Cool (Game) Developer

The new CoolBasic project is divided into several sub-projects. Each team member has been assigned to one of these projects according to their skills. This first half of the year has proven to be productive, and we actually have concrete results already. Most news has been posted on the Finnish forums, and I apologize to you non Finnish people, although we tend to evaluate things we want to share every once in two weeks, we’ve been quite silent about our plans and doings. The reason there’s been so little information in English is purely that we want to limit how the word spreads at this point in time – we all know what happens to too high expectations in the end. The Beta plan is to first limit it to a smaller closed group which makes possible for us to iron out the most critical bugs. After that we’ll extend the Beta program, ultimately for all. However, please notice that talking about Beta doesn’t mean it exists yet. We’re not there yet. In this blog post I wish to shed some light to the different aspects of the huge CoolBasic project. More details will follow in forth-coming blog posts, this is just a compendium.

Before we start…
At the beginning of June we had a public meeting to which nearly 20 members of the CoolBasic community participated. We rented a summer cabin for a weekend and headed to Nilsiรค situated in middle Finland. Many of us saw each other in real life for the first time and had a chance to talk face to face. It was a bit rainy, but I at least wasn’t too sad about it – I think we all had a great time having sauna, barbequing some sausages, playing games, and having fun in general. Too bad it was only 3 days, but arranging the date so that this many were able to make it, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Half of the participants were in fact Devs from the team, and we actually had a presentation, powered by a video projector, to show off the new editor and engine features. More social meetings, please ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s definitely going to be another next year!

The CoolBasic Meet 2010

The Editor
The old CoolBasic editor will be completely replaced with a modern project based development environment. This time we’re aiming really high, and this new editor, Cool Developer, is designed so that it can serve as development environment for future coming products as well! It’s highly modular and the architecture makes it possible to develop powerful plug-ins for it. We’ll probably even offer free Visual Studio templates for download so that anyone can develop a new plug-in (or an entire product, perhaps your own programming language) for Cool Developer. The editor is fully customizable and localizable, and it can dynamically load custom made UI modules on the fly. In addition, the way the editor looks, is fully customizable through skinning. I think we’ll go for cool black look this time ๐Ÿ™‚ If you know XAML, it’s relatively easy to write your own skins. Skinning the editor, however, is not just defining the colors – it’s possible to compose everything, including layout, UI animations, and visual effects!

CoolBasic games are now created as projects that host all the related code files. Much like in Microsoft Visual Studio, project structure is a hierarchical list of all files associated with that project, including code, media, and other content. Those units don’t necessarily reflect the underlying file system at all, but the entire project is easily transferred between different machines by simply copying a single folder. You can also have several projects open at the same time, in which case the top-most element within the hirearchy is a “Solution File”. it’s basically a collection of different projects. Imagine you have a game (solution) that includes a CoolBasic Classic code project, and a Tilester project that has all the maps the game uses.

We’ll also construct a new “Start Page” that will list the most recently accessed projects, show you some news from the CoolBasic community, and perhaps feature some interactive content. It might even be possible for you users to customize the start page via XAML.

Everything, including the Start Page, manual, code files, and visual editors, can be opened into a tab. The behavior is much like in the current (obsolete) editor, only there’s no limit what you can open in a tab. We can even present complex editors, such as a tilemap designer, inside the editor now. Imagine a visual editor to build game objects, or a tool that packs game media in a compressed file! We basically associate some content presenter to a file type: for code files it’s going to be a syntax highlighter editor, for other types it’s going to be something else – a web browser for web pages, for example.

The editor also has a built-in update engine which keeps all installed products always up-to-date; you no longer have to manually download and install updates when we fix bugs or add new features to CoolBasic Classic compiler or the CoolVES engine.

As for the user interface, it resembles Visual Studio a bit, but we’d like to enhance it with some fresh ideas. It’s relatively rare, for example, a code editor to have a ribbon… or how about something completely different to the standard Solution Explorer + Property Window combination? A screenshot of the new editor will be provided later – there are a few things we’re experimenting at the moment. At this point, however, it’s looking really cool in its black theme! As a side note, the editor is currently developed by two professional WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) programmers. And yeah, it’s in .NET Framework 4.0 ๐Ÿ™‚

Compiler & Language
Although we plan to design the language as similar to the old CoolBasic as possible, we’re going to make some changes to the basic syntax to accommodate “more accustomed” practices. For example the member access operator “” is going to be replaced with a dot. Custom typed variables are declared via the “As” clause inside a “Dim” statement. Arrays and Linked Lists will also see major improvements – it’s now possible to pass arrays as arguments, and return arrays from functions. Arrays can also be of any (custom) type. Linked Lists are no longer singletons based on a type i.e. you can create as many Linked Lists of any type as you like. There’s also going to be differentiation of Subs and Functions. We may also enhance the “If” statement chain. Structured error handling and a debugger are also considered. Of course, we’ll integrate the debugger to Cool Developer editor as well. All in all, most old CoolBasic games should be relatively easy to port and compile against the new execution engine. Simple find&replace throughout legacy code will probably not be enough, but the additional adjustments one would have to make manually are merely trivial.

