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Looking at XNA - Part Two and Vista Experiences

by Benjamin Nitschke 30. November 2006 20:31
Hi everyone,

Sorry for not blogging much lately, I'm still quite busy writing my book "Professional XNA Game Development".

Rory Blyth (now working at Channel9) did part Two of the Looking at XNA webcast series at Channel 9. The Video is 47 Minutes long and Rory interviews Frank Savage of the XNA Team this time. In the first half of the video Frank shows the XNA Racer Starter Kit I wrote and explains some code, etc. Pretty cool :)

I'm also working on a few new projects and I'm pretty excited about the FX Composer 2.0 release (hopefully soon) and when Nvidia finally releases some useful drivers for Vista and the GeForce 8800 (currently not really useful, Microsofts Vista drivers work still much better, but no support for 8800 yet).

My colleagues installed Vista this week (I can't myself because I still develop XNA and use my Xbox 360 Dev Kit, which both require Windows XP SP2 32 bit) and it works quite nice. The MSDN version is already available, as an enduser you will have to wait to Jan/Feb 2007.

Some programs do not work well, like 3D Studio Max 9, which needs the Windows XP SP 2 Compatibility mode and disabling Aero settings (Right click program -> Properties -> Compatibility). Then it works ok and does not blink like crazy anymore. Other tools like ZBrush (again for Artists) are not supported in Vista right now, but most important tools like Photoshop, 3D Studio, Freehand, Image viewers like IrfanView, etc. work all fine.

Games did run ok mostly, but some games like the really boring and stupid Supreme Commander Beta blink like crazy in Vista and have many graphic bugs, even when running in Compatibility mode. Older games like StarCraft run fine, some games did have some network problems in Vista, not sure why that happend, most things just worked fine.

One annoying thing in Vista is definately the "You need to be an Administrator" nag-box that comes up 3 times per second no matter what you are doing. Maybe it is useful for the end user who just installs programs every other week and does not modify his system much and wants to be safe against viruses, etc. But as a game developer the first thing you have to do is to make sure the security system is disabled (or at least lowered to a lower level, so working makes sense). IE7 looks also fine and has many cool features, but there are not many addons available and I really don't like the many nag message boxes coming up all the time. Using firefox is just a much more enjoyable browsing experience (if it not crashes 3 times like when I wrote this text here, must have to do something with the new extensions I installed today).

Anyway, XNA is coming out soon and I will have a little suprise game up and ready by then :-)

Canyon Commander Mod for Rocket Commander released!

by Benjamin Nitschke 17. November 2006 07:02
As I reported few days ago a nice guy named Marc Guevremont made a pretty amazing Mod for the Rocket Commander Game called Canyon Commander.

You can download the game (just 2.8 MB) and source code on

I also made a little video of the game play, which is similar to Rocket Commander very fast and action packed :)

Text from

Canyon Commander

This Mod was created by Marc Guevremont and it really shows how extensible the Rocket Commander engine is.
New features include a completely new Landscape rendering algorithm and a very clever way to build canyon levels.
The mod also contains language files for german, english and french text support for the first time.

The gameplay is basically the same as Rocket Commander, just collect all the items and fly to the end of the levels.
Because the game looks so much different, you will play it very different from Rocket Commander.
Instead of avoiding asteroids you have to fly through canyons and avoid flying into a canyon wall.
This may sound easy, but it is a lot harder than just avoiding some asteroids because you can't see very far.

About the source code for this game: You can probably see quite easily that all the namespaces are still intact
and that most of the engine is unchanged, but if you take a look into the game namespace you will see a lot of new
classes. For the terrain rendering Marc implemented his own classes and he used the basic dependencies from
Rocket Commander to solve all the base rendering, physics and collision testing and finally the game management.

Good job Marc, thanks for the effort. Everyone else: Have fun!

