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27. February 2017

 

Firebase is a backend as a service owned by Google that provide a number of server side features for application developers such as realtime cloud database support, notifications, authentication with various providers, analytics, notifications, storage and more.  Basically if you need some kind of network integration, Firebase aims to provide it.  Today at GDC they just announced the public release of SDKs for game developers, both in C++ and Unity formats.  The official release blog:

If you haven't heard yet, the Firebase team is at the Game Developers Conference this week to show all you game developers out there how Firebase can make it easier for you to develop successful games. And one of our big announcements at the show is that the official Firebase SDKs for Unity and C++ have now graduated to full General Availability! This means that they're both primary supported platforms that Firebase is committed to supporting in the future.

Both SDKs let you take advantage of:


AdMob: Monetize your games with targeted, in-app advertising, include native ads and rewarded video. Guides: Unity/C++.
Analytics: Record events that happen in your game with our free and unlimited analytics service, now complete with real time views! Guides: Unity/C++
Realtime Database: Magically sync your app's data across all devices, usually within a few hundred milliseconds. Guides: Unity/C++
Dynamic Links: Create mobile deep links that you can use to point players to any element of your game (if they have it installed), or take them to the Play Store / App Store (if they don't). Guides: Unity/C++
Authentication: Sign in your users in from third party providers like Facebook, Google, and Github, or use our built in username and password system. Guides: Unity/C++
Cloud Messaging: Send notifications to iOS, Android and web clients through a single endpoint, or use the Firebase Notifications panel to schedule notifications without having to worry about writing any custom server code or curl calls. Guides: Unity/C++
Remote Config: Tweak variables from the cloud, and then use Firebase Analytics to see if they give you the results you expect. You can even use Remote Config to deliver custom values to specific groups of people, like your expert players. Guides: Unity/C++
Storage: Store user-created binary data in Cloud Storage buckets directly from the app - fantastic for uploading screenshots or videos. Guides: Unity/C++

You can jump in today with our new getting started guide for gamedevelopers . As a bonus for developers working in Cocos2D-x, we've also released a set of new samples that demonstrate how to integrate the C++ SDKs into your Cocos2D-x games. As always, if you have questions or comments, reach out to us through our support team, Stack Overflow or the firebase-talk group!

 

Pricing for Firebase is available across 3 different tiers, a free limited to 100 simultaneous connections, 1GB of realtime storage and 10GB of network usage, a $25/month subscription with unlimited connections, 2.5GB of storage and 20GB a month of network usage, or a pay as you go tier for $5/GB/month storage, $1GB networking.  You can read more about the pricing here.

GameDev News

27. February 2017

 

For the third straight year Soniss have released a massive collection of sound effects for download in celebration of the annual Game Developers Conference.  You can see the complete list of released audio files here, in total there are 806 audio files across dozens of different categories from several different creators.  The license seems exceptionally liberal with very few conditions:

Restrictions

a) Licensee may not modify any of the sound effects with intent to claim authorship of the original recording.12141731_10153066685161962_3912813759275053667_n-600x222

b) Licensee may not sell any of the sound effects as they come. (Although the sound effects may be sold as incorporated into licensee project).

Rights Granted

a) Licensee may use the licensed sound effects on an unlimited number of projects for the entirety of their life time.

b) Licensee may use and modify the licensed sound effects for personal and commercial projects without attribution to the original creator.

c) Licensee may freely distribute the licensed sound effects and make an unlimited amount of copies.

d) Licensee may publicly perform a reproduction of the sound effects over any form of medium.

 

You can read the complete license here.  Downloads are available from multiple sources including Dropbox, Google Drive and Torrent links available, click here for various download links.

27. February 2017

 

While no individual VR headset has set the world on fire sales wise, between the GearVR, Vive, OSVR, Daydream and Oculus Rift, there are a fair number of them out there.  The problem for developers is supporting each device requires a slightly different workflow. The Khronos group, the people behind OpenGL and other cross platform media frameworks, have teamed up with a number of hardware and middleware providers to create OpenXR, which acts as an abstraction layer between VR devices and various game engines, as shown in this graphic.

