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20. January 2017

 

Vulkan is the successor API to OpenGL and takes things a lot closer to the GPU.  The flipside to this, a lot more is left to the developer to implement.  nVidia have release VkHLF, the Vulkan High Level Framework, to help developers deal with some of the grunt work involved with using Vulkan.  Unlike Vulkan-HPP, VkHLF does add overhead to your code, so there is a performance cost to be paid.  Here is the description of VkHLF taken from the Github readme:

Vulkan High Level Framework

VkHLF is an experimental high level abstraction library on top of Vulkan. It adds features like transparent suballocation, resource tracking on the CPU & GPU and simplified resource creation while staying as close as possible to the original Vulkan API. In contrast to Vulkan-Hpp, which was carefully designed to be a zero-overhead C++ abstraction for Vulkan, this library adds significant higher-level functionality. Even so, it has been designed for high-performance, but it can cost performance relative to native Vulkan if not employed with the intended usage patterns.

Since this project is in its early stages and under heavy development expect bugs and interface changes for a while. It should not be used for production code yet!

 

As the last line says, this is an early stage project and should not be used for production code.  You can check out some samples here.  Even though it helps with some of the complexity, the Hello Vulkan example is still nearly 400 lines of code!

GameDev News

18. January 2017

 

Today marked the release of two important Haxe gamedev libraries, OpenFL and Lime.  Lime is a low level API similar in scope and function to SDL or SFML, providing access to the underlying hardware.  OpenFL is layered on top of lime and attempts to provide a Haxe version of the Flash APIs, including gaming APIs.

 

Changes to OpenFL 4.5.3:

  • Updated for Lime 3.6
  • Updated AGALMiniAssembler to a fresh port of Adobe's last release
  • Added missing Event.FRAME_CONSTRUCTED event
  • Added Dictionary<Object, Object> support
  • Improved support for textField.setTextFormat
  • Updated preloader to use Event.UNLOAD instead of Event.COMPLETE to unload
  • Updated SWFLite library to preload with the parent application
  • Fixed support for slashes in SharedObject names
  • Fixed support for preventing default on keyboard events
  • Fixed a regression in displaying stack traces on crash errors
  • Fixed text measurement on IE 11
  • Fixed return value when scaleX or scaleY is negative
  • Fixed issues where new ByteArray may have values other than zero
  • Fixed an issue with SWFLite assets when using the "generate" option
  • Fixed a possible null crash when updating object transforms
  • Fixed support for garbage collecting Sound when SoundChannel is finished
  • Fixed problems with using textField.appendText
  • Fixed the default template for HTML5 when multiple projects are embedded
  • Fixed wrong colors when values were larger than expected
  • Fixed an issue with needing clearRect on CocoonJS

Changes to Lime 3.6.0:

  • Moved "lime.audio" to "lime.media"
  • Added Vorbis bindings under "lime.media.codecs.vorbis"
  • Added lime.ui.ScanCode, with conversion support to/from KeyCode on native
  • Added tool support for the "--no-output" argument
  • Migrated from NFD to tinyfiledialogs for better dialog support
  • Made window.close cancelable on desktop platforms
  • Updated libjpeg to 9b
  • Updated howler.js to 2.0.2
  • Improved support for Haxe 3.4
  • Improved support for progress events while preloading
  • Fixed force install when deploying to Android (API 16+ devices)
  • Fixed an invalid state when returning from background on Android
  • Fixed playback of a single audio buffer multiple times on HTML5
  • Fixed initial volume level in AudioSource on HTML5
  • Fixed a regression in the default architecture list for iOS
  • Fixed merging of multiple tags in project files
  • Fixed a possible crash when retrieving OpenGL strings
  • Fixed the default template for HTML5 when multiple projects are embedded
  • Fixed support for non-preloaded assets on HTML5
  • Fixed support for image.copyChannel on HTML5 when using WebGL
  • Fixed support for command-line arguments with "lime rebuild"

 

You can read more about both releases here.