Version 1.0 (16 November 2006) - 2.8 MB (requires Rocket Commander to be installed first)

Canyon Commander main menu

Canyon Commander first level

Canyon Commander spiky canyon

Canyon Commander avoid the mines

New Visual Studio Technologies

by Benjamin Nitschke 15. November 2006 00:42
If you are like me and have missed all the new products released last week, here you go: .NET 3.0, ASP.NET AJAX (formerly "Atlas", which is the new way to code web apps in VS) and all the other new extentions for Visual Studio (WWF - Windows Workflow Foundation, which is just .NET 3.0), here are the links to install. If you are serious about Vista development, you should check it out! Install them in that order:

- .NET 3.0 Framework (seems to be the final version now, 2 MB download, will get 45 MB additional MB in the installer, you need Win XP SP2 or Vista)
- Visual Studio 2005 extensions for .NET 3.0 (WWF - Windows Workflow Foundation)
- Visual Studio 2005 extensions for .NET 3.0, November 2006 CTP (WCF and WPF, which means Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation)

And for Ajax use this links in this order

- AJAX November CTP (more functionality, but still in CTP status)
- AJAX Control Toolkit (very useful controls in here)

Other new stuff:
- Office 2007 Visual Studio Tools on the "Ready for a New Day" site (new site about all the new VS solutions)
- Windows SDK for Windows Vista
- Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition

That leaked XNA Racer Video on YouTube

by Benjamin Nitschke 14. November 2006 21:22
Someone recorded XNA Racer, which was shown at some Tokio Gameshow named "kotaku".

Here is the original link. Some harsh tone in those comments, no you don't have to pay 99 dollars to play this game, it will be completly free. And about the "boring" gameplay, hey it was not done, this was just an alpha preview and the game looks much better now and is getting better physics and levels as we speak. Well, at least some are comparing it to AAA titles, thats always nice (and totally crazy, you wouldn't compare a house build by 1 guy to a scyscrapper).

Thanks for posting about it to ZMan and Ultrahead.

I guess I have to release a video of the game myself, these leaked videos look not very pretty and showing off an early alpha version has its disadvantages (almost 90% of the ingame objects are missing, the video shows the second track, which is not done yet, completely dummy and it was an early alpha version, the game runs now about 3 times faster).

As some of you (like ZMan) already found out, there is also an XNA book coming out written by me. I just started a few weeks back writing it (but it will be complete by the end of the year). Funny you can already order it on amazon. I will write more about it when its done. You will not only learn about game programming and XNA, but there will be plenty of practical examples in the book. In every of the 14 chapters a new game is introduced and you go though the process of writing a game from start to finish.

One final note: Canyon Commander is a lot of fun, it is a new mod, which will come out in the next days.

Btw: The Coding4Fun site was redesigned in the last weeks and most of the old links do not work anymore (which is something MSDN usually never does). But now most of the content is back and can be found in the new categories (Rocket Commander is under Games -> Arcade). I also updated the link on and the link for the video tutorials is:

Update: The old link works now too, I guess the MSDN relinking system is working as expected now :)

Bye Seattle, Back to Germany!

by Benjamin Nitschke 14. November 2006 11:24
It was nice in Seattle and a great experience meeting the Microsoft XNA Team and people I met like ZMan. But I'm glad I'm back home. There is nothing like the good old home PC, I can type 700 times faster here and it feels much better to do any work here (or at the office here).

Well, the day started yesterday for me, I have not slept yet. Let's get started with some pictures. This is me leaving from the Hotel and waiting for a taxi. It took forever because the traffic was so bad again in Seattle.

Bye bye Seattle and all you friendly people in it.

Checking in at the airport. Had to be there 3 hours earlier than the flight departures. Was only 2 hours before that there (bad traffic and I got up a little late ^^).

But I had to wait 2 hours anyway. The security checks were no big deal anymore. Getting into the USA was much harder. Now it was just taking your shoes off, unpacking the laptop and I was done.

A plane is getting filled up and loaded (my plane was a little bigger and on the other side).

After 9 and a half hours flying around the world (from Amsterdam to Seattle took almost 2 hours more) we landed in Amsterdam and it was already Tuesday morning here. Btw: You can see me in the picture holding my crappy cell phone and using it as a camera.

The Amsterdam Airport and more security checks, but not so long waiting times in the morning, much nicer.

After adding 9 hours to my clock it was Tuesday morning too. I had to wait over 2 hours for my plane to Hannover and was really tired right now. But everything went fine and I landed in germany on schedule.

