Automation 4 U

June 28, 2014 at 2:29 pm (Computer Science, Game Development, Games, Graphics, Java, JavaScript, Processing, Programming, Rant, Teaching) (, , , , , , , )

So, this will be nothing new for some of you. This isn’t even something new to me; I have a day job where I’m a professional software engineer and we do this at my job all the time. I’m talking about automation and automated processes. This could be anything in your project development process where you have the computer automatically do something for you. An example could be a script that backs up your files to a different drive that you can just run when you want. It could be as complex as a build step that automatically deploys your binaries or runs unit tests.

My disclaimer: A lot of this is technical stuff and directed towards programmers, but even if you’re a graph artist, you can still benefit from this. Everybody that uses computers for projects will need to back up their files for instance.

I’ve only recently realized just how important this all is for regular, personal projects. I’ve always known that it saves time, but my initial mindset was that I’d rather get my project up and running and THEN waste time implementing the time-saving stuff after I get it together. I’ve been reading this book I bought from Amazon that talks about indie gaming from a business, “get your act together” perspective. The book can be found here. I’m still reading it, and some may or may not agree that it’s a good book, but it provides some good ideas for how to take your hobby projects to the next level and keep your process renewable. This means saving time and money on mundane processes, etc.

I am still in the process of automating many aspects of my project, but it really crept up on me just how much time I was wasting on manual things. Here are some of the processes I perform just for my Zombie Mansion project:

  • Backing up files from two areas on my system to my external hard drive
  • Deploying JAR files from my Eclipse solution to my Processing solution to use in my game
  • Removing alpha channels from sprite sets (I built a tool to do this, but it’s still manual)
  • Putting together standalone builds of the game software
  • Packing¬†and compressing image resources for game builds
  • Merging animation sequences together for access by the game engine

These are just things I thought of off the top of my head this morning. Some of them will be easier to do than others, and some of them are specific to my project. All of them eat up time though and are tedious things. Here are a few tips and ideas for how I plan on solving some of these issues though. Please read through just in the off chance that it inspires something or gives you an idea or two.

Deploying JAR files to another solution

For this, I intend on using ANT with Eclipse. This is pretty much a standard for serious Java projects, but it’s taken me a long time to start to improve my processes (usually I want to work on the fun stuff or the stuff that has a visual out-come). Visual Studio has its own build steps and things you can run. Alternatively, you could write a script/BAT file that will grab the files from your output directory and deploy them. This doesn’t require a full set-up of a 3rd party tool and it should be quick to do. It just might break and won’t be as robust.

Backing up project files

This is something I’m already part way through implementing. I’ve written most of a BAT script that will grab the project files from specific directories and dump them in one area so I can back them up (it will optionally zip them as well). To make it a bit easier, I’ve started using virtual drives, but this isn’t necessary. If you’re interested in what virtual drives are or how to set them up easily, email me or post a comment. I can give you some resources or just write an article. Here is a snippet of what I have so far (I’ve been taking bits and pieces from the interwebs, so most of it is borrowed code anyway).

I wanted to dump the files into a folder that would be timestamped so I wouldn’t have to worry about overwriting anything. This is one way of how you’d accomplish it using a BAT script in Windows:

set hour=%time:~0,2%
if "%hour:~0,1%" == " " set hour=0%hour:~1,1%
set min=%time:~3,2%
if "%min:~0,1%" == " " set min=0%min:~1,1%
set secs=%time:~6,2%
if "%secs:~0,1%" == " " set secs=0%secs:~1,1%
set year=%date:~-4%
set month=%date:~3,2%
if "%month:~0,1%" == " " set month=0%month:~1,1%
set day=%date:~0,2%
if "%day:~0,1%" == " " set day=0%day:~1,1%
set datetimef=%day%-%month%-%year%_%hour%-%min%
echo %datetimef%
xcopy "C:\Test\A" "C:\Test\B\Backup\%datetimef%" /E /I

This will copy everything in your source directory (the first argument) and store them in a custom folder with a timestamp. You can use multiple source directories as well if you have things spread out like I do by just putting in an extra line. The last two arguments are switches to tell XCOPY to use the full source directory (and children) and to assume I mean the destination should be a folder.

Removing alpha channels from image resources

This one will be a bit more complicated. I have a tool I wrote to do this, but I want to streamline this. Now, I wrote up a full project plan with a product backlog, but then I realized even that was too ambitious. I plan on taking some items from the list, but I also plan on it being a purely script-based tool. It will run on the command prompt and will use my engine’s scripting engine for customization (as opposed to using config files). At this point in time, it’s cheaper for me to use scripts than config files since I don’t have a streamlined approach to reading them yet. ANYWAY, I will be writing this as a project in my game engine solution and it’ll have a unit test project to go with it. I’m still working out what tests I will need for it since it works with images, but it’ll be centered on testing the RGB values of generated images before and after the script runs. It’ll also test image sizes for when I add the feature to compile multiple animation sequences together.

Anyway! To summarize this; automation is good. It saves a HUGE amount of money (time is money). If you ever have dreamed of selling a game, you NEED to get in the habit of doing this. The more you do it, the easier it will become and the more effective you will be with your time. Be as lazy as possible with your projects; that’s why we’re programmers! (Although you don’t need to be a programmer to benefit from this).



