June 21, 2012

The game got a lot of good feeback on the AppHub playtest forum.  I’ve resolved most of the issues that other developers found.

Device Selection Issue

There was one report that the game wouldn’t play on any controller index, even though I tested that case multiple times.  After doing some more testing with all four controllers, I found that if one of the controllers was not signed into an account, then it would stay on the storage device selection screen if a storage device is not already selected.  Therefore, on the load screen the “Select Device” button didn’t appear to do anything, because there was no profile to select the storage device.  The screen was misleading, because what the user really needs to do is sign-in (however it did say “must be signed in to use storage device”), but it didn’t automatically take the player to the XBox profile login screen.  After doing some research, I found that the PlayerIndex is not a mandatory parameter for the DeviceSelection control.  Therefore, I just removed that parameter, so now all players (signed-in or not signed-in) can select a storage device.  The only downside is that now all players on the system share the same save data, but I doubt there will be any complaints about that.

Component Selection

Another developer reported that it was difficult to tell which component is currently selected.  This is simple to see in later levels with many selectable components, but I can understand that it is difficult on the early levels with only two selectable components.  I went ahead and added a simple animated arrow which points to the currently selected component, which should remove any doubt on which component is selected.  I also created a frame sprite to display around the selected item, but it didn’t look good so I just stuck with the arrow.

Tutorial Tips

Since this is an unconventional game, some players didn’t fully understand the game mechanics.  I’ve always thought that part of the fun was learning the game, but I don’t want anyone to get frustrated at the start of the game.  Therefore, I’ve added tips that display to the left of the game board for the starting levels.  I wanted to have these tips scroll across the bottom like a television news feed, but I didn’t have enough vertical screen real estate in the title safe area.

I ended up putting the tips off to the left side, since there was a lot of unused space there.  At first, I only had the tips display if the amount of time for the S-rank had elapsed, so that expert players wouldn’t see the tips.  However, this resulted in the tip flashing at the last second if the level is completed slightly after the time required for the S-rank.  Therefore, I decided just to have the tip fade in and let all players see them.  Trying to figure out how to get text to fade-in was a lengthly process.  At first I thought all I had to do was pass a color object with the fourth parameter set to the alpha, but this does not work when specifying the first three RGB parameters as well. (good grief!)  Fortunately, I found an article which explained that you have to multiply the color by the alpha value for it to work right, such as Color.White * 0.5f.  It’s mind boggling why just new Color(255, 255, 255, 128) won’t work.

Activating LEDs with  Lower Flow Value

Another suggestion was to remove the ability to activate LEDs with flow lower than the LED value.  I think that would make the game too difficult for a casual audience.  The game appropriately penalizes the player in the “luminosity” rank if the LEDs are not using the maximum values.  However, I did modify the colors of the activated LEDs if those are not using the maximum value.  Now those are colored light blue.  I will probably also add a different sound effect as well.

Stick a Fork in It

May 28, 2012

Title Safe

Noticed that the title safe area on the PC is the entire window, so things looked slightly off when it is running in  a window.   Went back and removed the device specific Title Safe Area rectangle, with my own that I calculate based on the size of the screen that I define, using 10% around the edges as the unsafe area.

Device Storage

The fast transition of the device selection screen on the XBox Slim was very noticeable, due to the bright yellow background color.  This screen is only displayed for a split second, since there is only one storage device which is automatically selected.  I’m not sure why it won’t let me select between the hard drive and cloud storage.  I removed the yellow screen and replaced it with the standard background color, but the “select storage device” message still flickered for a brief second, so I put in a counter to delay the display of the message for 60 frames.  Now, the message should only display if there is a problem.

I also need to go back and modify the “reset all data” functionality, so that it takes advantage of the new load storage screen.   I don’t have the time to fix this, so I went ahead and removed the “Delete All records” functionality from the level select screen.  I never liked the fact that there was no selector for it on the screen, and adding the functionality back using the new saving method will just be too much of a hassle at this point.  I can use that time to do better things.  Plus, I did learn previously that the player’s data can be deleted from the XBox system menu.

Four Controller Ports

Added code to hold the controller state for all four controller ports.  Apparently, I don’t need to check to see if a controller is actually active to get its state.  Added a parameter to Screen methods which handle button presses, so that now those take an int parameter which signifies which controller port pressed that button.