The plane is ready to "hop" to my "city" ^^ just took 45 minutes, pretty quick.

Getting a train ticket to finally get home. Hey, public transportation again, yeah :-)

Back in Hannover everything looked so small, we don't have any high skyscrappers here. Strange how quickly I got used to that. Hope I can get rid of my adopted coffee habit too.

Time for some sleep. Got so many emails and stuff I have to do after I weak up, I better sleep for 20 hours now ;-)

Seattle Day 5 - Another rainy day

by Benjamin Nitschke 13. November 2006 01:41
The day started off rainy and stayed that way. This is my last day in Seattle. I will fly back to germany tomorrow.

I went to the Seattle Center Park again, I thought maybe the weather gets a little better later to go up to the Space Needle and take some photos.

The streets and parking lots are not as filled as in the week. The skyline of Seattle looks nice as always.

After checking out the park for a while I also found 2 big supermarkets right beside each other. According to google maps they are the only supermarkets in a 5km radius. Yeah, pretty clever to build them right beside each other .. omg.

The food in the USA is crazy, 500 different kind of chips, milk or bread, but not many different articles. In a german store you find much more different products in a smaller market. The products are also more expensive, about twice as much. You also can't buy small portions, everything is superlarge, megapack and labeled to let you buy 3 to save a few cents. The personal is incredible friendly and kinda annoying if you are not used to it like me ^^ Other than that it was a nice experience to see Americans go shopping.

There is the monorail line again.

And the monorail train, which is coming into the station.

Nice wobbly effect on that wall :)

The skyline again, but the weather is not looking good.

I checked out some movie theatres on the internet, but I was confused that some of them only show 1 movie at a time. I was not interested in the movie showing at the IMAX or that other big theatre, so I went to the Cineplex.

Watching the movie was pretty nice. It does not cost more than in germany and there are just a few minutes of commericals in the beginning, not half an hour like back home.

After the movie I went back to the Seattle Center Park, but it was raining too much and I lost any interest to go to any other attractions. I went back to the hotel and I will code a little bit right now.

Some more photos from my journey back tomorrow.

Seattle Day 4 - From a tourist point of view

by Benjamin Nitschke 12. November 2006 06:52
Here are some pictures of my little tour through Seattle today. I made like 150 photos, but I don't want to post that many. Instead of doing an introduction here, lets just go to the photos.

After a rude wakeup from the housekeeping lady that didn't see me in my bed (how is that even possible?) I collected some tourist info brochures and checked out where I want to go today. Later I met up with Christina and Jerry and had some brunch. Not only do Americans go out to eat in the evening, lunch and even breakfast/brunch is popular too. I guess I can never adapt to that, it just costs so much time going out all the time ..

Anyway, we ended up in the Fremont District. This is the Aurora Ave. North (99) Highway.

And under it there is a troll eating and stealing cars. Its not a myth, there he is, good thing I don't own a car.

And the other direction. Nice HDR effect btw. It does also look a little nicer than my XNA Racer game from below the road, but well, the game is above the road and it looks good there.

Now thats a pretty interesting sign. It does not only tell you about the local directions, it has also Taiwan, the Guggenheim museum in New York and the center of the world on it. Just in case you forgot about any of these.

There is the Seattle Space Needle at daylight and the Seattle Center Park it is in. We will come back to that later.

The skyline of Seattle at daylight. This picture was taken from the bay area. I'm on my way to the Seattle Aquarium.

Yay, some water .. But it is very cold all year, you can't even swim in the ocean in the summer time.

Here are some pictures from inside the Seattle Aquarium. This are 2 sea otters having some fun.

And some seals swimming around. Good thing no sharks are here. Hey wait a second, a little further along they might be some.

This room is pretty cool. It is basically a sphere with little windows in every direction. And it is underwater, which would make sense in an aquarium with all these fishes swimming around.

Where are all these bubbles are coming from, and why is there a yellow tube going down?

Oh, a scuba diver is doing some fishing. Well, that is not really a big challenge with all these fish in this tank.

Some starfish, which can be touched. They are rock solid.

But there were also a lot of wobbly and soft fishes and plants in the water, which felt strange.

Ahhh, there is a shark above me. Ohh, its just plastic.

