running out of memory, the application was consuming the server memory at an alarming rate. What was happening was that IIS would jump 1 to 2 MB of RAM for each request made by the client, that means every time someone moved on the game map 1 to 2 MB of RAM were being held and not released. I tried a bunch of different stuff from optimizing stored procedures to caching the map data but none of it helped.

I used Firebug to watch the AJAX request and response and to see if I could reduce that down some. The response was simply HTML fragments so I wasn't too worried about that but the request sent the entire ViewState up to the server with each post. The ViewState for the game page could be quite large since I was appending messages to the chat window which was a server control.

I was able to eliminate the ViewState issue with the chat window but the app was still consuming RAM and not releasing it.

I decided to try just a simple JavaScript only AJAX post using the Microsoft AJAX Client Libraries. After doing some basic tests on the chat window I decided to rebuild the game interface using only client side AJAX calls, no update panels. This has resolved the server memory issue, why, I am still not sure, must be something with the way the resources are handled in .NET. I have not encountered the slow downs or crashes from before and the app is actually running a little smoother on the front end as well.

What I settled on was a custom ASHX handler class that handles the commands from the client and returns JSON strings that the UI can then translate and use to update the interface components. I had to rebuild some of the interface components as JavaScript objects but overall it was the right choice. Not too mention that I can now use that same handler with other interfaces such as Flash or Silverlight.

In conclusion, while the AJAX Server Controls might work great for most web sites they are definitely not optimal for a persistent browser based game (PPBG).


Perenthia PBBG Post-Beta Release

I released the persistent browser based game Perenthia last week into a public BETA. Got some great folks on there testing stuff out, finding bugs and overall just providing great feedback. It's funny how much can get past your unit testing when you are the one who wrote the code.

Anyway, got a game refresh and loads of bug fixes coming either tonight or tomorrow and then hopefully I can move on to getting quests ready to go. 


Upload started..

I have started the database upload for Perenthia and will move the files shortly thereafter. Once everything is tested up on the server to ensure it is working properly I will open up the game.


Perenthia PBBG Release Tomorrow

The persistent browser based game Perenthia will open for a public Beta tomorrow evening. Some of the quests have yet to be completed but they are higher level quests so I still have time to map them all out.

Banks and Households are not complete and although you may see references to them they do not function as of yet. Banks will allow you to borrow money and store items and gold and Households are player run groups that will feature private messaging, group events and quests and could possibly include Household vs Household competitions.

Since banks are not complete you can pretty much carry as much stuff as you want. Once banks are complete you will find yourself restricted if you carry too much.  


Perenthia Release Update

Not sure what time of day I will open up Perenthia on Friday the 14th. Probably sometime in the morning, depends on how my last testing goes. I am finishing up testing out the quests and auto generated dungeons. If everything goes well, which it never does, the game will be live Friday morning. If I run into snags could be later in the day or worse case Saturday.

For those who don't know, Perenthia is a persistent browser based game set in a fantasy world and will feature Character Profiles, Live Chat, Quests, Forums, Households and hopefully Player vs Player combat.

Character Profiles will allow you to upload an avatar image, provide a description about your Character and even maintain a journal where other players can leave you comments and you can catalog your adventures.

Live Chat is built into the interface and will allow you to chat with other players in the game.

Quests are an important part of the game and the main storyline drives several key quests that will send you all across the landscape.

Forums allow you to interact with other players, helping each other on quests, reporting bugs, etc.

Households have yet to be completed but will be player run and allow the head of household to assign special titles to levels and create a unique experience for members. 


Silverlight Goodness

Silverlight goodness is coming to the D.C. area in the form of a Silverlight Dev Camp. Keep checking Frank's Blog for more details.


PBBG Mapper

Here is a screenshot of the PBBG mapping tool I wrote for creating the Perenthia world. The screenshot is the City of Angarath, a starting point in the game. The mapper is a  Windows application written in C# 2.0.

PBBG Mapper 


Perenthia PBBG AJAX Screenshot

Here is a screenshot of the AJAX interface for my PBBG Perenthia, which is scheduled for a beta release this Friday September 14th. This will be the main game screen where all actions related to game play will take place.

Perenthia PBBG AJAX UI 


Perenthia PBBG Update

Making good progress toward the Beta release of my PBBG Perenthia on September 14th. Not sure what time of day I will open the site up, probably in the morning some time on the 14th. Anyway, the AJAX game interface is working great after I scaled it down a little. I am still working on a more advanced interface in Silverlight 1.1, might be a little while before that is finished though, I want to get the game up and running first.