CoolBasic Classic is producing CoolVES compliant byte code. This means that the game engine is separate to the language that simply is porting games for its use i.e. it might be possible to write CoolVES games in other languages than a BASIC in the future! Or having a completely visual game building tool (like Click’n’Play / Game Maker) for the CoolVES engine! Maybe CoolBasic Classic could even operate as the programming language for other execution engines as well *cough*.

The improvements to the current CoolBasic Classic compiler (taken from experimental code of the V3 compiler) have proven to be working well. The lexer and parser are already done, and code analysis is under construction. It won’t take long until I get to the synthesis part which essentially means, at that point, the compiler can actually produce byte code and the development of the CoolVES execution system can begin! That’s also when the cool stuff begins and the rest of our team members get their hands on some really nice stuff. Perhaps a public tech demo will follow ๐Ÿ™‚

The Game Engine
Now the actual game engine is something that has made huge progress during the past few months. It’s going to be OpenGL based and cross-platform. Whereas the old CoolBasic only has software renderer, the new graphics engine is taking full advantage of modern hardware. The engine is already able to render game objects on to screen, and rotate, scale and transform them – basically everything one can already do in old CoolBasic. Blending with different modes is supported as well as different filtering methods. We’re even experimenting with some more complex materials. The game objects can now also have a parent so that they move, rotate and scale in relative to the parent object. In addition, we now have multiple camera support, and camera zoom and rotation! It’s probably a bit too early to talk about object animations, but we do have major plans to drastically improve it. Also tilemaps are going to go through lots of improvements in terms of rendering, interacting and collision checking. All in all, there’s a lot more you can do with game objects now, and the command sets are going to be re-designed from scratch.

As what comes to the audio system, we’re dumping integrated FMOD. It may become an option again later in the future (optional engine you could enable for use in the project settings within Cool Developer interface). FMOD makes it possible to use wide variety of different formats, and even visualize the output stream, but for now we’re going to implement the Audiere library which is completely royalty free for commercial and noncommercial use. As a side note, the primary recommended format all CoolBasic demos and tutorials will use, is going to be MP3.

Perhaps one of the most interesting new major features we’re adding, is the in-built game physics. Every game object can have full 2D dynamics applied to them. You’ll simply define mass and shape (amongst a few other attributes) for an object, and everything else is done automatically for you – objects will bounce accordingly from walls and each other. Implementing this powerful feature will enable the users to create games like never seen before in CoolBasic! This system also serves as base to in-game collisions, to make game character jump you only need to apply an impulse upwards. Should you hit your head to the ceiling, you simply drop down again, and automatically stop falling upon hitting the ground. Collision events can be queried; making it possible to fire certain animations in certain situations (crouch upon landing, for example). The physics naturally also apply to particles on screen. You can build more complex physics bodies by combining several existing bodies and you can create constraints to bind separate parts to each other. Perhaps a visual game object building tool for Cool Developer editor will be written at some point.

There are already fully working internal tech demos for the graphics engine and physics. No screenshots for now (as those demos in question render lots of test data on screen).

The Manual
We haven’t formulated full details yet, but a graphical design plan document already exists. As with the V3 manual, we probably won’t be implementing such deep tree view based document structure, but more like a mixture of old design and easier navigation through document pages. We have a few professional web designers in the team, so this time there’s going to be a lot more look and feel to it. While the manual will be written in both English and Finnish, in addition to comprehensive language and framework references, we’re going to focus more on complete tutorials and examples and even in social media and interactive content in general. You will be able to comment the pages, as well. Integrating the manual to Cool Developer so that the two work seamlessly together (in an attempt to provide studying material like never seen before anywhere else) is also one of our top priorities. We have some exciting technologies in mind on how to provide the best manual possible.

The Website
We’re aiming for strong user community. Integrating with the forums and blogs require custom code, and we’re currently building our own CMS (Content Management System) on the CodeIgniter framework. The amount of content we have planned for the new coming website is huge, so its management requires a CMS. It’s a bit too early to provide any screenshots, but the goal is to make the website such a place the users want to visit it in addition to just reading the forums.

Closing words
The information provided by this blog entry was intended to be a general peek of what different sub-projects are involved and what’s their current status. We’ll get back to details later. I hope this delivered some idea of how big of a project the new Cool Game Developing Environment really is. It’s not just CoolBasic Classic, but rather a whole base and framework for future work as well. We have regular internal meetings every other week, after which we normally decide what information we choose to share publically. Sorry for the long wait since the previous blog post, stay tuned.

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