The Industry need for a Virtual Reality Standard

The idea is actually a bit of a no brainer, and to a certain degree engine providers like Unity and Unreal were doing the heavy lifting for us.  It comes as no surprise then that both Epic and Unreal are part of the initiative.  Most major players are in fact!

image

 

That is pretty much every single relevant player, except oddly enough HTC (although Steam’s membership might render their participation moot).  For most game developers OpenXR will be pretty much a transparent layer, however game engine developers will certainly want to pay attention.  It will give them the ability to target several different VR headsets using a single code base.

 

You can read more about OpenXR here.  It’s unfortunate that Steam owns the trademark for OpenVR, it’s the most logical name for this project.  The Khronos Group are going to be present and active at GDC 2017, the following is a list of details and events they will be participating in.

  • Khronos GDC Booth – Visit the Khronos booth for hourly presentations on Khronos APIs as well as opportunities to talk with Khronos members and standards experts. Booth 2419, South Hall.
  • Khronos discusses OpenXR at VRDC 2017: Monday and Tuesday, February 27 to 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., visit the Khronos table #TT06 in room 135 North Hall to talk to VR experts working on OpenXR and share feedback on this recently-announced initiative.
  • Khronos 3D Graphics Developer Day Sessions on Vulkan, OpenXR, WebGL, glTF and more: On Tuesday, February 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., room 3022 in West Hall, Khronos will host one-hour educational sessions for developers.
  • Khronos Meetup: To discuss WebGL, WebVR, glTF, mobile 3D and network with Khronos members and developers, join the group on Thursday, March 2 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Galvanize, San Francisco.
  • Official GDC Sessions related to Khronos standards: Khronos members and developers will present on topics from Vulkan Lessons Learned to the Future of VR.

The full schedule of events is available at: https://www.khronos.org/news/events/gdc-2017.

 

OpenXR is still very much in the planning stages, and like OpenGL, will be implemented both as an API level and in the hardware drivers of the individual devices.  They have described the architecture (as it stands now), like so:

OpenXR defines two levels of API interfaces that a VR platform’s runtime can use to access the OpenXR ecosystem. Note that the design of the OpenXR specification is in progress, and so while the above diagrams represents the design goals of the group - final details may change

Apps and engines use standardized interfaces to interrogate and drive devices. Devices can self-integrate to a standardized driver interface.

Standardized hardware/software interfaces reduce fragmentation while leaving implementation details open to encourage industry innovation.

 

Obviously this is all tentative and subject to change.  A standardization in the VR space is exactly what is needed, so hopefully this takes off.  Only time I suppose will tell, although with the players involved, this one looks promising.

GameDev News

24. February 2017

 

Valve have just launched Steam Audio a new SDK for advanced audio processing in games.  Currently it ships with support for a C api and with a Unity SDK, although a Unreal Engine SDK is in the works.  In Valve’s own words, Steam Audio is:image

Steam Audio delivers a full-featured audio solution that integrates environment and listener simulation. HRTF significantly improves immersion in VR; physics-based sound propagation completes aural immersion by consistently recreating how sound interacts with the virtual environment.

Essentially it enables you to create realistic real-time audio simulations, by integrating audio processing into your 3D world.  You define sound sources within your 3D world, define what geometry does and does not interact with the audio simulation and their acoustical properties and finally define the position of your ear in 3D space.  Steam Audio is then capable of simulating more accurate audio  positioning in a 3D world.  In many ways it works a great deal like existing physics engines, except for audio.  Obviously its tailor made for VR applications, but is useful for regular 3D applications as well.  Currently Steam Audio supports the following platforms:

 

image

There is obviously one major missing platform...  iOS.  It will be interesting to see if it is added in the future.   Somewhat surprisingly for Valve, this is not an open source project.  It is however free to use and is available for download here as both a Unity package or C API.

GameDev News

23. February 2017

 

Pluralsight is one of the oldest online courseware companies in existence, founded back in 2004.  Traditionally they have focused on the enterprise, but have been more and more active in the world of game development.  Just in time for GDC 2017, they have released a very interesting product.  A complete top down dungeon crawler game ( which can be downloaded for free here ), as well as a series of lessons covering how the game was created using Unity, Maya, Photoshop and ZBrush.  The game “Swords and Shovels” was created by a team with industry experience including such titles as Skyrim, Fallout, Fable Legends and Splinter Cell.

