Lost in the Virtual Fog – visit from the ghost of grad students past

Working on the codeThis week’s entry is a little late, as I am burning the midnight oil trying to populate my virtual town with at least basic models so I can see what my performance is going to be with the full complement of landscape features and physics systems running. When we did the first generation of the project in ArcScene a couple of years ago, I totaled up just over 350 individual structure models. I am only about a third of the way done with importing these models into the game world, and I already have about 160 models (and about 40 trees, which will be about double when I’m done). That means I either miscounted the first time around, and we did even more work than I thought, or I have added some more structures this time around. Either way, this is not a small undertaking.

While I was wrestling with a suspension bridge model earlier today, a former grad student here who has moved on to a research scientist position at a university in Georgia stopped by while he was in town and was very impressed with my gaming work. He asked all kinds of questions about what language and resources I was using, wanted to know all about DirectX, XNA and how long it took me to get up and running with C#. In his grad student days, this guy was known for his penchant for borrowing books on any topic he was interested in and, sure enough, he started to peruse my copy of Riemer Grootjans’ XNA 2.0 Game Programming Recipes, so I quickly sent him the link to Amazon.

Then, I got the question that I hear most often when I talk about or show people with programming knowledge my project: “Why didn’t you use OpenGL?” I’m sure many of you out there might ask me the same question. In a nutshell, I am not a full-time programmer and, while I can code in a couple of different programming languages if the need arises, I have never had the time to learn C++ or work that much with unmanaged code, and learning to work with OGRE would be a time-consuming process for me. So, for me, working with XNA was a no-brainer. I could quickly get up to speed in C# because of my previous experience with .NET, and XNA Game Studio has a lot of resources to get basic applications up and running. The XNA developer community also has lots of great forums, tutorials, and other resources for amateur game developers like me. You only need Visual C# Express Edition and XNA Game Studio (both free to download), and a machine with a decent graphics card to get rolling.

Next week, I’ll talk a little bit more about my vision for my Spatial Experience Engine (we decided we needed to give it a name that didn’t have the word “game” in it), and why I’m building it. Till then, I will be in front of the computer, SketchUp on one monitor, Visual C# on the other, because the clock is ticking…..only a little over 2 months until my ESRI UC presentation and live (yes, that’s right – LIVE) demo!


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