Monday, 22 December 2008

EZNote

Long time no blog!

A user on some forums I frequent asked for a really simple tool for note-taking. He didn't like being prompted to save notes when closing Notepad (for instance), and didn't want to use something as bloated as Onenote or plain text editors that are overkill.

I was bored today and I thought I could use a tool like that too, so I knocked something out for fun.



It doesn't do anything more than the poster asked for:

- Plain text
- Allows many tabs to be created
- No prompts for saving
- Saves every 30 seconds and on exit
- Sits in/minimizes to the systray
- Remembers its size/position/minimized state when the user exits
- Has keyboard shortcuts for everything
--- CTRL + ALT + N: restores and sets focus to the app
--- ESC: sends it back to the systray
--- CTRL + N: create a new tab
--- CTRL + TAB: cycle through tabs (CTRL + SHIFT + TAB goes the other way)
--- F2: rename a tab
--- CTRL + SHIFT + DEL: delete current tab (permanently!)



It saves all data to the current user's AppData folder (under Vista at least) as an XML file.

It requires .NET framework 3.5

I've only tested it on my Vista dev machine, so if you download and test it, let me know how it goes. I'm hoping there's no magical hidden pre-reqs other than .NET

Download!

Monday, 18 August 2008

XNA and GravSheep

The whole XNA thing was on the back burner for me for a long time. I have a very creative side to me and I always like to be working on something outside of work, usually for fun. Last year it was all about the band. This year there's still the band but I've also worked on Pointless Quest, and now I'm diving back into XNA.

I used to write a lot of computer games when I was younger, and XNA is helping me get back into that on Microsoft platforms, which suits me down to the ground. In July, the new Creator's Club website was launched, bringing with it the abillity to submit games for peer review. People with access to the Community Games beta (currently US only) can play submitted and approved games on the Xbox 360 simply by downloading them from the dashboard. Those of us without the beta can still play submitted games by uploading the neat .ccgame packages to the 360.

Last year, I started work on GravSheep, my first XNA game. It's not a new idea, the game first appeared on the Amiga back in the days of my bedroom programming team, Team Mango. The project was put on hold because I got bored (as I do), but with the new XNA features I decided to get back on the ball. Especially as come Christmas time, I'll be able to make money from it via the Community Games feature of the forthcoming dashboard update.

The premise of the game is simple, but I'll let my short trailer explain it for me:



There's still a lot of tweaking to do, and still a number of levels to create in time for release at Christmas, but I'm already getting some great feedback from the XNA community. It's already got me thinking about expanding Team Mango once again to include at least a graphics dude. In fact, if you can draw nice looking 2D game graphics, why not leave a commment?

No Excuses This Time

I've been pretty busy as usual and really wasn't feeling the need for a blog. Here's a quick rundown of what's happened since my last update in April:

  • My band played a mediocre gig...
  • ...so we decided to go all out and organise a gig of our own in November. I'll blog more about that in the next couple of months. Ten bands in twelve hours!
  • I found out that "nice" guys don't always finish last.
  • I went to Paris (for the first time) to attend the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational. I did a little sightseeing whilst I was there. I may write about this in more detail at a later date.
  • I turned 27.
  • I went to Wacken Open Air 2008. I drove there. It was my first time driving on the continent. It was fun. At The Gates and Carcass kicked ass. Nightwish suck even more now.
  • I got back into XNA and released GravSheep to the XNA community. My next blog post will be about that.
So yeah, I've been a little pre-occupied!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Look, I've been "busy" okay?!

I used quotation marks because as I think of it, I really can't remember what I've been doing in the month and a bit since my last entry. Which would probably explain the lack of entries. Nothing exciting happening in life equals nothing exciting to write about on blog. I'm sure there's a few things though, so I'll attempt to waste precious internet space talking about it...

Oh yeah, who remembers the X-Files? Upon reading about the new film in post-production, and having vague recollections about the first film and not much of a memory about the actual TV show at all, I thought I'd begin watching from the beginning. As I expected - there's not much to remember. Whilst the story-arc episodes hold my intrigue very well, there aren't enough of them. Maybe a third of the episodes in a given series have any kind of arc continuity. That probably doesn't bother many people, but the only real reason I watch entire seasons of TV shows is for some kind of character development and bubbling storyline. The typical monster/bad guy/situation-of-the-week episodes of television shows really don't do it for me. Hence my utter addiction to Lost and my love for Farscape or Babylon 5 over Star Trek, for instance. Just a little something that re-watching X-Files has made me think about. I also enjoyed laughing at how nineties the show is. Oh yes.