Hey, wait a second, this ones are not plastic. I wounder if they are strong enough to kill me. They don't look very big or strong. But I'm no jackass going into the water to find out :)

Some very colorful fishes.

And some more colorful plants. At least I'm not the only one taking pictures. But I guess I'm the only one blogging about it and taking pictures of other people taking pictures.

Enough of that aquarium. Let's check out this "Ye Olde Curiosity Shop".

3 Chinese Girls testing out crazy hats. But there was nothing useful in the shop for me. I just got a couple of postcards.

Wait a second? After leaving the shop and walking along the bay there is another shop with the same name on it? Deja vu. The 2 shops are actually the same and for some reason it is "normal" here to put up the same buildings right beside each other. For example Seattle has build 2 new sport stadiums right beside each other instead of improving the roads or even think of a better way to do public transportation.

Time to leave the bay area and head to the city.

Lets take the underground tour, so many people told me I had to do that.

After an introduction and some history about Seattle the tour began. Hey look over there, a sky scraper.

This is actually the Smith Tower and it was once the biggest building in the US. It was build by the Lyman C. Smith, which was one of the first manufacturer of typewriters. Good thing I got my own layout and don't have to live with same same layout that was invented over 100 years ago to prevent the keys of the typewriters to get stuck when typing nearby keys too fast.

Finally underground, which was once the ground level for this area of Seattle. It was elevated to move everything up and make the city more secure and save against floodings. But why am I looking at a toilet? Ohh well, toilets with the flush ability were inveted here too ..

This was the nice lady touring us through the underground. She made a lot of jokes and we didn't get very much of them, but she kept going, which was funny again. In the background you see a pic of time before the great fire in Seattle that destroyed all these newly build wodden houses.

Some junk down here from the time they build the new elevated street level.

An old rusty tank.

I also took a lot more pictures, but it was way too dark down there. And when I got up it was dark too, but still kinda early (I sometimes stay up at this time ^^). Well, my camera could not take any decent pictures and it has a long length of exposure (which means I had to stay still for few seconds to get a steady image).

Anyway, here are some random pictures from Seattle.

This is the bottom of the pretty tall Rainier Square building with a nice laser showing some figures.

A glowing christmas tree made out of light tubes.

This is how taxis look in Seattle.

The monorail, a pretty cool train to drive you from the center of the city to the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle is) in just a couple of minutes. It also doesn't cost anything, but it just drives back and forth between these 2 points on a 3 stores high railway.

This is the Seattle Space Needle tower from below. But it was already very dark and it would not make much sense to take pictures from above with this crappy camera. I will probably come back here tomorrow and then waste the 14 dollars it takes just to get up there.

Before going back to my hotel I checked out the park a little bit and saw this cool taffy machine.

Well, this is actually a nice sign for me as the last pedestrian standing. I was just a few hundred meters from my hotel, but this crazy 6 lane road was separating me from the way to my hotel.

Finally home I can now to some coding, my hands are shaking, I have to do something. But maybe it is just all that coffee finally kicking in ;-)

Seattle Day 3 - XNA Presentations and Meeting ZMan and Jason Olson

by Benjamin Nitschke 11. November 2006 07:35
Well, Day 3 was very interesting. There are still a couple of things I could tweak in my code. I talked with a lot of guys today, had lunch with Mitch Walker, then talked to a couple of guys and girls. In the afternoon the XNA Team did a little presentation of all their internal games they did. It is pretty amazing and coming from the outside you would never think that they do so much cool stuff there. Where do they even get the time to develop their own games beside their job.

I'm not sure if these games get ever released, I guess most of them will not be in the final XNA Studio Express version coming out next month. Instead they will probably published on several blogs, MSDN, Coding4Fun and sites like that.

My little stater kit XNA Racer is now almost complete, I fixed all graphic issues this week and it runs now at a very good frame rate on the Xbox 360. Little fine tuning and I'm done. More on that in the next weeks.

My cell phone went dead and I forgot to get my Usb cable to work today. Sorry, no photos today, I just saw a lot people today and I guess most of them are glad I couldn't take any pictures. Tomorrow I will be a tourist and check out Seattle a little bit more and make more photos. There are some interesting attractions here.