Perenthia Release Date

Alright, it is looking like the first initial release of Perenthia will be September 14th 2007. The initial release will feature an AJAX based user interface, kind of looks like a MUD client, with a new Silverlight interface to follow in the coming months, once Silverlight 1.1 goes into Beta with a Go Live license.

Players will be able to create Characters with a special profile page where they can describe their Characters and even upload an avatar image. A friends list on the Character Profile page will allow players to link to their friends and simple Character blog will allow the player to keep visitors up-to-date on their progress. Some other features of Perenthia will include player run Households, where players can make up advancement ranks, various length quests for all levels of play that will focus and determine the main story line, a different kind of magic system consisting of runes of power that you can combine to create spell effects and of course adventuring into wilderness to defeat scary monsters.

For those unaware, Perenthia is a persistent browser based game (PBBG) set in a fantasy medieval world. 


Adventures in Silverlight

I spent some time last night and today playing around in Silverlight to make a final decision on whether or not I will use it in my PBBG Perenthia. I had already started building out a Flash UI but just keep running into the same issues with Flash; the IDE sucks and I keep having to rebuild C# classes in ActionScript. So, I decided to dig a little more into Silverlight to see if using the 1.1 version would be feasible. The word from MS is that the beta 2 with a go live license should be available sometime later this year. That might work out pretty well for me and my current timeline. I have most of the server functionality for Perenthia complete but just can't find a UI combination that gives me what I want and keeps the overhead down. Anyway, I am going to spend the next few days playing around with a Silverlight UI and see if I can come up with something I can use in place of Flash.


Flash UI Screenshot for Perenthia PBBG

Here is a screenshot of the UI (user interface) that I am building in Flash for my PBBG Perenthia. I am converting the AJAX/HTML elements to Flash so it it somewhat incomplete but does give you the overall feel of the interface. The place where that gray square is will be the map and next to the map will be displayed the name of the place/room you are in and a listing of other players, NPCs, etc. in that place/room.

I am going to do a write up with my findings in regards to the Perenthia PBBG UI using AJAX, Flash and Silverlight. Might do that sometime later today.

Perenthia PBBG Flash UI 


Perenthia PBBG Flash UI

I've decided to use Flash to provide the UI for my persistent browser based game Perenthia. I went back and forth between Flash and AJAX and even looked into Silverlight a little and Flash just has the maturity needed for a good PBBG interface.  I originally had the main game UI written using AJAX but found it to be a little cumbersome when a lot of activity was occuring on the back end, just too much traffic generated for one user. I looked into Silverlight a little but I am going to wait until the 1.1 version is released so I can program in C# on the backend. Flash seems to be able to provide me with what I need and I wrote custom ASHX handlers on the ASP.NET side to handle commands from the Flash UI. The UI is basically just an advanced MUD client, in that the primary output is text based. However, with Flash I will be able to provide a better map and add some additional graphical features later on down the road. Since the command handler is a custom ASHX handler in .NET I could really allow any type of client to connect, as long as that client can send XML as an HTTP POST and receive the and parse the XML response from the page.

I will post a screen shot of the UI in the next day or so. 



Visual Studio 2008 Sivlerlight JS 1.0 Page ItemTemplate

I created a Visual Studio 2008 ItemTemplate for Silverlight 1.0 JS. The template creates a Page.xml and Page.js files for creating Silverlight 1.0 JS pages in an existing web project. I built this template for adding Silverlight 1.0 XAML pages to an existing ASP.NET project I am building using Visual Studio 2008. The web project is a 2.0 project so I can't reference the 3.5 JScriptSilverlightPage Item Template.


Silverlight Maze Game

I put up my first Silverlight project, a simple Silverlight Maze Game. You need to navigate the maze before the time runs out. This requires the Silverlight 1.1 Alpha Refresh in order to run properly in your browser.


Silverlight Game Tutorials

I found a good resource for creating games in Silverlight at SilverLight Games 101. Some basic tutorials and a game loop and key handler classes for use in your own projects. I am currently working on making some small Silverlight games and will eventually write a PBBG in Silverlight. I find it a little easier to use than Flash, escpecially the 1.1 Alpha since I can code in C# instead of JavaScript.


Perenthia Update - Release Soon

I am hoping to release Perenthia around the end of August. Everything is mostly complete and ready to go, I have a few UI element issues to work out and then the game will go live with a public beta.