Updated the code so that it now allows the device selector to be opened and controlled by the controller port which started the game.  Added exceptions to handle a save after the user has signed out of their profile during the game.

Tried using the Guide message display API call to display a message to the user if the game was no longer being saved due to the user signing out, but it also has the problem of crashing if the guide is active, so I didn’t bother with it.


After reading threads about others who have failed peer review, I added a check to ensure that the logged in player can purchase content before the Marketplace screen is shown on the trial screen.  I’m thinking that 21 levels for the trial may be a bit too much.  I’m doubting that anyone can complete that many levels within 8 minutes, and my purchase screen is only displayed after those 21 levels are complted.  However, people can still buy the game through the main marketplace window.  The user can play the 8 minute trail multiple times, selecting the other levels (up to 21, 3-1) that they have not completed, so therefore it is possible to the player to complete all 21 trial levels to see the purchase screen.

I’m trying not to be like most other games which have “buy buy buy” plastered all of the game’s interface.  After all, if the player likes the game, then I’m sure they will know how to buy it from the marketplace menu.

Graphics Updates

Updated the cell selector to use the a symbol representing a resistor.  Went back and made it a hand drawn anti-aliased line using the Gimp brush tool, with the middle cut out.  Added a slight green glowing effect to this selector sprite.

Also added another overlay to the filled light, which is a sprite of two white filled arcs.  This rotates for each filled light.  It looks much better than what the screenshot shows.


Minor Changes

On the title screen, I also changed “New Game” to “Start Game”.  I thought people may think that “New Game” will overwrite their existing record data, which isn’t the case.

After checking the Not So Evil Checklist again, the game won’t be failed for a Code 7 crash, which results from the account with the App Hub subscription signing out.  So I just needed to ensure that it is playable from any controller port.

Learned that I don’t have to recreate the XBox entry XNA Studio Device Center and re-enter the key after restarting the XBox.  I’ve just got to ensure that the XBox device for the active system is set as default.

Wrapping Up

At this point, I’m considering this game to be done.  I tested it using all of the checks on the Evil Checklist, and I believe it passes all of them now.  I will sleep on it overnight, and may play test some  more of the levels again tomorrow, since I have tomorrow off of work for Memorial Day.  Unless there is some major issue that must be fixed, I plan on submitting it to the contest tomorrow.  Thanks to everyone who has read my status updates.

Peer Review Preparation

May 25, 2012

Evil Checklist

I started reading about what needs to be done to publish a game, and I noticed a thread on the App Hub site referencing the Evil Checklist.  I’m not sure if my game needs to pass everything in the list to submit it to the contest, but it’s probably better if it does.  For instance all games must have a trial mode to be approved to be published to the XBox Marketplace, but I’m not sure if that is necessarily required for the contest.  Since I still have two weeks until submission, I will try to make sure that my game passes everything on that checklist.

Right out of the gate, I know my game would fail peer review because it doesn’t allow the game to be played on any controller port.  It only registers input from the controller on the first port.  That may not be a quick fix, but it should be relatively simple.

The checklist also provides various tests for the device selector.  I know I had a problem the other night when the game transitioned to the game win screen (and saved) while the Guide was open.  My game may also not function properly if no storage device is selected, since it always reads from the storage device when the level select screen is displayed to show the ranks.  According to the Not So Evil Checklist, I can force the player to select a storage device.  Therefore, I should be able to just modify the code (if needed) to gracefully handle the state when no storage device is selected, such as returning the player to the title screen.  The real kicker is that my primary XBox (slim) doesn’t even have a port for an MU (Memory Unit) for testing multiple storage devices, so I’ll have to try to get the developer tools running on my old XBox (ugh!).

More Rank Updates

Updated the rank values for the last 30 levels, 7-1 through 9-10.  Played each level twice to get the piece, luminosity, and rank values.  If I got a better score the second time, then I usually played it again a third time.  Basically, I kept playing the levels over until I didn’t get a better score, and then I used the best scores for the S ranks.  I think the game should now be functionally complete, but I might go back and update the graphics for the selected cell (currently just a blue square).

Rank Updates

May 8, 2012

Rank Modifications

Modified the way that ranks are calculated at the end of a level.  Before, I had S, A, and B values defined for each of the three categories (pieces, luminosity, time) for each level.  I’ve realized that I will not have enough time to come up with all of those values for even the 50 stages that I currently have.  Therefore, I’m just going to define values for the S ranks.  Then, I will derive the A, B, and C values for pieces by adding 1, 2, and 3 to the S rank.  The same goes for the luminosity value, but decreasing the value by 1, 2, and 3.  For time, I will set a base S rank time, and then calculate the A, B, C ranks by adding 2 seconds for each lower rank level.