Things with the band appear to be bubbling along nicely. We now have a strong ten-song set in full rehearsal ready for a string of summer shows. We're still working out how to get off the Isle of Wight to play some gigs, but as long as we're offered shows here we'll be playing them. We're currently working on recording the band live at practice and we're getting closer to a decent recorded mix week-by-week. The outcome will hopefully be a decent Live demo to compliment last year's EP, and a free CD to give out at the shows. We now have a Facebook page to help promote us, and I really do love the tools that Facebook provide bands with. I don't forsee it overtaking Myspace as far as band promotion goes anytime soon (a huge shame), but it's already light years ahead in terms of presentation and functionality.

The little gaming time I've been getting in between work and band and attempting to get fit(!) has been dedicated to that wonderous timesink World of Warcraft. When I began playing again in January after being asked by some friends, I didn't expect to still be playing four months later. Agima (the second), Undead shadow-priest is now level 37 and rising rapidly. I'm pretty impressed, given that we only play maybe a couple of evenings a week on average.

This week however, what with the release of GTA IV, my WoW time will be severely gimped in favour of a little time playing Rockstar's latest baby on the 360. From what little I've seen, it looks good, very good.

After finishing reading Fallen Dragon by my favourite author Peter F. Hamilton, I'm doing a quick re-read of The Dreaming Void before The Temporal Void gets released hopefully sometime before the end of this year. Both utterly fantastic books, and I'd even recommend The Dreaming Void to those of you that don't generally read sci-fi.

Time to get back to being "busy", I guess. Check back in another month!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Play.com Live

Last weekend - Saturday 15th March to be precise - Fruitbat, Qu_be and I headed to Wembley Stadium for the Play.com organised gaming event "Play.com Live". The event was advertised as a chance to play this year's forthcoming games months before release. The last event of this kind here in the UK was Gamestars back in 2004, which I attended with J. These events do need more support here, so when Qu_be linked me in, I jumped at the chance to go along.



I was a little worried that the event would be poorly attended, as the advertising campaign seemed somewhat lacklustre. I needn't have worried - as soon as we entered London there were adverts plastered all over the place!



Once we got inside the event it was clear that the only problem with attendance was one of overcrowding. The two halls that made up the convention were busy, noisy and hot. Initially it was offputting, but once we got into the swing of things we were on the prowl for games and swag-o-plenty.



Microsoft made Rock Band their centrepiece, and it was clear that the hugely anticipated rhythm game was one of the major draws of the entire event. There was a large crowd waiting for the chance to play for the entire time we were there, and with only one setup most people left disappointed. Two lucky makeshift "bands" were given the chance to play a song on the main stage later in the day.



A couple of movie tie-ins were situated just inside the entrance in the form of Kung-fu Panda (which was especially enjoyed by Fruitbat) and Lego Indiana Jones. Whilst I didn't get any hands-on time with the latter, it certainly looked up-to-par with the Lego Star Wars games.



The Ghostbusters and Prototype booths were a let-down, both having only one small screen playing short trailers which will no doubt be available on Youtube shortly if they're not already. That fight with Marshmallow Man does indeed look epic, however.



Square Enix fans would have raced straight up the stairs in the main hall, only to be sorely disappointed that the booth consisted of just a few HDTVs playing a loop of trailers. No hands-on here guys, but were you really expecting it?



The second hall proved a lot more interesting for me personally. First off, Sandisk were offering the chance to win an 8gb memory card for your phone. The idea was to pull a card from a big bowl, then they insert it into a phone and if it autoruns an application, it's an 8gb card and you win it. Nobody in front of me in the queue won, and neither did anyone else I saw that took a dip.



Also upstairs was a gallery of playable 360s and PS3s all with recently released, or soon to be released games. Games like Halo 3, Gears of War with extra multiplayer maps, Devil May Cry 4, The Orange Box, Conflict: Denied Ops and a bunch of throwaway games were all present in an attempt to boost sales.



One of my favourite booths was an indie games booth run by one of the educational establishments that I've embarrassingly forgotten the name of. They were showing off the finalists and runners-up of an amateur games development competition. Some of them looked really cool, and it's definitely something I'd like to see more of.



I've saved the best 'til last, of course. Qu_be and I got hands-on time with a very alpha build of Soul Calibur 4. I couldn't believe that they had bought it along in this state (the game was running on 360 devkits) but I was so pleased to see it. Normally we don't get to see builds this early here in the UK. Only three characters were playable (Mitsurugi, Taki and Sophitia), but already the quality is shining through and I'm definitely picking this one up after playing the hell out of 2 on the Gamecube.