Visual Studio 2008

I downloaded and installed the Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2 and I am really liking it. Aside from the new .NET 3.5 features the IDE itself is awesome. Visual Studio remains one of the best IDEs out there. If you want some good articles on VS 2008 check out Scott Gu's blog post on VS 2008.


PBBG Ideas

I've been doing a lot of note taking lately, I've been trying to write out all the ideas that keep floating around in my head for various persistent browser based games and even a few that are more in the direction of casual games. I have a tablet PC so I tend to scribble my notes throughout the day, while working, at home while watching tv, etc. Now, if I could just find an army of free programmers to build the games. :)


C# Socket Server for Flash/ActionScript

After doing some research on available socket servers for Flash I decided to write my own in C#. Most of the server out there are written in Java and while there are some open source implementations I prefer to stick with a code base I know and understand.

I got the Flash movie to connect to the C# server yesterday using JSON protocal instead of XML as my transport mechanism. I used a .NET JSON library and an ActionScript 2.0 JSON library to build the objects on both sides. I created a C# class for passing data, serialize as a JSON string and send it the Flash movie. On the ActionScript side I created an AS class that mimics my C# data gram class and use the AS JSON lib to serialize and send that same object structure to the C# server. Working pretty good so far, I am able to login to the server and send and receive messages.

My next steps will be creating a basic flash game that I can use to run around and do battle while sending and receiving messages from the server. 

I have plans to make a Flash based PBBG with real time combat, we'll see how it goes. :) 


Flash and PBBGs

I've been looking into Flash as a possible alternate UI for my PBBG Perenthia because of the benefits of being able to write a socket server that Flash can connect to and provide real time updates to players. The only way to accomplish this in a web scenario is to constantly poll the server for updates, rather than have them pushed to the client. I am trying to weigh the options and impact of this along with the UI beneifts Flash would deliver, such as animated characters, mobs, etc.


Knights of the Realm PBBG Update

I just released another update to the Knights of the Realm 2 PBBG. The update includes several bug fixes reported by the players as well as a few enhancements requested by the players.

The Knights of the Realm 2 PBBG is a combat oriented game where players compete against each other in nightly tournament events. The game is free and only requires a browser to play.


GridView Grouping and Summaries

If you are looking to group your grid view results and provide summaries such as totals, etc. I found a great utility for grouping GridView results. It is a set of classes that provide a helper for your grids to allow grouping. The component is super easy to use just remember that if you don't use a data source control you have to handle the GridView Sorting event. You don't actually have to have any code in the event handler, just handle the event.


Perenthia Households

Over the next couple of days I will be implementing the household management screens into the main interface of my PBBG Perenthia. Players who create and manage a household will use these screens to add and edit ranks of advancement, set membership requirements, view active members and appoint household officers.

After the household screens are in place and tested I will implement the new tournament screen layouts which will allow players to participate in tournament events to increase their skills and fame.

Crafting is still bare bones and may be added during the beta, not sure yet how that will play out. Crafting will give players the ability to create items from core elements and other items. An example of crafting would be taking iron ore and using a forge to create a sword, maybe even wrap the hlt in leather. 

The adventuring aspect is more or less complete for the beta release and includes dynamically generated areas for players to roam around in complete with dynamic and randomly generated monsters. 

Skills will be the primary factors in all actions from adventuring to tournaments to crafting. The skills system is already in place but some hooks need to be added to the household interface to allow players to require certain levels of skills in order to advance within a household.

I am hoping these core elements will provide a flexible and fun playing environment for members. I have a large list of future enhancements and elements I removed from the alpha phase that could show themselves again, just not sure yet.

A new web site for Perenthia will go up when the game enters open beta so fi the site looks different when you visit again, be sure to sign up and play! 


X, Y, Z Coordinate Struct for .NET PBBGs

I created a struct in C# for storing the X, Y and Z coordinates for characters, objects and rooms within my current PBBG project Perenthia. The struct, called Vector, is serializable and can be used as the key value in a sorted or generic dictionary. Here is the code for the class.

