A Game Design Tip a Day #9 – [Unity C#] Ditching MonoDevelop for Visual Studio

Unity ships with MonoDevelop, an IDE which does the job fine for the most part. Until it crashes, which is all the time. Or until it runs slowly, which is all the time. Or until it forgets to autocomplete my code, which is all the time. Or until— okay, you get the point, I’m not MonoDevelop’s greatest fan. It’s slow, prone to memory leaks and lacks in features. Plus it’s deleted all of my project’s code on more than one occasion for some inexplicable reason. But it’s fine, because we have a saving grace! Many Unity developers (well, many developers full stop) prefer to use Microsoft Visual Studio. And why wouldn’t they? Microsoft has a solid developer network, very good code documentation and an extremely reliable IDE. Plus they literally invented C#, so there’s that too.

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As far as IDEs go, this is the sexiest. Well, maybe after Sublime Text with the Monokai theme.

Visual Studio now has a free Community Edition, so you poor saps out there who don’t have enough dosh for the Professional Edition (or haven’t had it thrown at you by your university) can go grab it for the same price as going outside for some air. Given that you’re looking up game design tips, going outside is probably something you should go do after reading this. We all know that ‘free’ is the best number, so there’s really no excuse to not get it.

The biggest aspect that Visual Studio trumps many MonoDevelop alternatives in is interoperability with Unity’s features. There’s a fantastic plugin called ‘Visual Studio Tools for Unity’ which allows you to debug your Unity project in Visual Studio as easily as you would do using MonoDevelop, plus it has code completion for Unity-specific code that’s better that MonoDevelop (it doesn’t have any more code completion features, it’s just that VS is infinitely faster at it than MD).

One thing that did throw me at the beginning was that Visual Studio very much sits in the “open curly braces on a new line” camp; so much so, that it will try enforcing the practice upon you. To begin with, I was fiercely opposed to this oppressive conduct like a Lincolnshire village opposing a new wind turbine being built within a 10-mile radius, but now I’m kind of glad I went along with it because my code is actually much neater. It’s great if you’re already in the (superior) new-line crew, but it might be strange for you “open curly braces on the same line” slobs.

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The eternal struggle. Courtesy of Shutterstock and some dodgy GIMP work.

For all you Unity developers, I cannot recommend Visual Studio enough, especially when compared with MonoDevelop. At least Visual Studio has never somehow deleted everything I’ve been working on.

Xbox One: My Thoughts So Far

Not so long ago, Microsoft announced its long-awaited successor to the Xbox 360 and the third console in the Xbox chronology. The Xbox One is designed to be a powerhouse and an all-round home entertainment suite, handling all your gaming, TV and movie needs. However, views on the reveal were very mixed and perceptions of various aspects, such as online connectivity and used games, came under great fire.xbox_one_1The console design

The console itself looks pretty basic, but people overlooked some pretty important stuff while they were busy calling the design lazy and rubbish. Firstly, the layout is pretty much that of an Xbox 360, as you can see from the disc drive and the Xbox logo, so people won’t get confused looking for slots and stuff if they’re familiar with the 360 layout. Another point people missed is that the surface is flat; this might not seem like much, but you can shove your other gizmos on top without them falling off- another advantage. I do think the Xbox 360 was a little sexier than this ( especially the 360 S), but hopefully aesthetic changes will come with any upgraded versions later in the console’s lifespan.

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The controller

Microsoft made a smart choice by sticking to the same kind of layout as the 360 controller, since it has been hailed as one of the most comfortable, intuitive controllers around. The ‘liquid black’ colour- the blackest black possible, according to the Xbox boffins- is also very appealing, and I like the way the vibrant A, B, X and Y buttons stand out against the controller’s body. The analogue sticks look like they have greatly improved grip, so longer playing sessions will be easier on your thumbs. The rear trigger buttons support programmable haptic feedback, which basically means you will be able to feel vibrations localised to each trigger; this could turn out to be a nice touch in, for example, an FPS when the player shoots a gun. The battery is set inside the controller rather than protruding out the back, which will help people with very long fingers to hold it more naturally. One little niggle I have is the home button, which is raised a lot, as it may take getting used to reaching upwards to press it.

xbox_one_3The Kinect

The second iteration of Kinect supports fully HD video recording and much better audio recording thanks to an array of microphones that filter out background and game sound, as well as allowing 6 people in its viewpoint at the same time. It has advanced facial recognition software that can distinguish individual players from each other, and it tracks the location of each player using the infrared detector on the back of each controller (see above picture). The true potential of this Kinect is humongous; it analyses each player intently to find out how they are feeling, and it always knows what you’re doing. This could bring a new era of advertising and offers specifically aimed at your needs and preferences, determined by the things you say. Games made with Kinect should also be more responsive and competitive, as it tracks players more accurately, and allows them to get closer to Kinect than before, as well as allowing more players on screen at the same time. It is designed better than the original Kinect in that it seems like it will rest nicely on top of your TV.