To top things off, I played a quick game of Terrorist Hunt on Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. Plays just like the first, but there's definitely some extra shine to it. Should be good.



All in all, not a bad event. I didn't feel the same excitement that I felt for Gamestars, and I think the cramped nature of the event certainly contributed to that. There was a lack of pre-release games and definitely too many video-only booths. If you're going to show something at an event like this, make it playable. If I want to watch a game trailer I'll do it on the internet, thanks.

Will I go again if they run the event next year? Probably, but I'm a sucker for it. It'll need to be bigger (or at least, more spaced out) and there'll need to be a few more titles that I'm interested in to make me really excited for it.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Flood!

Never really been this close to a flood before - here's some pictures from my office complex taken at around 12:30 today:


I managed to get my car out in time, luckily!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Band videos and other bits

Haven't had much of a reason to post about anything of late, so I thought I'd force myself to find something interesting to write about today.

Saturday I uploaded some newish videos of Puritan Slain in action. Taken at our last gig at Christmas, I really just wanted something to freshen up my Youtube profile. Thankfully, we're started to get gig offers trickling in and by Summer we should have played another couple of shows. It sucks having new material and not being able to show it off.

Also at the weekend, I made the leap to Vista on my home machine. I still don't know if it was a good idea. I've been pretty anti-Vista for a while, and whilst I'm fairly comfortable with using it now, it still seems to run very slowly in some places. It's my own fault for trying to install it on a three-year-old PC though I guess. I'll stick with it for now anyway.

A couple of interesting things are happening this month: Firstly, I'm off over to Portsmouth on Saturday to have a friendly jam with my good buddy Dan and the drummer from his band. I'm dragging Mister Carl with me to provide some basslines. It's going to be interesting, as we'll have a range of musical abilities between the four of us. At the end of the day though, it's just going to be an all-day pissup with a couple of murdered cover versions thrown in. I'll be getting together with Carl beforehand to get him musically motivated before the day!

And then the following weekend, I'm off up to Wembley to attend Play.com Live. I have no idea how this event is going to pan out as it really hasn't been advertised as widely as it should have been. Still, the publisher support seems to be in place, so I'm hoping to catch a couple of upcoming games at least.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

N+

God damn this new XBLA game is frustrating. It's also awesome. I played the PC version many years ago, but this update really outshines it. Got the 15 episode achievement last night after spending an hour on "Master Control". Yeah.

This is one of the best-presented XBLA games I've seen yet - I just love the overall design both in game and on the menu screens.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Game Developers Conference

The GDC kicks off for real today, and there's already an internet rumour that Microsoft is preparing to announce something big regarding the Xbox. I've also heard (separately) that they're revealing something about XNA that may or may not be a big deal. I'm going to update this post over the next few days as information starts to leak out from the show.

Update 1: Microsoft are finally going to deliver on their XNA promises. Using a system that they describe as the "democratisation of content", end gamers will be able to download and play XNA games built by members of the Creator's Club.

Members will submit an XNA game to the club, and it will then be subject to a peer review. Other CC members will decide if the game is worthy of delivery to Live where - upon approval - it will appear for download by Live users. It hasn't been said whether there will be a fee for the end gamer for this (I sincerely hope not!), but seven sample games are already up on Live and are free for everyone to download right now. Confusingly, all the games are on a 17-day trial period. Whether this is because in 17 days the service will be going live for real, or if it's because the final system will be a pay-to-play service, I don't know.

It's exciting though. Even though I did lose interest in XNA, I intend to get involved in the testing and voting of other user-created games whilst I still hold my CC membership. It might even be the kick up the ass I need to get me to finish some games!

Oh, then Cliffy B announced Gears 2 for November. Can't wait.

Update 2: So it appears that the whole XNA dealie won't be around until the end of the year. On top of that, there is going to be money involved, but MS still haven't fleshed that side of things out yet. They're saying that you'll be able to set a price for your content or give it away. I hope that doesn't mean that average joe gamer will have to pay a subscription to download XNA games, because that will completely defeat the point.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The Pointless Plan

People have been asking what I intend to implement in Pointless Quest. I spent a while thinking about it last night, and now I think I've got a pretty clear plan for the next few bits and pieces.

1) Firstly, I need to optimise the client packets a little more. There's a lot of HTML being sent down each update, and I know I can reduce the size a hell of a lot more. This will make the client more responsive, especially on slower connections.