[Serializable]    public struct Vector : IEquatable<Vector>    {        public static readonly Vector Empty = new Vector(0, 0, 0);        public Vector(int x, int y, int z)        {            _x = x;            _y = y;            _z = z;        }        public void SetLocation(int x, int y)        {            this.SetLocation(x, y, this.Z);        }        public void SetLocation(int x, int y, int z)        {            _x = x;            _y = y;            _z = z;        }        public Vector Copy()        {            return new Vector(this.X, this.Y, this.Z);        }        public static Vector FromString(string value)        {            if (!String.IsNullOrEmpty(value))            {                string[] parts = value.Split(',');                if (parts != null && parts.Length == 3)                {                    int x, y, z;                    if (Int32.TryParse(parts[0], out x))                    {                        if (Int32.TryParse(parts[1], out y))                        {                            if (Int32.TryParse(parts[2], out z))                            {                                return new Vector(x, y, z);                            }                        }                    }                }            }            return Vector.Empty;        }        #region GetHashCode        public override int GetHashCode()        {            // The Y value should always come first in any kind of sorting, comparison or hashing operations            // followed by X and then Z because typical loops would start with the Y value.            return (this.Y.GetHashCode() + this.X.GetHashCode() + this.Z.GetHashCode());        }        #endregion        #region Equals        public bool Equals(Vector obj)        {            // The Y value should always come first in any kind of sorting, comparison or hashing operations            // followed by X and then Z because typical loops would start with the Y value.            if (obj != null)            {                if (obj.Y == this.Y)                {                    if (obj.X == this.X)                    {                        return (obj.Z == this.Z);                    }                }            }            return false;        }        public override bool Equals(object obj)        {            if (obj is Vector)            {                return this.Equals((Vector)obj);            }            return base.Equals(obj);        }        #endregion        #region ToString        public override string ToString()        {            return String.Format("{0},{1},{2}", _x, _y, _z);        }        public string ToString(bool forDisplay)        {            if (forDisplay)            {                return String.Format("X = {0}, Y = {1}, Z = {2}", _x, _y, _z);            }            return this.ToString();        }        #endregion        #region Operators        public static Vector operator +(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            return new Vector(v1.X + v2.X, v1.Y + v2.Y, v1.Z + v2.Z);        }        public static Vector operator -(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            return new Vector(v1.X - v2.X, v1.Y - v2.Y, v1.Z - v2.Z);        }        public static bool operator ==(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            return v1.Equals(v2);        }        public static bool operator !=(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            return (!v1.Equals(v2));        }        public static bool operator >=(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            // The Y value should always come first in any kind of sorting, comparison or hashing operations            // followed by X and then Z because typical loops would start with the Y value.            if (v1.Y >= v2.Y)            {                if (v1.X >= v2.X)                {                    return (v1.Z >= v2.Z);                }            }            return false;        }        public static bool operator <=(Vector v1, Vector v2)        {            // The Y value should always come first in any kind of sorting, comparison or hashing operations            // followed by X and then Z because typical loops would start with the Y value.            if (v1.Y <= v2.Y)            {                if (v1.X <= v2.X)                {                    return (v1.Z <= v2.Z);                }            }            return false;        }        #endregion        #region Properties        private int _x;        public int X        {            get { return _x; }            set { _x = value; }        }        private int _y;        public int Y        {            get { return _y; }            set { _y = value; }        }        private int _z;        public int Z        {            get { return _z; }            set { _z = value; }        }        #endregion        #region IEquatable<Vector> Members        bool IEquatable<Vector>.Equals(Vector other)        {            return this.Equals(other);        }        #endregion    }



I have to say that BlogEngine.NET is a great blog utility. I was using .Text for a long time and just never wanted to go through the conversion to Community Server. I just did not need a community, I just wanted a blog. I reviewed a bunch of different blog engines out there and really liked all the features of BlogEngine.NET. If you are looking to setup a blog and want to have control over your data store using providers and have all the latest features like tagging, auto pings, etc. then snag BlogEngine.NET.


JavaScript Libraries

I found some good javascript libraries for PBBG or any kind of web development.

This one is a graphics library useful for drawing vector graphics to the browser. Works great, just remember to set the position:relative value of the DIV you wish to draw in. :)

DHTML: Draw Line, Ellipse, Oval, Circle, Polyline, Polygon, Triangle with JavaScript

This site has a collection of useful libraries for all manner of web related activities.

Javascript Toolbox: Reusable Libraries And Scripts Plus Information


PBBG Player Interactivity

I think one of the most overlooked but import feature in PBBGs is player interactivity. You can have the best looking game out there with the fatest database, application layer and what not but if you players can not interact with one another as the main focus of the game you will struggle to achieve sucess. There are plenty of folks out there who like solo game play, I am one of those, but the majority of folks want to interact with others. This is especially true with female players. While all players like to interact, not all male players will participate in interactive features unless they advance their character in some, females on the other hand will seek to interact regardless of advancement opportunities.