GameDev News

18. January 2017

 

In our previous tutorial we covered lighting in our ongoing Babylon Tutorial Series but the objects in our game are still remarkably drab.  A big part of this is the lack of materials applied to them.  In this tutorial we are looking at using the StandardMaterial which handles all the grunt work for you.  You can think of StandardMaterial as a container for several different kinds of textures (diffuse, opacity, etc. ) that can be applied to an object.  It also has some built in attributes such as diffuse (color), emissive (self lighting) and more.  Let’s start straight away with an example that we covered in a previous tutorial.  Applying a simply wireframe to our cube:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <title>Title</title>
    <script src="../Common/Lib/babylon.max.js"></script>

    <style>

        #canvas {
            width:100%;
            height:100%;
        }
    </style>
</head>
<body>
<canvas id="canvas"></canvas>
<script>
    window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function(){
        var canvas = document.getElementById('canvas');

        var engine = new BABYLON.Engine(canvas, true);

        var createScene = function(){
            var scene = new BABYLON.Scene(engine);
            scene.clearColor = new BABYLON.Color3.White();
            var box = BABYLON.Mesh.CreateBox("Box",4.0,scene);
            var camera = new BABYLON.ArcRotateCamera("arcCam",
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    10.0,box.position,scene);

            camera.attachControl(canvas,true);

            var material = new BABYLON.StandardMaterial("material1",scene);
            material.wireframe = true;
            box.material = material;

            return scene;
        }

        var scene = createScene();
        engine.runRenderLoop(function(){
            scene.render();
        });

    });
</script>
</body>
</html>

 

When you run it:

image

 

Simple enough.  We create a StandardMaterial, passing in it’s identity and the scene to create it in.  We set the materials wireframe property to true, then apply the material to our object’s material property.  Note each object can only have a single material, although a compound material exists if you need to mix multiple materials together.  Now let’s look at a slightly more colourful example, this time using more of the built in properties of StandardMaterial.

 

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <title>Title</title>
    <script src="../Common/Lib/babylon.max.js"></script>

    <style>

        #canvas {
            width:100%;
            height:100%;
        }
    </style>
</head>
<body>
<canvas id="canvas"></canvas>
<script>
    window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function(){
        var canvas = document.getElementById('canvas');

        var engine = new BABYLON.Engine(canvas, true);

        var createScene = function(){
            var scene = new BABYLON.Scene(engine);
            scene.clearColor = new BABYLON.Color3.White();
            var box = BABYLON.Mesh.CreateBox("Box",4.0,scene);

            var camera = new BABYLON.ArcRotateCamera("arcCam",
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    10.0,box.position,scene);

            camera.attachControl(canvas,true);

            var light = new BABYLON.PointLight("pointLight",new BABYLON.Vector3(
            5,5,0),scene);
            light.diffuse = new BABYLON.Color3(1,1,1);



            var material = new BABYLON.StandardMaterial("material1",scene);
            material.diffuseColor = BABYLON.Color3.Blue();
            material.emissiveColor = BABYLON.Color3.Red();

            material.specularColor = BABYLON.Color3.Red();
            material.specularPower = 3;
            material.alpha = 1.0;
            box.material = material;

            var plane = BABYLON.Mesh.CreatePlane("plane", 10.0, scene, false, 
            BABYLON.Mesh.DOUBLESIDE);
            plane.material = new BABYLON.StandardMaterial("material2",scene);
            plane.material.diffuseColor = new BABYLON.Color3.White();
            plane.material.backFaceCulling = false;
            plane.position = new BABYLON.Vector3(0,0,-5);

            return scene;
        }

        var scene = createScene();
        engine.runRenderLoop(function(){
            var material = scene.getMeshByName("Box").material;
//            material.alpha -= 0.01;
//            if(material.alpha < 0) material.alpha = 1.0;
            scene.render();
        });

    });
</script>
</body>
</html>

Running this example results in:

image

 

Here you can see we’ve set the diffuse, emissive and specular values of the cube.  I also created a plane so you can see the emissive value of our cube has no effect on it.  The diffuse property can be thought of as the colour in the traditional sense.  Emissive on the other hand is a value for an internal light of the material, there aren’t actually that many emissive parallels in the real world, but some mosses and a few creatures have an emissive property to them.  Specular color determines how external light sources interact with the surface.  If you look at the commented code in the main loop you will also see commented code affecting the alpha channel of the material.  Alpha can be thought of transparency, with a value of 1 being fully opaque, while 0 is fully transparent.