In the evening I meet with Andy Dunn (ZMan) and Jason Olson (Managed World blog) and had something to eat in a nice traditional diner (Ruby's diner, seems popular here, never heard of it). We talked a lot about XNA, Microsoft, DirectX and everything on our mind. It was very nice meeting up with Andy again (we meet at the PDC before) and it was a pleasure to meet Jason it person.

There was a lot more going on today, but I'm way too tired right now to remember anything more .. and its also kinda boring not posting any pics ^^

Seattle Day 2 - Second day at Microsoft

by Benjamin Nitschke 10. November 2006 07:29
Welcome back to my little photo diary of my experiences here in Seattle.

Today I worked a lot with the Xbox 360 side of XNA. In the earlier builds I had a lot of problems with testing my starter kit on the Xbox 360, but most of these issues are resolved now. About 99% works the same on the Windows and Xbox 360 platforms, but if you hit that 1% it does still get you angry and pushing your head into the wall. For example a couple of the more advanced shadow mapping shaders work fine on the windows platform, but all kinds of crazy things happen on the Xbox 360, the game crashes, you see black bars all over the screen or the output is just not right.

If you are like me and have not worked with the Xbox 360 before, I can tell you that it is not easy getting used to the way the console uses render targets. You have to resolve them with a little helper method in XNA (or in the Xbox 360 SDK) to get the contents copied over to your texture. This is not required on windows. But even if you take care of that the shaders might behave a little different. For example most of my post screen shaders use the background buffer to mix results and sometimes mix them together several times. This works fine on the windows platform and behaves the same way as it does in DirectX.

But after some discussion with Tom Miller, Matt and Mitch Walker from the XNA Team and debugging a little, it was clear that the background buffer can have garbage data after rendering into render targets. This was very bad for one of the shaders because it requires 2 separate images over several passes and then blend them together at the last pass. I used the back buffer to hold one of them and a render target for the other, but that had to be changed in order to run correctly on the Xbox 360. Good thing this was just one shader, in my bigger game engine I have over 100 shaders and it would not be fun to rethink all of the post screen shaders ^^

Anyway, this was just one of the many things today, I will talk about all this stuff in the near future on my blog. Let's go to the pics ..

Traffic was especially bad today, it took over an hour to get from Seattle to the XNA Team Building (somewhere in that greater Microsoft Campus area, don't ask me, I'm glad still knowing where the sky and ground are). I took a few pictures of the building today, it is called Millennium Building or something ...

And this is the entrance for some of the Xbox teams and XNA. I'm not sure why this image is so wobbly. The building is straight. Maybe there is a post screen shader in my camera, that would also explain the extremly blurry pictures I get out of it most of the time. Btw: Really crazy street numbers, unimaginable in Germany where every street that is longer than a few meters is renamed 7 times.

Okay, this is how an office looks like at Microsoft. Usually everyone, no matter in what position, gets his own office. But the XNA team is pretty big and they had to put 2 people in some of the offices. I was staying in Matt's office most of the time and he was really nice to me answering all kinds of questions.

Still in the same office. Now thats how a bookshelf should look like. Lots of Game Programming Gems Books (yeah, all of them). Feels like at home in my office. Ok, my books are just piling up on my desk and it looks a bit more chaotic :-)

Later that day I checked out one of the malls and I was not very impressed. Well, I'm no big shopper anyways and the prices are too high for me, doesn't matter what I was looking at. But I saw the WII console from Nintendo in one of the game shops and played it for a bit, some fun racer. It looks really crazy holding the controller like a wheel and controlling it like a maniac in the air.

Hi there .. uh, not real?

