Lines EX – rebuilding with XNA 3

My dissertation project saw me making an XNA game (Lines) and website to go with it (edngames.com) which used web services to make essentially a cut down Xbox Live on the PC with rich presence support, automatic high score uploading etc. I feel it was very successful (and the markers agreed) but I didn’t get the time to spend on the game portion that I wanted to, instead concentrating mainly on the distribution scenarios and the user experience. With the Xbox Live Community Arcade coming up and the new CTP of XNA 3 released, I thought it would be the right time to rewrite the game using everything I’ve learnt over the last year since I began the project ready for the Community Arcade launch “this fall”.

image

Instead of using SpriteBatch, I’ve decided to place 2D flat quads in 3D space. While still getting free rotation, transparency etc, I now get resolution independence and extra effects such as being able to skew sprites.

I already have the main game code so am working on the menu system. By having sprites in a 3D space, changing the camera location means aspect ratio independence too by zooming out or changing the field of view – below shows the main menu in 16:9 and 4:3 (the zooming will work with all aspect ratios meaning no stretching).

image image

My favourite benefit however is the Smash Bros. style 3D effect you can achieve by moving the camera with the right stick. Completely pointless but very cool and can help you debug the locations of your sprites in the game world.

image

And yes, I am aware of the hidden word in the title and it is purely accidental 🙂

Symfony in Enterprise – Tips and Experiences

200807021841.jpg

At work I am currently tasked with redeveloping an intranet application used to track customers, products owned, support contracts, support records and all sorts of other CRM-esqué functions. The version used at the moment is a very fast Perl/MySQL/Mod_perl/Apache setup built over a few years. Its got to the point where the company needs more functionality and hacking extra functions into the current code is getting more and more difficult.

Why Symfony? Why PHP?

The current trend for “rich internet applications” is Ruby on Rails. Ruby has very powerful Object Role Modelling features that completely abstract the database from your code – no more writing SQL queries once the initial database has been set up. Database tables become class generators and rows become class references, free to be instantiated, updated and saved. Symfony is probably the closest PHP Framework to Ruby, as it utilises the Propel ORM layer (so can use almost any RDMS) and has a full Model View Controller structure. PHP runs on the vast majority of Apache installations and requires no extra software installed on the server – in addition finding skilled PHP programmers is far easier (although this might change). Symfony is also probably one of the most well documented Open Source web framework projects that I have come across, featuring a whole book written by a member of the community very close to the development team, an expansive Wiki on the project homepage and hundreds of plugins to simplify everything from AJAX to RSS feed generation.

Symfony can be used in two ways – through config files (text files defined using YAML, a simple markup language) which are passed to Generators to create the final scripts, or by manually coding the actions and pages. In reality, a combination of the two will be used. Tweaking the included Administration Generator will yield respectable results for the standard CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) functions and it is extremely simple to create modules and actions with the included command-line tool that creates skeleton templates for you to use.

No longer do you have to plug in debugging tools (such as the Xdebug php extension) to get decent errors and stack traces when your application fails – Symfony provides a development view of your application that will output extremely useful information (such as execution time, a list of all SQL queries made and globals) right in the page outputted to your browser. Debugging the application I’ve been working has been as easy as that of a desktop app (coming from my experience of Visual Studio) – Symfony will work in conjunction with many PHP debugging extensions for further information if you need it (I haven’t).

Plus, Symfony is good enough for Yahoo to use it for a 20 Million user app, Yahoo Bookmarks!

Results

I’ve been working alone for a month on the project and what strikes me is the huge amount of already achieved with no prior experience of Symfony:

  • A complete database redesign using the excellent MySQL Workbench. Adding many-to-many relationships where there were none before requires a good deal of thought but the results when the ORM classes are generated by Propel in Symfony are well worth the effort
  • Database migration handled by the CLI features of Symfony. One command will generate a .php file you can run at the command line (or cron job) with automatic access to all the features of your main application. Where the database had been vastly redesigned to support relationships, custom migration code had to be written (but where tables have not changed, you can copy table data directly in one line of manual SQL). The migration script takes about half an hour to run (approx. 3,000,000 records).
  • User security and session support, timeouts etc
  • Full creation and editing of all the major record types with administration control panels
  • AJAX views and manipulation of information with per-user rearrangeable panels ala iGoogle
  • Full filtering functions for searches with auto-paginated results (soon with Excel export)
  • Global per-user filters that effect all searches
  • …and lots of other actions specific to the application

Tips

Some advice to newcomers to Symfony from my experience:

  • Don’t rewrite the wheel. Use the plugins available and tweak them if necessary.
  • Use the Admin Generator, don’t fight it. Instead of writing custom create/edit/list actions when the Administration Generator does not meet your requirements (or altering the CSS won’t help), override templates with per-module versions of your own. Even better is creating a new Generator all together (although it is a headache writing PHP code that writes PHP code!) – check out the sfAdvancedAdminGenerator plugin for inspiration.
  • Don’t worry too much about performance especially if your application is running a bit sluggish on your local machine. On a proper server with a production installation of Apache and MySQL, the application I thought was a bit slow flew given the chance. You can optimise later.
  • Don’t be scared of upgrading – I went up a symfony version during production without a hitch and without a change in my code (from 1.0 to 1.1 this will be different)
  • Use a decent IDE. I use PDT Eclipse and it definitely speeds up development. You will frequently have to edit several files at once so at least use a text editor with tabs.
  • Read the book! I can’t stress this one enough. It is extremely well written and is available for free on the website.

I’ll post some more impressions and a brief postmortem when the project is finished.

Tomoyo 0.5 theme for WordPress

UPDATE! This version is out of date, please see the latest verson on the main theme page here: //www.edandersen.com/projects/tomoyo-wordpress-theme/

 

EdAndersen.com - Windows Internet ExplorerI toiled away for quite a while to create this WordPress theme which I think is pretty unique. I’m offering it up to the WordPress-using world. Just unzip into your themes directory.

Download Tomoyo theme for WordPress (303kb zip)

Features include:

  • Sexy Flash-based headings using sIFR, for post and page titles and sidebar headings (degrades gracefully when no Flash or Javascript available)
  • Full WordPress Widget support with three sidebars to customise (the one on the right, and two in the footer)
  • No horizontal scrolling on a 800-wide screen (perfect for eeepc users!)
  • Uses the new Meiryo Vista font if available for seamless latin and japanese mixed text
  • Tested with WordPress 2.3

I still need to style the comment system and there are a few rough edges, but I thought I’d release it anyway. All you need to do it change the header image from my ugly mug and its pretty much your theme!