What the majority of people think of when they work with materials is textures.  Textures are simply images that are applied the surface of an object like virtual wallpaper.  There are different types of textures as well, some effect the color of a surface, others affect the transparency or normals.  Here is an example:

<script>
    window.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', function(){
        var canvas = document.getElementById('canvas');

        var engine = new BABYLON.Engine(canvas, true);

        var createScene = function(){
            var scene = new BABYLON.Scene(engine);
            scene.clearColor = new BABYLON.Color3.White();
            var box = BABYLON.Mesh.CreateBox("Box",4.0,scene);
            var camera = new BABYLON.ArcRotateCamera("arcCam",
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    BABYLON.Tools.ToRadians(45),
                    10.0,box.position,scene);

            camera.attachControl(canvas,true);

            var light = new BABYLON.PointLight("pointLight",new BABYLON.Vector3(
            0,10,0),scene);
            light.parent = camera;
            light.diffuse = new BABYLON.Color3(1,1,1);


            var material = new BABYLON.StandardMaterial("material1",scene);

            material.diffuseTexture = new BABYLON.Texture("gfs.png",scene);
            material.bumpTexture = new BABYLON.Texture("gfs_normal.png",scene);
            material.roughness = 0.5;
            box.material = material;



            return scene;
        }

        var scene = createScene();
        engine.runRenderLoop(function(){

            scene.render();
        });

    });
</script>

 

And when you run it:

image

 

This example uses two different textures, a diffuse texture:

gfs

 

And a normal map:

gfs_normal

 

For more details on Normal Maps, check this video on Normal Map 101.  Somewhat confusingly, BabylonJS refers to normal maps as bump textures.  This only scratches the surface of the material and texture options available, you also have options like ambient, opacity, reflection, light and specular textures, but you will find they almost all work exactly the same way.

Programming , , ,

17. January 2017

 

Microsoft have just released a beta version of PIX, a performance tuning and debugging tool aimed at game developers.  Previously only available on XBox consoles, PIX is now available for Windows machines for games running Direct X 12.pixscreenshot

 

About PIX:

PIX on Windows provides five main modes of operation:

  • GPU captures for debugging and analyzing the performance of Direct3D 12 graphics rendering.
  • Timing captures for understanding the performance and threading of all CPU and GPU work carried out by your game.
  • Function Summary captures accumulate information about how long each function runs for and how often each is called.
  • Callgraph captures trace the execution of a single function.
  • Memory Allocation captures provide insight into the memory allocations made by your game.

For best results we recommend running PIX on:

  • Windows 10 build 14393 (Anniversary Update, aka RS1) with latest updates
  • 32 GB RAM
  • A Direct3D 12 GPU with the latest available graphics drivers.  PIX will not work correctly with older drivers!

See the requirements page for more information.

 

The beta is free and is available for download here.

17. January 2017

 

Unreal Engine have released a preview version of the upcoming Unreal Engine 4.15.  As is now normal with Unreal Engine point releases, this one is absolutely packed with new fixes and features.  Keep in mind this is a preview release for a reason, you should not be using it with production code.  Expect to encounter more than your regular share of bugs.  Details from the release notes:

 