Fixed an issue with records being wiped when New Game is selected after the game is executed again.  This is because the constructor of the PlayerRecords class was initializing all of the array values to -1.  Now the save data is loaded once when the game is started, after the rank arrays are initialized in the constructor.

The rank values now gradually appear on the game win screen.  Currently, the ding sound effect is played when each value appears.  The game is already heavy on the voice work, so I thought the letter voice work was excessive.  I may use Audacity later to modify the ding sound, so it is different for each rank or new best ranks.

Added boolean variables and methods to track if the new ranks obtained for the level are better than the previous ranks obtained for the level.  This wasn’t pretty, because the GameWinScreen doesn’t have references to the GameLevelScreen or PlayerRecords classes, so it has to keep local variables to track if each rank is the best.  The GameWinScreen then uses those boolean variables to display if the rank is a new best if appropriate.

Level Number Display

Created a static method in the Level Definition class, which takes an integer level number and converts that number into a string level name.  It divides the level number by 10 and adds 1 to get the first number, and then takes the modulo of the level number by 10 plus 1 to get the second number.  For instance, level 25 becomes “3 – 6”.  Level 10 becomes “2 – 1”.  This is the value that will be displayed to the player on the various game screens.


Wipe Out

May 5, 2012

Level Select

Began working on improving the Level Select screen.  First, I needed a method to convert the numeric ranks to a character or string.  I really didn’t know where was the best place to put this method, so I included it as a static method in the LevelDefinition class, so that other classes won’t need a reference to a LevelDefinition object to get the string representing the rank (S, A, B, or C).  And yes, you can spell three letter dirty words using the rank letters.

Next, I got the vertical scrolling working on the level select screen.  Defined variables  to track the number of levels displayed on the screen, the offset level (minimum level displayed), and the currently selected index.  The selected level is the offset level plus the selected index, which is a derived value calculated in a method.  In the screenshot below, the offset level is 3, the selected index is 4, so the selected level is 7.  I may go back later and add another static method to convert the level numbers to more meaningful values, such as “1-1” for level 0, “1-2” for level 1, and “2-1” for level 10.  If the user presses down and the currently selected index is the maximum number of levels displayed on the screen, then the level offset is increased by one (unless the maximum number of levels are already displayed).  If the user presses up and the currently select index is zero, then the level offset is decreased by one (unless the level offset is already zero).  Simple up and down arrows are displayed when the minimum level index can be increased or decrased, letting the player know that there are more levels to be displayed.


Saving Data

I was able to get simple saving done (just strings) a few days ago, but this really didn’t actually save any of the game data.  So I went back and created a method in the PlayerRecords class which serializes all of the record data.  Basically, it just writes out one line for each level.  The line first contains a Y/N value indicating if the level was completed, then three pipe delimited values containing the integer value for the ranks achieved for that level.  Conversely, I created a parse data method which takes a string acquired by my file load method, and uses splits to read data out of each line and out of each pipe delimited value.  These values are then stored into the data arrays.  I also created a reset method, which clears all data by writing an empty string to the save data file, and then loads that data file.

Clearing Data

I also wanted to give the player the ability to delete all their records, in case they want to start fresh.  This was accomplished by calling the reset method when the Back button was pressed on the Level Select screen.  However, this made it too easy for the player to press Back and wipe all their data.  The player could have just wanted to go back to the title screen and didn’t know which button to press.  Therefore, I created a mini-state within the level select class which prompts the user to confirm if they really want to delete all the records.  The default is (obviously) “no”, so the user has to consciously press up to change the value to “yes” and then press the confirm button.  The one thing that confused me was that the selected index for the “yes” value was zero, since it was the choice on top and “no” has a value of one.  This goes completely against my programming instincts, where one is a positive or true value, and zero is a negative or false value.  The one exception being the return values from main in a C program, where zero is success and a positive value is an error return code.  This functionality could have been extracted out into its own Confirmation Dialog class, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to do the required setup to get that working, since it would not fit my standard Screen display model.  So instead, there is just a boolean in the Level Select class which determines if it should display the confirmation screen and process the events on the confirmation screen.  It’s too bad that I can’t use my menu code that I wrote in Ruby for TetraCity, because it is a very solid menu’ing system that I wrote.


