Author Topic: Newbie Game Development Questions  (Read 2660 times)

Offline 2XL

  • Newbie Mark II
  • *
  • Posts: 10
Newbie Game Development Questions
« on: December 11, 2011, 05:47:22 PM »

First I wanted to say that I just recently discovered Arcen Games and really like their attitude towards their games and their community.   I'm still playing my way through the AI War demo and am loving it!

I have a solid background in embedded C programming for automotive and aerospace applications.  I've always wanted to delve into some game programming for the PC or Linux.  Finding the Arcen games website and forums has resparked this interest.  Especially since I have free time around Christmas and New Years to experiment.

I want to start of by doing some experiments with AI and the graphical interface.  Perhaps something like making some game units (ships) follow a path drawn by the user with the  mouse.  Or perhaps make the different units align themselves in different patterns on command by the user's mouse input.    I reserved this book from the local library and it looks like a great resource: http://www.amazon.com/Programming-Game-Example-Mat-Buckland/dp/1556220782/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323642810&sr=8-1

Back in the day I briefly experimented with OpenGL 1.2 and Microsoft Visual Studio 2005C++ and that seemed to work pretty good.

So, the question is, what tools (compiler, Graphics library, etc) would you recommend I experiment with?  I prefer to code in C or C++ if possible.  I need something that will let me start focusing on the AI part of the project relatively quickly.  If possible, I don't want to spend more than a day or two setting up the environment and learning the user interface for the mouse and screen output etc.

AI War looks really good.  Does AI War use OpenGL?  I figure it can't be using DirectX if it also works on the Mac.

Thanks!

Thank.
 

Offline x4000

  • Chris Park, Arcen Games Founder and Lead Designer
  • Arcen Staff
  • Zenith Council Member Mark III
  • *****
  • Posts: 31,231
Re: Newbie Game Development Questions
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2011, 09:32:48 AM »
Cheers, thanks for that!  And glad we can inspire others to get into (or back into, as the case may be) game development.  There were certainly lots who inspired us.

Regarding what tools to use... that's really something of a personal question based on your tastes and short and long term goals.  I will say that C is rarely used directly in games to my knowledge, it tends to be a mix of C++ and newer languages like C#, Java, or various scripting languages.  Often C++ is at the core, with the actual game logic in some other language, like potentially Python or similar.  Civilization IV, as one huge example, did exactly that.

As far as AI War goes, right now it's on Unity 3D as a platform, and that's mostly meaning that it's OpenGL, although Unity does also have a DirectX render path.  We're coding in C# there, and I am pretty sure there is not a C++ option but I could be wrong; certainly you can code C++ extensions that get called by the Unity framework, since that's what we do for things like Steamworks integration.  But that is far from ideal for actual game logic, as the wall between the C++ dll and the rest of the program is pretty thick.  It's basically using P/invoke to go back and forth, and that's fine for something like Steamworks but not for actual gameplay work.

Prior to porting AI War to Unity 3D (circa AI War v4, late last year), AI War was a windows-only program using GDI+ and DirectX9.  My background goes way back in those two technologies, so that's where I started; and both Keith and I prefer C# to any other language, so both Unity and the prior custom engine of AI War had that language at their core.  We were using SlimDX in order to access DirectX via C#, but as a C++ programmer you wouldn't have any interest in that.

So that's what I mean by it being a bit of a personal preference as to what sort of platform you go with.  Keith and I do C++ when we have to, but basically no more than that.  I started out games programming in C++ because that's what all the books were giving examples in and there weren't any of these newfangked powerful engines written in C#.  But after a little while of that, when I realized that some things that took me 800+ lines of C++ could be done just as efficiently in two lines of C# (here I'm actually talking about some registry access stuff), I moved to go my own way in C#.  To a very large extent, that means that I'm about the worst person to ask about specific engines in C++, because there are a ton of good ones but they are all the ones that I completely ignore whenever I'm looking at engines.

Which brings me to my next point: engine or no engine?  It sounds like in the past you were experimenting with OpenGL just directly in your program.  And that's something you can do, sure.  But if you don't want a lot of hassles with setup of OpenGL, and managing it to get everything working just right (or later trying to support all sorts of different machine configurations), then that's not really the way to go.  It certainly can be done, and I did it for years, but there's a tradeoff in terms of time and cross-platform flexibility.  If you want something that gets you up and running faster, and which is easier to port between platforms, then that's basically what a game engine is for.  I have a feeling that you'd get along great with the Unreal engine in particular, given that it's one of the best and most supported ones and also C++ based from what I know of it.  The downside being that if you sell your game you have to share the profits with them.  And the second downside being that your a bit further from the "bare metal," which is a real pain.  So if the window handling isn't quite right, for instance, your hands wind up tied rather than your just being able to get right into the native API calls and fix it yourself.  Engines tend to be black-box unless you have the massive cash to buy a source code license, so that means you take the bad with the good.