So, in short, figure out ways to allow players to interact within your games, keeping in mind which demographics you are targeting with the feature and you will see a greater return on investment for your game. 


Perenthia Update

I've had Perenthia in a private test phase over the past few weeks and have decided on the core features that will make it into the public beta of the game. I have a few components to remove and a little more testing to do before the game enters a live beta stage, I am hoping not more than a few weeks.

The game will feature Households which are player run groups where the players can setup the levels and requirements of advancement. Crafting will also be a major feature, allowing players to craft the various items to be used in game. These features will center around a fantasy world with magic and monsters. Another feature that should make it into the beta will be tournaments, both individual and household. More on these features later.


PBBG Mapper

I've been working on a tile mapping tool I call PBBG Mapper here lately while working on my persistent browser based games. The tool is a Windows based application written in C# 2.0 and will include some plugin functionality so that other developers can extend it an customize it. The progam saves all tile maps as XML for easy portability and works pretty well. I will post some screenshots once I get it into a full working version.


Role Playing Game Maps

I found some great tutorials for creating awesome looking role playing game maps using Photoshop. The site has videos that walk you through the steps to create the maps. Plan on seeing some maps based on these tutorials in my persistent browser based game Perenthia in the near future.


PBBG Game Engine

While building the persistent browser based game Perenthia I have been putting together a PBBG Engine that I am going to use to build additional games. Among those additional games will be Aelerion, which will be a space adventure game in which I plan to use Silverlight as the front end user interface.

The Knights of the Realm 2 uses a mixure of some of the code I wrote for the PBBG Engine and some of the code I migrated from the first version of the game. I also chose to try something new with Knights of the Realm in that I stored XML serialized objects in the database using my XQuery class. I decided to try this method to see what kind of impact it would have on game play performance and maintainability. Since Knights of the Realm is not a real time game and executes tournaments in the early hours of the morning I figured this would be a safer test.

Since writing Knights of the Realm 2 I decided not to use the XML serialiazation for my PBBG Engine because I want the engine to be able to support real time game play and serialization is just too slow. I did some perf testing with a database, xml serialization and flat text files and found that flat text files were the fastest when saving information, xml serlization was the slowest and database fell in the middle. When loading information back into objects the database was the fatest because I didn't have to do a lot of conversions from strings to integers like I did with the flat text files. Xml serialization came in last in loading as well and not just in miliseconds but was a good 3-4 seconds behind the database and flat files in both loading and saving. However, using an XmlReader and XmlWriter to read and write the Xml values into an Xml data type column in the database turned out to be faster than serialization but still slower than straight database access because of the need to convert Xml node value strings to integers.

My PBBG Engine will utilize a mixure of regular data type columns and xml columns in the database. The reasoning is that static things such as player name, race and gender will be static columns but the player table will also feature and xml data type column for storing custom properties. A base player object will contain a key/value collection where custom properties can be stored and that collection will use the XmlReader and XmlWriter to save the key/value pairs in the xml data type column.

I also plan on making use of the application cache in ASP.NET for some of the common objects such as rooms so that I am not making thousands of database calls everytime a player moves around in the world. Some of my initial tests have worked out quite well using a lightweight set of objects that represent rooms or tiles on a map. These objects contain just enough information to determine whether or not a player can move into the room and their coordinates in the overall map. 


Tooltips in PBBGs

I came across a great article on tooltips for persistent browser based games. In the article Vindexus shows how to use the BoxOver script to enhance PBBGs with tooltip functionality. His sample uses the box over script and the title of span tag. A good example of using simple pre-existing html tags to enhance the gaming interface.

I am working on including this functionality in my current PBBG The Knights of the Realm 2 and will also incorporate it into my other game. The use of tooltips does provide a great feature for users. I may incorporate a way to turn the tooltips on and off as well.


The Future of Persistent Browser Based Games

I've been developing persistent browser based games using ASP.NET and AJAX for a little while now but an emerging technology from Microsoft called Silverlight that I believe will re-define how browser games are built for .NET developers. Silverlight is Microsoft's answer to Flash but with advantages for .NET developers in that I can program C# on the backend and have Silverlight on the front end.

My current PBBG Perenthia will be ASP.NET and AJAX but another game I have in the design phase called Aelerion will feature a Silverlight front end using (hopefully) the same game engine I wrote for Perenthia.