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Zombie Mansion: Alpha Build 1!

June 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm (Computer Science, Game Development, Games, Java, JavaScript, Processing, Programming, Rant) (, , , , , , , )

So I’ve finally gotten a build of the game working! I can’t post it yet for a variety of reasons, but I’ve sent the build out to some people to try it. It’s mostly to verify that the game works as expected and is stable. It just features the level I showed in the previous videos and a couple of extra smaller areas.

Last Saturday night I had a few panic moments when the builds weren’t working as expected. I had an issue where the resource unpacker code I wrote wasn’t actually unpacking the images from the compressed assembly; it turns out it was still trying to load them from the local directory. The issue has since been fixed thanks to all of the logging architecture I recently put in. There’s still several areas that could use more logging, but there’s enough now to sort out common issues.

Another bug that logging helped uncover was with the asset manager system. I have code that manages any images and ensures you only load one copy into memory. This helps to keep a cap on the memory usage of the software as a whole. However, there was an issue where I had slashes in the reference indices that were going the wrong way! This is a pretty common issue with programming to be honest. Devs frequently write code for their own system and then find out that nothing works on other computers or operating systems. Thankfully, the logging system helped uncover the fact that it was double loading certain resources.

Now if I could just muster the effort to change the spelling mistake I made with naming the logging variables…

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Log4J 4 You

June 9, 2014 at 8:42 am (Computer Science, Java, Processing, Programming, Teaching) (, , , , , , )

Last weekend I added logging to my game engine since I finally got fed up with print logging to console. I’ve waited this long because while it was on my To-Do list, it kept getting pushed back because it isn’t as interesting of a task as rendering a new HUD for example. It is definitely worth investing in though! If you don’t have logging in your game, I suggest you do it now!

In this post, I will talk about setting up Log4J to use in either Java or Processing programs. Furthermore, I will show you how to set up loggers programmatically. Typically you will see guides that reference config files or XML for setting up loggers. I chose to do it programmatically because I wanted to set it up early in my engine code, have it trickle down into all of the other layers, and not have to change the configurations very often. Perhaps this isn’t a good enough reason to do what I did, but at least for my situation I didn’t mind using it.

Before I get into how to do it this way, I will warn you of one of the major drawbacks of doing this: you can’t change the default logging levels without recompiling your code. This is actually a big deal for many projects, but for some not so much. One of the advantages of doing it programmatically however, especially with Processing sketches, is that once you set up a Log4J library you can copy and paste code and it will just work. No configuration files required.

Enough talk! Lets see some how-to!


Add Library (For Processing sketches only)

If you are setting up Log4J for use in Processing sketches, you first need to create a Library. There are many guides on how to do this, so I will just give an overview. After you download a log4j JAR file, navigate to your “libraries” folder (I forget where the default spot is at the moment; I keep mine in the same folder as my sketches). Create a new folder named “Log4J” or if you’d like, put in the version numbers. NOTE: The folder MUST have the same name as the JAR file. Within that folder, create a folder named “library” and dump that JAR file in there. After you restart the Processing IDE, you will see a new entry when you go to import a library.

EDIT: I’ve been informed that you can actually just drop the JAR into the sketch folder! That’s very handy. It makes it even easier to integrate Log4J. The only downside to doing this is that if you work with many sketches, you have to remember to drop the JAR into each folder instead of just referencing your library. Thanks to Nacho Cossio for pointing this out.

Use Log4J

Now it’s time to use it! Here is some code that will set up a logger.

String masterPattern = “[%c{1}], %d{HH:mm:ss}, %-5p, {%C}, %m%n”;
fa = new FileAppender();
fa.setFile(sketchPath(“./Logs/” + “Master.log”));
fa.setLayout(new PatternLayout(masterPattern));

This will give you a logger that will dump out everything to file. The “masterPattern” variable holds the format that each log message will have. This specific line of gibberish tells the logger that I want it to look like this:

[categoryName], time(hour:minute:seconds), Priority (if any), {Class name where message was logged from}, message

The category name in my example will be “Master”. I’ve also put commas in there so that I can optionally open the logs in Excel and have it put each value in its own column. This is very handy as you could then use searching and sorting features with zero effort.

Note that in the last line of code, I add the appender to the root logger. Do this only if you want all log messages to go to one file. In my game engine, I’ve set up multiple loggers for different categories to go to different files, and then I use a master logger to consolidate them to one file.

Log Messages

Logger logger = Logger.getLogger("Master");
logger.debug("Log my message");

This will get the logger (which you only need to do once if you store it in a variable) and output a debug message.

There you have it; easy logging for Processing sketches or Java programs. There are likely better and more in-depth tutorials for using Log4J, however I just wanted to give an introduction to get it to pay off quickly without having to browse to nine different sites like I did.


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Playable Demo Impending

June 5, 2014 at 7:13 pm (Art, Game Development, Games, Graphics, Java, Processing, Programming) (, , , )

Today I finalized the resource unpacking code for Zombie Mansion (name pending). I can now protect the art asset files and unpack them in memory. This means I’m close to releasing a playable level of the game! Note: It currently is playable, but I don’t have a public build right now.

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