The following is the official press release:

SILICON SLOPES, Utah (February 23, 2017) Pluralsight, the enterprise technology learning platform, today announces the release of a free, downloadable game, Swords and Shovels,” to enhance the learning experience for aspiring game developers. The first of its kind on the technology learning platform, “Swords and Shovels” offers game developers the hands-on opportunity to play a game they can then learn to recreate in its entirety through a series of courses available on Pluralsight.

Mapped as sequential training through the Game Environment Modeling learning path, the courses provide game developers with the most direct route to increased proficiency in gamingPluralsightSaS environments, character modeling and gameplay elements using leading software tools including Maya, Unity, Photoshop, ZBrush and more.

“As technology becomes more complex, the art of creating games will become increasingly interdisciplinary,” said Andy Rahden, VP of creative, design and engineering at Pluralsight. “By embracing hands-on, interactive mediums like “Swords and Shovels” and the Game Environment Modeling learning path, we are helping game developers understand the full inner-workings of a game, see where every little piece fits and interacts within the pipeline and master the skills they need to be successful.”

“Swords and Shovels” is a top-down dungeon crawler -- a game where characters navigate a labyrinthine environment, battle monsters and loot treasure. The game and accompanying courseware was designed and authored by Josh Kinney, curriculum manager at Pluralsight, in collaboration with game development industry veterans Jean Simonet, Jonah Lobe, Dan Cox, Michael Baker and Alex Jerjomin, known for their work on “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” “Fallout 4,” “Fable Legends,” “Splinter Cell Blacklist” and “Below.”

"Learning how to create games is one of the most difficult and demanding challenges in tech right now,” said Jean Simonet, a former AAA developer for “Skyrim,” “Fallout” and “Oblivion” and lead developer for the project. “Due to the complexity of modern games, many developers are forced to specialize their craft, limiting their experience and exposure to the various elements of video game creation. With ‘Swords and Shovels’ and the learning experience through Pluralsight, game developers can get a taste of the entire game-creation process and then select the learning focus that really appeals to them.”

“Swords and Shovels” is available for immediate download on Pluralsight.com/gamedev and will also be available to play at Pluralsight’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) booth #244 in San Francisco on March 1-3, 2017.

 

As mentioned above, the game is available as a free download, while the course is available via their subscription service.  You can currently get a free 10 day membership, I am currently in the process of registering, and unfortunate it doesn’t appear to be an automatic process.  Coincidentally, you can also get a 3 month subscription to Pluralsight when you sign up for Visual Studio Essentials.

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Starling 2.0 Released
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1. March 2016

 

Starling is a flash based game engine, perhaps most famous for Angry Birds.  For some time the primary maintainer has been quietly pounding away on the next version.  Today (actually a couple days ago, this news item slipped through my net, sorry about that) Starling 2.0 is available and it’s a pretty extensive update.  Behind the scenes there were a number of fundamental changes, such as the addition of a mesh class as well as the addition of render cache.

The render cache has a pretty profound effect on CPU load, as illustrated by this graphic demonstrating Starling 1.7(upper) vs 2.0(lower) CPU usage:

 

The filter API was also rewritten, to make use of the new render cache and improve functionality.  Finally there were several convenience changes:

  • The TextField class is now accompanied by the new TextFormat. The setup is quite similar to classic Flash — but without the pain of constantly having to re-assign the format for changes to show up. In Starling, when you change the TextField's format, it's going to be updated right away!
  • The TextField class also includes a new wordWrap property.
  • The Image class contains two new properties: scale9Grid and tileGrid. For Feathers-users, this will sound familiar: they replace Scale3Image, Scale9Image and TiledImage.
  • All Display Objects can now be scaled uniformly with a single property: scale.
  • My personal favorite: the new pixelSnapping property, which is enabled per default, makes sure that all objects are rendered as sharp and crisp as possible. No more casting to int to avoid blurriness!
  • You can now attach "frame actions" to MovieClips, i.e. code to execute at certain frames.
  • The Pool provides simple object-pooling for standard classes like Point, Rectangle andMatrix.
  • The juggler now supports uint handles for IAnimatable removal, which prevents nasty pooling bugs.

Full details of the release are available here.

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