I guess the most fundamental question, though, is what you're really trying to do at this stage?  If you're wanting to code AI or things like that, you don't need 3D graphics, sound, and input handling beyond what the OS already gives you.  Those three things are basically what games tend to have that regular business software does not.  When I first started coding one of my games, I just did it all in raw GDI+, which meant that it would run on any windows machine and I could prototype all the gameplay really straightforwardly because it was a super familiar environment to me.  But any sort of larger animations were more or less out of the question.  I later expanded that engine so that that game could run either in the native GDI+ render path, or in a DirectX render path.  Or take a look at Dwarf Fortress, which is just ASCII text in DOS, more or less.  If you're prototyping AI and working on gameplay and such, there's nothing about most 2D games that really requires graphics for that stage of the process.  You'd just have to be prepared to work in the graphics later, with all the refactoring that would entail, if you do decide to take it to the next level later.

My advice, at core: do whatever it takes to "get to the good part" of whatever it is you are most interested in at the moment.  By the time you're done experimenting around there, you'll want to rearchitect your entire codebase anyhow (based on what you've learned through experimentation), so then getting to the more final-stage engine and graphics considerations is a natural place to rearchitect anyhow.

Hope that helps!
Have ideas or bug reports for one of our games?  Mantis for Suggestions and Bug Reports. Thanks for helping to make our games better!

Offline 2XL

  • Newbie Mark II
  • *
  • Posts: 10
Re: Newbie Game Development Questions
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2011, 07:11:03 PM »
x4000,
Thanks for the comprehensive reply! 

Code: [Select]
do whatever it takes to "get to the good part" of whatever it is you are most interested in at the moment.
This is great advise.  I tend to get caught up in the "bare metal" because my background is low level drivers for mission critical applications.  I tend to have the mindset that I need to code everything myself from the ground up so I know exactly what is going on.  That's why C is so attractive for these types of applications- you can get down almost to the assembler level (almost) and have precise control over things.

For game programming that may not be necessary and I should take advantage of higher level languages like C# and existing game engines.  I think I'll take this to finally learn C#. 

As a far as picking a game engine.  What are the characteristics that you need to look for besides that it's compatible with the language you plan to program with?  For instance, are some game engines more suited towards FPS, PRG, RTS, TBS, etc...  I'm still trying to get my arms around exactly what a game engine will provide.  I envision that they would provide interfaces to the user inputs, screen outputs, in game unit classes, physics, etc.  It that correct?

Thanks again....



Offline x4000

  • Chris Park, Arcen Games Founder and Lead Designer
  • Arcen Staff
  • Zenith Council Member Mark III
  • *****
  • Posts: 31,231
Re: Newbie Game Development Questions
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2011, 07:25:05 PM »
Thanks for the comprehensive reply!

My pleasure!

Code: [Select]
do whatever it takes to "get to the good part" of whatever it is you are most interested in at the moment.
I tend to have the mindset that I need to code everything myself from the ground up so I know exactly what is going on.  That's why C is so attractive for these types of applications- you can get down almost to the assembler level (almost) and have precise control over things.

For game programming that may not be necessary and I should take advantage of higher level languages like C# and existing game engines.  I think I'll take this to finally learn C#.

I think that having an understanding of what is going on all the way down is super important to writing efficient code, but I also take the view that once I understand it, I can work much more efficiently in systems where I don't have to manage every detail.  With C# it is nice because you can see the MSIL code if you really want to, and there are lots of known optimizations on how to write C# code that is efficient or able to minimize garbage collector hits, etc.  That's not the same as working with the bare metal, sure, but it's a lot faster and safer (in terms of memory leaks, etc), and it's something that requires just as much knowledge and attention to detail in order to get out the absolute best performance, etc.

I really have trouble using most third party libraries for the same reasons you stick to the bare metal, so I can sympathize.  I look at their code, or look at the speed of their code, and just see "bloat! bloat!"  With some notable exceptions, like the lidgren network library, which I like very much through and through.  And SlimDX seemed to be that way, too.  But as a general rule...

As a far as picking a game engine.  What are the characteristics that you need to look for besides that it's compatible with the language you plan to program with?  For instance, are some game engines more suited towards FPS, PRG, RTS, TBS, etc...  I'm still trying to get my arms around exactly what a game engine will provide.  I envision that they would provide interfaces to the user inputs, screen outputs, in game unit classes, physics, etc.  It that correct?

