Microsoft XNA

Lots of people who program computers also play games on them. I’m one of them. I think for us the pleasure of a game is multiplied by an understanding of the intricacy and elegance that is running under the skin. Most people who program computers and play games on them have at some point wanted to create a game of their own. I’m one of those people, too. I actually did write and publish a shareware game called MVP Backgammon back in the early 1990’s, along with my collaborators Marc Ringuette and Justin Boyan. Dave Snyder of MVP Software has recently released an updated version of this game. The original game was fairly popular, and one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever done, but it didn’t satisfy my desire to create virtual worlds.

A family and a career got in the way of that, but now that Microsoft has released their XNA toolkit for creating XBox games, I’m tempted to have another go. Unfortunately I don’t own an XBox, and I’m not really into console games. I’m certainly going to take a look at this toolkit, though, and maybe I will have to pick up a console for the second time. My last one was a Nintendo in 1989 or so. Microsoft’s is not the first attempt to enable independent creative types to create computer games. I recall messing around with Mark Welch and David Malmberg’s Adventure Game Toolkit back in the 1980’s, when I was an avid participant on Compuserve’s GAMERS and GAMEDEV forums. Since that time the work of art and audio production has become a huge component of game development, and I wonder how and whether the Microsoft toolkit will make that easier. I’ll post more when I’ve had a look at it.

Turbo is Back!

If you weren’t developing software back in the late 80’s and early 90’s (otherwise known as “the last century”) then you probably can’t understand why the word “turbo” brings back such fond memories for those of us who were. I suspect I am pretty typical of the class. After graduating from various flavors of BASIC my first real programming tool was Borland’s Turbo Pascal. I soon moved on from that to Turbo C++. Borland was also the company that made debugging a joy (or at least, a lot less painful) with their Turbo Debugger. TD, as it was generally known, was the first real “graphical debugger”, despite being implemented pre-Windows in a character mode interface. It provided seperate panes where you could view local variables, the call stack, globals, and any area of memory that you liked. It also took full advantage of the new features of Intel’s processors at the time, the 286 and 386, for breakpoints and single step execution, and let you set flexible watches on the values of variables.

TD allowed you to peel the onion and peer deeply into the heart of a program to find out what was going wrong with it. Eventually it was joined by Turbo Profiler, a tool that targeted code execution speed issues at a time when that mattered for the average program. All these tools eventually made their way into Borland C++ (except for TP, which morphed into Delphi), which I used for years before switching to Microsoft’s product line. And that, ultimately, is why my excitement about the return of the Turbo product line is mostly driven by nostalgia. Microsoft’s tools firmly occupy this niche for modern Windows development, and MS already offers free versions for students and hobbyists, as Borland has stated it will do. Nevertheless, I ‘ll always have a fond regard for Phillipe Borland, his company jazz band, and his vision for the kinds of tools programmers needed back in the dark days of DOS.