  • Rendering Updates:
    • Finalized Texture Streaming Optimizations that were started in 4.13 and 4.14.
      • Textures used by non visible & hidden components are streamed with one less mips, as a prefetch.
      • Reducing time taken for the visible textures to stream in.
      • Reducing the CPU time taken by the streamer.
      • Mesh UV densities are now computed per material instead of per mesh. New data also takes into account lods. This resolved most issue were texture would appear low resolution. Also, there is now a wider texture streaming support from component, including particle systems and instanced meshes. That resolved other low resolution issues and sometime high memory consumption.
      • The texture streamer can now automatically fit to different memory budgets, without manual tweaks. The streamer will select which textures need to be reduced using different heuristics to minimize visual impact.
      • New visualization tools for debugging.
    • New Nodes have been added to the Material graph
      • Commonly request mathematics nodes: Sine, Cosine, Tangent, Arcsine, Arccosine, Arctangent, Arctangent2, ArcsineFast, ArccosineFast, ArctangentFast, Arctangent2Fast, Round, Truncate, Saturate
        • The nodes marked with the “Fast” tag will execute approximations instead of the real instructions. These can give a worthwhile performance improvement to materials but have input restrictions and precision tradeoffs.
      • PreviousFrameSwitch has been added to allow specific overrides for world-position offsets in complex materials used during motion vector generation.
      • Pre-Skinned Local Normal works in a similar way to the Pre-Skinned Local Position node added in the 4.14 release but returns the local surface normal for skeletal and static meshes. This opens the door to more local-space, mesh aligned effects or advanced use-cases such as writing dynamic surface data to a mask read-back in another material.
    • Metal support has been extended to use many of the new API & shader language features added by Apple in macOS 10.12 Sierra & iOS 10.
      • Enabling the new Metal v1.2 standard allows all Metal platforms to use Unordered Access Views in pixel shaders
      • Full support for Unreal Engine's tessellation features has been implemented
      • Experimental support for HDR rendering on Macs with an appropriate display built in
  • Sequencer Updates:
    • Animation Blending by weight is supported.
      • You can add weight by expanding each track, and key the value in the desired timeline
      • There is no limit to how many animations it can blend at the same time but as for full body animations, the weights will be normalized, so that it doesn’t under/over scale the mesh. For additive animations, the weights will be kept.
    • Audio volume and pitch curves have been added.
  • Blueprint Updates:
    • Cooking Blueprints to C++ is no longer an "experimental" feature.
      • This is enabled in the editor through your project’s Packaging Settings: Blueprints => Blueprint Nativization Method.
      • It can also be invoked by passing -NativizeAssets as a parameter to the UAT BuildCookRun script.
      • Generated source is saved as a plugin in your project’s intermediate folder, under: …\Intermediate\<TargetPlatform>\NativizedAssets
      • More information is available in the documentation.
    • Map & Set containers are now available in blueprints. They are a collection of items which guarantee they contain only unique items, with no repeating entries.
      • The Variable Type control is now a drop down, allowing you to select ‘Single Variable’, ‘Array’, ‘Set’, or ‘Map’. When ‘Map’ is selected a second drop down for the ‘value’ type appears.
      • For maps the following operations are available to blueprint users: Add, Remove, Find, Contains, Keys, Values, Length, and Clear.
      • Set supports: Add, AddItems, Remove, RemoveItems, ToArray, Clear, Length, Contains, Intersection, Union, and Difference.
      • Set and map variables declared in C++ can now be exposed to Blueprints.
      • NOTE: Replication of map and set properties is not yet supported in C++ or Blueprints.
  • Framework Updates:
    • A Raw Input plugin has been checked in to provide support in Windows for steering wheels, flight sticks, and other non-XInput supported devices.
      • All of the Vehicle templates and Vehicle Game* have been configured to work with the Logitech G920. (*Vehicle Game not yet updated for 4.15 Previews)
      • Adding new devices is as easy as setting up a configuration for them in the project settings or editing DefaultInput.ini. (Vendor and Product ID can be discovered from the driver properties)
      • We need your help! - After you successfully configure your devices (figuring out what axes represent brake, gas, steering wheel and necessary modifiers to represent brake/gas as 0 to 1 and the wheel as -1 to 1), please share your .ini settings back with us so we can ensure these devices work without additional setup in the future.
    • A Force Feedback Component can now be added to Actors and exist in the world. It can have attenuation properties to determine the intensity of the playback of the force feedback pattern based on the distance between the player and the effect. The attenuation properties can either be specified directly on the component or you can create a Force Feedback Attenuation asset in the content browser and reuse it for multiple components. Force Feedback Components can also be spawned into the World from blueprints in a similar way that audio, decals, and emitters can.
    • PhysX Vehicle Support is now an optional plugin. This makes it easy for games that are not using vehicles to exclude this feature and save disk space and memory. This work also adds several useful physics extension points to Engine (e.g. OnPhysSceneInit/Term, OnPhysSceneStep) to make it easier for other developers to write their own similar systems.