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The used game controversy

This is where many players lost faith in the console. The used game market is a multi-billion pound industry, and after the conference, it appeared Microsoft were hell-bent on destroying it; however, this is not the case, it seems. The announcements were not clear in the slightest and it did seem like Microsoft took the odd approach of giving customers bad news in a reveal, a big no for any company. Afterwards, I’ve dug out some more quotes and information though, including these which made things clearer (thanks to the Xbox forums for these quotes). Phil Harrison, MS Corporate VP, made these two statements:

“So, think about how you use a disc that you own of an Xbox 360 game. If I buy the disc from a store, I use that disc in my machine, I can give that disc to my son and he can play it on his 360 in his room. We both can’t play at the same time, but the disc is the key to playing. I can go round to your house and give you that disc and you can play on that game as well. What we’re doing with the digital permissions that we have for Xbox One is no different to that. If I am playing on that disc, which is installed to the hard drive on my Xbox One, everybody in my household who has permission to use my Xbox One can use that piece of content. [So] I can give that piece of content to my son and he can play it on the same system.”
“I can come to your house and I can put the disc into your machine and I can sign in as me and we can play the game. The bits are on your hard drive. At the end of the play session, when I take my disc home – or even if I leave it with you – if you want to continue to play that game [on your profile] then you have to pay for it. The bits are already on your hard drive, so it’s just a question of going to our [online] store and buying the game, and then it’s instantly available to play. The bits that are on the disc, I can give to anybody else, but if we both want to play it at the same time, we both have to own it. That’s no different to how discs operate today.”
The way he puts it makes complete sense. I can give a friend  a disc of a game I own to play on his console (applies to any current-gen console), but there’s no way of using that one disc on my system and his at the same time. With digital permissions on the Xbox One, it makes sense that if I have the game installed on my system at home then take the disc and play on my friend’s Xbox One, using my profile is okay, but when I go home, whether or not I take the disc with me, as the game will now be installed on his system, why should he now be able to play it on hos profile without buying it? So then purchasing it from the online store for full price makes sense because he has the game installed and has purchased it, just like me. I can  see where all the previous confusion came from, as Microsoft explained it poorly, but hopefully this has cleared it up.
The TV integration and the complete entertainment solution
Microsoft were very insistent on pushing their new console as an integrated TV unit. Basically, they want their new system to do everything your existing set-top boxes, DVD and Blu-ray players can do, but tied into one console for an all-in-one entertainment experience. In theory it is a wonderful idea, but it depends on how Microsoft go about it. Procuring exclusive deals for bonus content on the Xbox One will be a must, so Xbox Live subscribers will have access to content not available anywhere else. I am interested in how they take this, although one common complaint about the system’s reveal event was “too much TV, not enough games”. Perhaps E3 will yield more gaming stuff.
The 24-hour compulsory internet connection test uproar
This is one area of the reveal that infuriated many players, myself included. With talk of users’ paid-for content being locked-out if the connection test cannot be performed, I can see why people feel let down, especially if they don’t want to be connected every day, or perhaps like me they have unreliable internet and can’t. It seems like a bit of a double-edges sword here, as they are trying to keep track of everyone to stamp out piracy and generally improve security, but they are letting down customers who pay for content and then are forced to report every day to use it. It’s a bit like being on bail really, having to report back all the time. I will wait to see if their approach changes later on, but right now, mandatory internet connection seems a little ‘Big Brother’-ish to me.
The power and the graphical prowess
Now it’s time to get inside the machine: it has been estimated to be 10 times more powerful than a 360, so you can count on high-quality games in terms of graphics. But what are the actual specs, and what’s powering this wonder machine? Well, it boasts 8GB of RAM, as well as a 500GB HDD, so you can store your entire games library effortlessly and store huge game worlds in its memory. An octa-core custom CPU will allow for lightning-quick processing of game logic and physics, and a GPU made with assistance from AMD should allow your favourite games to be rendered fast too. This is a powerhouse which will handle anything you throw at it and more.
There’s a lot more that I could’ve talked about but I hope this was enough to get you all excited and thinking about the potential of this new console. The reveal did have its flaws, but hopefully E3 will give us more details (such as some games perhaps) and clarify some of the controversial spots. If they hope to out-do Sony’s PS4, they will probably need to pull more out of the bag, but so far it looks like they will be able to win back some fans at E3 with some exclusive games. I’ll have more to say after E3, by which time Sony will have revealed their PS4 and I will be able to do a better comparison.
-Daniel