And finally my little list of pro/cons of living in the USA (from my limited knowledge of course, and I rant a bit here):

  • People are very nice, last year in Los Angeles I also noticed that, but even here in Seattle cars break for people and bikes. It doesn't seem like everyone is cursing behind the wheel. And in general everyone was so nice to me and a pleasure to speak with.
  • Coffee makes you crazy, especially the amount in Seattle. Coffee everywhere ^^ Hey wait? Shouldn't that be on the cons list?
  • The cites look very bright and colorful at night. Like in the movies, just more real. We in Germany don't waste that much energy and the stars are too far away to be THAT bright.
  • Yeah, the democrats won the last election here. Dunno what this has to do with my blog, but yeah.
  • You can pay everything with credit cards and it really makes you life more easy. In Germany you can't pay with a credit card anywhere. And even our own sucky EC-Cards are not accepted if the price is too low. It is just stupid that we Germans have our own system, the rest of the world is using credit cards. Just for online transactions a better system than just credit cards should be invented (ok, there is paypal, but why should ebay become richer, banks themself should come up with something and compete).
  • Transportation really sucks here, trains were not invented here yet and the streets are so incredible overfilled with cars it is not funny. And even if there is a clear road ahead you can't drive faster than the speed limit of 55 mph (90 kmh) or similar. In germany there is no speed limit at most of the highways and it really seems slow, especially because the roads are usually filled to the max. And public transportation sucks even more, it is either non existent or so far away that you still need 3 times longer than driving slowly with a car.
  • Dunno, but everything seems more expensive here. Well, everyone earns more, so that could be ok.
  • TV is better here, a lot of good and funny shows. But it is hard for me to compare since I never watch TV in Germany anymore. Now why is this on the bad list? Well, commercials ever 5 minutes? Are you guys crazy? It is even too annoying every 15-20 minutes like in Germany ... Whatever, TV is boring anyway.
  • Some food tastes kinda boring. Most of this stuff was told me by other ppl who moved over from Europe and they miss the taste of good beer, chocolate, cheese, dark bread, etc. I would probably don't care and have forgotten about all of this in a short time.
  • So much to do, so few time.
Random things:
  • My freaking Simyo cell phone provider doesn't work at all here. I can receive some calls and call to Germany, but not call any number here, which is really stupid and it if it would work the prices are insane (costs like 30 times as much).
  • Console games are much more important here. In Germany maybe 30% of a game shop is used for console games, here it seem to be 70-80%.
  • Internet is slow, Wireless LAN sucks and "high speed internet" at hotels is a bad joke. At Microsoft most of the downloads I made were from Microsoft servers anyway and that was pretty fast, but the Americans live with good cable connections for a long time now and do not think the same way as we in Germany to go faster faster faster :) This is just on the cons list because of my bad WiFi experiences, even Microsoft can't figure this out for their internal network. Sorry guys, check out the Freifunk project to see how to do WiFi internet with more than 1 Kb per sec :) Man, how much longer until someone brings out useful wifi technology, all this bluetooth and wifi stuff just sucks and is too slow and error prone.
Link for me to not forget about, pretty cool new project to allow converting HLSL shaders to GLSL:

Seattle Day 1 and XNA Video and Canyon Commander

by Benjamin Nitschke 9. November 2006 05:08
This was my first day working at Microsoft. Pretty interesting people work there and a lot of them. Good thing no one noticed that I'm not able to remember 500 names per second. I was installing stuff half of the day, but I found out more about XNA and already fixed some issues. Before talking more about my day, here are some News:

The XNA Team did a little 2 minute video of a couple of XNA games, my starter kit XNA Racer (which I hadn't talked about yet in detail, but that will come soon) can be seen at the end of the video. I got a lot of nice comments about that already :)

Here is the link to the video (Major Nelson has a nice blog btw):
And this is David Weller talking about it:

A nice guy from France with the name "Marc Guevremont" made yet another Rocket Commander Mod and this one just looks impressive. He managed to implement a landscape engine with shadow mapping (I guess precalculated). It looks very much like Rebel Assault. The game itself is still similar to Rocket Commander, but it looks so much different and he also made 3 cool levels. The game is called Canyon Commander and will hopefully be available soon.

More information, screenshots and a video can be found in the Rocket Commander Forums and here:

I did not make many pictures today and it was to dark when we drove back to make any useful pictures with my phone camera.

Driving through Seattle.

And going over the long Evergreen Point Floating Bridge between Seattle and Redmond. It goes over the lake Washington and I couldn't get an answer if a Russian atom u-boot could fit under the bridge.

I was told that Bill Gates has his house somewhere on the right here, but you can't see it, too much leaves.

More pictures tomorrow.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are own personal opinions and do not represent the companies view.
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