2) Death. OK, so I realise that permadeath is a little harsh. I've decided to do away with it and instead implement a time-out punishment for death. I'm thinking that one minute per level should do it. When a player dies, he'll be shown the usual death screen, but with a timer counting down to resurrection. Each area will be assigned a "graveyard", where players will respawn after death. I'll also have to re-do the high score tables, as "Past Lives" will no longer be relevant.

3) PvP. Once the graveyard system is in, PvP will be next. Players level 5 and above will be able to participate in PvP. There will be strong rules in place. You'll only be able to attack players up to one level above or below you. You won't be able to initiate combat with a player until they are "ready" (ie. not in combat with a mob, have full health etc.). This will mean all PvP will be on a one-on-one basis. When a player dies from PvP, they'll immediately respawn at the nearest graveyard with full health.

4) Armour, weapons and other items. Mobs will drop gold. There will be shopkeeper NPCs that sell items. Each character will be able to have one piece of armour in each of five body positions: chest, head, legs, feet, hands. Each character will also have a weapon slot. The mechanics of this will be pretty simple. More expensive clothes = higher armour value. Total armour value will be your saving roll against damage in combat. Weapons will be pretty much the same. More expensive = more damage. Weapon damage value will be rolled and added to damage done each attack.

NPCs will also sell health potions, of which a character may carry a maximum of ten. They'll also sell a "potion upgrade" which will increase the amount each potion will heal. This will be a permanant upgrade and will apply to potions currently held and all future potion purchases. Further Potion Upgrades will be exponentially expensive.

5) Content for levels 12-20+. Further stat balancing. Ongoing bug fixes. All stuff that will happen during the implementation of items 1-4.

There's no timeframe for any of this stuff, but I'd like to see it happen sooner rather than later, so I'll work as hard as possible ;)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

More PQ Stuff

It's been a busy few days for my work on Pointless Quest. Over the weekend I bult the editor - my first proper Winforms application as it happens. It's a simple little thing that allows me to make the base maps for the game. I still have to place exits and mobs by hand, but I'm working on a plan for that!

Whilst creating the editor, I decided to up my tile range to allow for three-digit tile numbers. Any tiles below 100 are "floor" tiles, and can be walked on. Anything above 100 is a "wall" tile, and will stop players and mobs. I can move these ranges from now on with a few simple code changes, which allows for future expansion.

After I built the editor, I set to work creating some new areas to explore. Making the areas is simple, but when it comes to making new mobs to populate these areas, my artistic weakness comes into full display. I just cannot draw for shit. For instance, my "grizzly bear" looks more like an "excited cat". Send your 40x40 transparent animgifs to gareth@fatweb.org and they'll be guaranteed a place in the game!

Monday night, I managed to dump a web server with the game. I asked a friend to host it for me until we get a new IG server up and running. It was all looking great until SQL server keeled over. Turns out that PQ was causing SQL to use around 10mb of ram every couple of minutes. The server had enough of this after about half an hour, and promptly froze. This was worrying for both myself and my friend while we waited for the server to come back online after a reboot.

What it all boiled down to was me spending the past two evenings frantically re-coding the webservice to use stored procedures. Burning the candle at both ends is an understatement.

It was well worth it though. On SQL 2005 standard edition, the game uses about 20mb of memory and stays stable even with 5 clients logged in overnight. It goes up by the odd few k every few minutes, but nowhere near the kind of usage we were witnessing before. And as a bonus, the game now runs faster, is more stable and is also more optimised as a result of me cutting out several unneccessary database reads/writes. So as long as it holds stable on the server the next time we try it, all will be good and I'll be ready to launch.

So keep your eye on www.pointlessquest.com, and come join us!

Monday, 11 February 2008

London was Burning, Dark Tranquillity Played On...


Camden Town, Saturday night. We were supping a few light beers in the Monarch, right near Camden Barfly - the chosen venue for the last night of Dark Tranquillity's "British Fiction" tour. Just two blocks away, a huge fire erupted in Camden market. I've never seen a fire that size and it was very easy just to stand there and gawp at it even when you know that people are out of homes and businesses.

It was just plain biz
arre that the one night that I willingly choose to enter London, something like this happened. Bizarre and cool, at the same time.

But anyway, I was there for the gig. Thankfully it wasn't cancelled, and the fire of course provided frontman Mikael Stanne with some material: "We won't be doing any encores tonight, we're just gonna play until you get bored... or the place burns down". I guess the set clocked in at about an hour and a half in the end, with plenty of material pulled from their vast back-catalogue. Hugely enjoyable, and as always the band looked happy to be there, playing to the small crowd packed into the tiny Barfly like sardines.