    • The Blendspace Editor has been overhauled with an updated UI and internal rework.
    • Save Pose Snapshot has been added to capture a runtime skeletal mesh pose in blueprints. Once the pose has been saved, you can use it in the anim-blueprint like any other pose, or save it to a variable.
    • You can Link a Curve to a specific Bone in the skeleton. This supports LOD and Layer Blending, and can be accomplished in the Anim Curves window.
    • Physics objects now have Mass Properties debugging visualizers to see center of mass and inertia tensor. (Show -> Advanced -> Mass Properties)
    • Gameplay Tags have been improved and are now fully supported. They are implemented by the GameplayTag structure in the GameplayTags module and are registered in a central dictionary, which can be accessed from the new GameplayTags project settings view. If you enable the “Import Tags from Config” option, tags can be added from the editor through the Gameplay Tag List on this page, or from the UI used to select tags. Once you have added Tag properties to your data, you can query them from either Blueprint or C++ and use them to change functionality. The BlueprintGameplayTagLibrary has several useful functions. To actually set up tags, add GameplayTag or GameplayTagContainer variables to your data or functions, then you can set the tags from selection UI.
  • Mobile Rendering Updates:
    • ES 3.1 / Metal / Vulkan editor feature level preview no longer experimental. This mode will emulate the feature set available to iOS Metal, Android GLES3.1 and Android Vulkan devices.
    • Mobile devices can now use Custom Stencil in post-processing materials. This requires MobileHDR option enabled and non-Mosaic device. To enable this feature in your project go to Project Settings -> Rendering -> Postprocessing and set ‘Custom Depth-Stencil Pass’ to ‘Enabled with Stencil’.
    • You can now disable shader permutations for lighting setups that your mobile game does not require. The settings available under Project Settings -> Rendering will reduced shader memory usage and App package size.
    • Android applications can now be packaged to support a third-party Graphics Debugger. You can choose from either the Mali Graphics Debugger or Adreno Profiler depending on your device’s GPU. Graphics Debugger options can be found in Project Settings -> Android. You first need to download and install these debuggers from the GPU vendor’s website, and they each require some small amount of additional setup to configure your device for debugging. Be sure to to follow the directions that appear after selecting the debugger type. Also note that if you package your app to support a particular GPU debugger, it may not function correctly when run on a device with a different GPU.
  • Editor Updates:
    • Reroute nodes have been added to the Material Editor.
    • Font Asset Improvements have been made to address issues with memory consumption and stability of Font assets using runtime-cached fonts. Font assets have been split in two: Font and Font Face.
      Font Face is now the asset that stores the font data, and these assets are simply referenced by the Font assets. This means that the same font data can be re-used for multiple font assets, or even multiple typefaces within a Font asset. Existing Font assets will automatically upgrade their internal font data into embedded Font Face assets during load. You can use the Font Editor to split these embedded assets out into real Font Face assets that may be edited and shared.
    • (Experimental) Content Hot-Reloading is available for testing. To enable it you need to go to your "Editor Preferences", and enable "Content Hot-Reloading" under the "Experimental" section. Once enabled all of the in-editor source control operations that affect assets will use content hot-reloading. You also gain a "Reload" option under "Asset Actions". This can be used to forcibly reload a package from disk.
  • Build Updates:
    • The codebase has been converted to a "include what you use" model, where every header includes other headers it needs, rather than every source file including large monolithic headers like Engine.h and UnrealEd.h. Existing game code can continue to include those files as before, but we measure the engine compiling 25-50% faster!
      • Every header now includes everything it needs to compile.
      • Every .cpp file includes its matching .h file first.
      • No engine code includes a monolithic header such as Engine.h or UnrealEd.h any more.
      • No engine code explicitly includes a precompiled header any more.
  • Platform Updates:
    • New Location Services now provides access to GPS data for Android and iOS. A new OnLocationChanged delegate is available and Blueprint nodes are provided under Services->Mobile->Location.
    • Streaming audio for iOS has been implemented.
    • Remote notifications for IOS are now supported. This includes callbacks in the game for handling the notification as well as properly setting up all plist information needed by the application for the app store.
    • We have added support for ARM64 (AArch64) devices running Linux. Right now only boards with desktop GL are supported.
    • 'Launch On' to Remote Linux Machine from the Editor or UFE.
  • VR Updates:
    • The PlayStationⓇVR Aim Controller is now supported through the new AimController plugin. To activate, simply change the “Hand” value to “Gun” on your Motion Controller component.
    • (Experimental) Monoscopic Far Field Rendering for mobile VR is available for testing. With content that has many distant objects, this can benefit performance. To enable, select the checkbox under Project Settings -> Rendering -> VR. We don’t currently support both mobile multi-view and monoscopic far field simultaneously and mobile HDR needs to be disabled.
  • VR Editor Updates:
    • Updated Quick Menu and Radial Menu to quickly access editor functionality.
    • The new number pad menu appears when you click on an editable text field.