Well... that answer really varies quite widely, too.  Obviously language is one factor, but so too is what the engine provides.  Do you want an engine where you can arrange your scenes in 3D or 2D and then add on little scripts, without really coding a lot of the central stuff?  There are engines for that.  Do you want an engine that has no GUI for the development environment, but which just provides you a code wrapper for things like graphics, sound, and input?  There are engines for that as well, and plus there are libraries like DirectX or OpenGL themselves, and things like OpenAL and so on.  You could cobble together your own cross-platform engine from just stuff like OpenGL, OpenAL, and similar.

The other big thing is documentation.  I don't like working with a lot of the smaller libraries because they are often poorly documented.   There's also bugs to consider: if a smaller library is open source, great -- you can fix any bug that crops up if you have to.  Another reason I like the lidgren network library.  On the other side, if you get some big engine without a source, then you're at the mercy of the central team to fix their own bugs.  That might be okay or it might not be.

There are some engines that are literally less powerful and which can't do a lot of the fancier code things, but they trade that for ease of use and a WYSIWYG type of visual editor.  I guess it wouldn't be polite to name names in terms of that sort of thing, but it's fairly obvious when you look at a lot of those.  They are kind of "game development for hobbyists," though there are a few folks that will inevitably make something really awesome no matter what tools they are given.

Then there's actually the platforms the engines can run on, and the licensing costs to run on the various platforms.  The costs can be quite steep: things like 25% of your income on the game, or even $30,000.00 for a license for some of the consoles are pretty common with the major AAA quality engines.  And if you're making a AAA game, I imagine those are worth it, too.

Pretty much all engines will give you some sort of input, graphics, and sound capabilities.  But they vary widely in the details:

Sound
-------
1. Do they have 3D sound?  Do you care?
2. How is sound playback handled?  On a secondary thread or as part of the primary, streamed or not, etc?  What options do you have in terms of when and how sound stuff is loaded into RAM?
3. In a few rarer cases (with smaller or custom engines/libraries mostly), how compatible is the sound functionality with most sound cards or platforms?  In a few even rarer cases, does it even have sound capabilities at all?

Graphics
----------
1. Are 2D or 3D supported?  If it's 2D, is it using something older and less functional like DirectDraw, or is it doing it all in software (very functional but fairly slow so low framerates), or is it doing it in a 3D-hardware accelerated fashion (really the fastest way to do it, and quite functional as well, but also the hardest to use by miles).  If 2D isn't natively supported at all (which is common), and you want to do 2D, can you get at the bare metal of the DirectX/OpenGL calls in enough of a direct fashion to roll your own?
2. If 3D is your thing, how up to date is the engine on supporting the latest shaders and other functionality, if you care?
3. If you're doing any hardware acceleration at all, how easy is it to tell the hardware caps of the current system GPU and adjust functionality accordingly?  Almost anything on OpenGL or DirectX supports querying caps (capabilities), but having graceful failover when certain shaders aren't supported is something I was particularly happy with in Unity, for instance.

Input
------
1. Keyboard and mouse are pretty much universal and pretty easy to do.  But they actually can be messed up to a surprising degree by some libraries, depending if they are event-driven or polling-based, and how much time you want to spend writing a wrapper on top of either.  I've done it both ways, and find either works well enough, really.
2. Gamepad support is not universal, and nor are all the functions of gamepads.  Things like analog sticks or extended sets of buttons, or specific support for something like force feedback, etc, really vary.  I miss not having force feedback since the switch to unity, for instance; I used to use that in SlimDX.
3. If you care about touch devices, support for that varies even more.  Just treating someone's finger as a mouse cursor doesn't work all that well in most cases.


And there's other considerations like how often they update their library, how clean it seems in general, if it runs fast or seems bloated, if it has a physics library if you want that, etc, etc.  We looked at over 30 different engines when we chose Unity 3D, and for our purposes we are really pleased with it.  Though it does have some notable downsides that I've discussed in other threads, and we wound up spending a solid couple of months just "rolling our own" on top of the base unity engine, bypassing all their physics and networking and most of their entity logic, and implementing our own on top of their raw graphics capabilities.

I think there is no engine that is so perfect and amazing that everyone should use it, so the answer to what engine should be used is always really something that comes down to taste.  I think that Unity is really great, and definitely my favorite engine these days, but their support is pretty bad and they really make you work to get at the bare metal (and sometimes you can't at all, to my frustration).  And to get to the bare metal will require their pro license, which is definitely not free.  With the Unreal engine, for instance, you could get started for free and then they just take a cut from profits if you get to that point of selling, and you could even stay in C++.

So it really varies a lot, and is something you'll just have to research to see what strikes you as the best fit for you.  There are some really specific and interesting engines from small studios for specific types of projects, too.  Like the Love 2D engine, for instance.  There's a lot of cool things, and I know quite well how overwhelming it can be to even evaluate all the choices, but hopefully that helps somewhat.
Have ideas or bug reports for one of our games?  Mantis for Suggestions and Bug Reports. Thanks for helping to make our games better!