So now it looks like I am almost completely done with the core functionality of the entire game.  The only thing that I know that needs to be changed is that when the user replays a level, a rank should only be overwritten if the user actually gets a better rank than the one currently achieved.  It should also let the player know if they have beaten one of their previous ranks.  Currently, the rank data for the level will be overwritten regardless.  I could add an options menu to change the sound volume and button layout, but I think there is very little value in doing that compared to the actual benefit of having those options.  If the sound is too loud, then that is the reason why television remote controls have volume controls.  Nobody ever really looks at credits screens, so I don’t see the point in making one.  None of the classic games ever had credit screens, aside from the credits that play at the end of the game.

The final two main tasks that remain to be completed are the improved graphics and finishing designing the remaining levels.  Each level requires the array data to be generated in Mappy, and then I have to manually add the rank requirement data for each stage.  Finally, I could add an ending screen which displays once the player completes all levels.

File Saving Madness

May 3, 2012

Save Game

Staying true to being a ripoff of Java, C Sharp makes saving files extremely painful just as Java does.  I just want to save the player ranks and the highest level completed, which would probably be 5 to 10 lines of code in Ruby.  This is more confusing in Java, since two or three different writer classes must be created.  In XNA and C Sharp, the method for saving files is poorly documented.  There is some documentation from Microsoft on saving files, but the code is really fragmented on the page, it doesn’t explain where some of the core objects (like StorageDevice) are created, and I could never get the XML serialization to work even though I imported the  XML/Serialization references multiple times and have all the requried “using” statements in the class headers.   They do include a ZIP file of example code, but it doesn’t include the necessary references, and it is really spaghetti code because it tries to perform every single file operation known to mankind in one class file.  Therefore, it becomes an Easter Egg hunt to get it working.  The NeHe tutorials are a good example of how to properly write code tutorials.  This thread gave some additional insight on how to write save game files, but as one poster mentions it is not compatible with XBox360.  Found another tutorial, which seems to be simpler to follow since it doesn’t include all of the XML serialization, which is really overkill for what I’m trying to do now (just writing integers to a file).    This is also becoming very aggravating because it never explains how to actually get a handle to a StorageDevice instance.  These examples  just show the StorageDevice object being passed as a parameter.

Now I know how this guy feels.

So after about an hour of debugging the example StorageDemo code, I was able to get it working in a new game project (still can’t get the [Serializable] error to go away, no matter how many includes that I have, so I just commented it out).  I’m starting to think that it is not possible to display a device selection screen in an XBLIG (XBox Live Indie Game), because I don’t remember any other XBLIGs having a device selection window.  Also, I checked my XBox360 System storage settings, and there didn’t appear to be any data associated to any of the Indie games that I have played.  I know at least two of the Indie games I’ve played have had save capabilities, but maybe it was not done through the standard XBox storage device select interface.  Maybe the device selection capability is blocked in Indie games, just as the Achievement system is blocked.  The Indie games that did have saves either made saving ubiquitous or they have a custom designed save screen.  Ubiquity is great, and that is definitely the saving approach I want to take if possible.  The only problem is that it prevents the player from wiping their data from the System dashboard menu, if the player desires to start the game fresh.


So after 4 good hours of reading unhelpful message threads, poor examples, and endless debugging, I was able to develop a solid method for saving text data to a file.  This works for both XBox360 and Windows.  The code is below.  This is ALL that is required!  I don’t have a CLUE why something this relatively simple was made so complicated in the examples!  My code could be improved by adding the ability to read multiple lines (instead of using just one single line).  Comments are welcome to improve this code, but this works for me so I’m not changing it unless there is a REALLY good reason.

Update:  I’ve learned that using a callback method with BeginShowSelector is the best way to read and write to a file.  Also, not specifying the PlayerIndex for BeginShowSelector makes things much simpler, because you don’t have to worry about if the player is signed into a profile. 

Important:  Also required is a call to  add a GamerServicesComponent to the Components collection in the constructor of the main game class.
   this.Components.Add(new GamerServicesComponent(this));

So it’s hard to capture the saving ability in a screenshot, but I now have the save method just writing the maximum level completed to the file.  Below is a fresh instance of the game started, with the max level data loaded from the save file and displayed on the screen.  The max level data was written to the file in a previous game instance.