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Microsoft release cross platform code editor Visual Studio Code
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29. April 2015

 

Well this one came somewhat out of the blue for me.  Microsoft just released a cross platform ( Windows, Mac, Linux ) code editor called Visual Studio Code.  It’s not a full blown (and bloated!) IDE like Visual Studio, more of a streamlined code focused editor like Sublime Text or Brackets.  It is of course a preview release, so expect issues. 

 

In Microsoft’s own words:

 

Why Visual Studio Code?

Visual Studio Code provides developers with a new choice of developer tool that combines the simplicity and streamlined experience of a code editor with the best of what developers need for their core code-edit-debug cycle. Visual Studio Code is the first code editor, and first cross-platform development tool - supporting OSX, Linux, and Windows - in the Visual Studio family.

 

Visual Studio Code run's on Max OSX, Linux and Windows

 

At its heart, Visual Studio Code features a powerful, fast code editor great for day-to-day use. The Preview release of Code already has many of the features developers need in a code and text editor, including navigation, keyboard support with customizable bindings, syntax highlighting, bracket matching, auto indentation, and snippets, with support for dozens of languages.

 

For serious coding, developers often need to work with code as more than just text. Visual Studio Code includes built-in support for always-on IntelliSense code completion, richer semantic code understanding and navigation, and code refactoring. In the Preview, Code includes enriched built-in support for ASP.NET 5 development with C#, and Node.js development with TypeScript and JavaScript, powered by the same underlying technologies that drive Visual Studio. Code includes great tooling for web technologies such as HTML, CSS, LESS, SASS, and JSON. Code also integrates with package managers and repositories, and builds and other common tasks to make everyday workflows faster. And Code understands Git, and delivers great Git workflows and source diffs integrated with the editor.

 

But developers don't spend all their time just writing code: they go back and forth between coding and debugging. Debugging is the most popular feature in Visual Studio, and often the one feature from an IDE that developers want in a leaner coding experience. Visual Studio Code includes a streamlined, integrated debugging experience, with support for Node.js debugging in the Preview, and more to come later.

 

Architecturally, Visual Studio Code combines the best of web, native, and language-specific technologies. Using the GitHub Electron Shell, Code combines web technologies such as JavaScript and Node.js with the speed and flexibility of native apps. Code uses a newer, faster version of the same industrial-strength HTML-based editor that has powered the “Monaco” cloud editor, Internet Explorer's F12 Tools, and other projects. And Code uses a tools service architecture that enables it to use many of the same technologies that power Visual Studio, including Roslyn for .NET, TypeScript, the Visual Studio debugging engine, and more. In future previews, as we continue to evolve and refine this architecture, Visual Studio Code will include a public extensibility model that lets developers build and use plug-ins, and richly customize their edit-build-debug experience.

 

We are, of course, still very early with Visual Studio Code. If you prefer a code editor-centric development tool, or are building cross-platform web and cloud applications, we invite you to try out the Visual Studio Code Preview, and let us know what you think!

 

I’ll be sure to check it out and get back to your with my opinion.  Cross platform tools are always nice.  This new Microsoft…  wow they impress me with some of their moves.

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