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September 2012 Entries
Nokia vs. The World

I’m looking forward to the launch of the Nokia Lumia 920. Why? Well, it stacks up better than the competition for one thing. Then there’s also that security problem that certain other phones have. Mostly, though, it’s because I love my Lumia 900 and the 920, with Windows Phone 8, will be even better.

Before I got my Lumia 900, I just took it as given that smart phone cameras couldn’t be good. The Lumia taught me that smart phone cameras can be good if the manufacturer treats them as an important component worth spending time and money on (rather than some thing that consumers expect such that they’d better throw one in). I’m extremely pleased with the quality of pictures that my Lumia 900 gives me as well as the range of settings it provides (you can delve in to tell it a film speed, an f-stop, and a whole range of other settings). And the image stabilization features in the Lumia 920 deliver far better results than the others.

Nokia has had great maps for a long time and they continue to improve. Even better, they made a deal that puts many of their excellent maps into Windows Phone 8 itself. There are still Nokia-exclusive features such as Nokia City Lens, of course. But by giving the core OS a great set of fundamental map data and technologies, they help ensure that customers know that buying a Windows Phone 8 will give them a great map experience no matter who made the phone. I’ll be getting a 920, myself, but the HTC and Samsung devices that have been announced have some compelling features, too, and it’s great to know that people who buy one of these won’t need to worry about where their maps might lead them.

I’m looking forward to the NFC capabilities and Qi wireless charging my Lumia 920 will have. With the availability of DirectX and C++ programming on Windows Phone 8, I’m also excited about all the great games that will be added to the Windows Phone environment.

I love my Xbox Phone. I love my Office phone. I love my Facebook phone. I love my GPS phone. I love my camera phone. I love my SkyDrive phone. In short, I love my Windows Phone!

Posted On Saturday, September 29, 2012 10:42 PM | Comments (0)
My website links now include DirectX categories

I’ve done a bit of overdue updates to my website. The links page - http://www.bobtacoindustries.com/Developers/Links  - now includes DirectX links. I’ve also updated all of the links that were broken in the recent changes to the App Hub site. If you have any good links you think I’m missing, let me know. I haven’t had a chance to do any dead link checking & pruning yet so there might be some links that go to the wrong place or go nowhere at all. That’s the problem with link repositories; maintenance of them is quite a bit of work. But hopefully I’ll find some time to do that soon.

Posted On Wednesday, September 12, 2012 2:46 AM | Comments (0)
Windows Store now open to lots more developers (120 markets!)

See the post here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windowsstore/archive/2012/09/11/windows-store-now-open-to-all-developers.aspx .

This includes individual accounts now so if you tried signing up before and got a message about it only covering company accounts, you can sign up now. Don’t forget to verify your account and setup your payment and tax information. Also, if you are an MSDN subscriber you should be able to get a code from the MSDN site that will give you a free year (saving $49 US) but you will still need to submit some form of payment (e.g. credit or debit card) for verification purposes and so that they can automatically rebill you at the end of the subscription year (unless you’ve cancelled your account for some reason, of course).

Go forth and register and make awesome games and apps for me to buy and play and use!

Posted On Wednesday, September 12, 2012 2:37 AM | Comments (0)
C++ Succinctly now available!

Over the summer I worked with SyncFusion to create an eBook based off of my C# to C++ guide for their free Succinctly Series of eBooks. Today the result, C++ Succinctly, was published for download. It is a free (registration required; they make tools and libraries for .NET development so you might get an occasional email from them – I’ve been signed up for a few months and have had maybe 3 emails total so it’s not horrible super spam or anything Smile ) and you can download it as a PDF or a Kindle .MOBI file (or both).

I’m excited with how it turned out and enjoyed working with the people at SyncFusion. The book contains a total of 20 code samples, which you can download from BitBucket (there’s a link very early in the book). Almost all of the code is also inline in the book itself so that you don’t need to worry about flipping back and forth between your dev machine and your eReader (but if you want to try to understand a concept better, you can easily download the code, open it up in VS 2012, and play around with it to see what happens when you tinker with things).

The code does require Visual Studio 2012 because of its expanded support for C++11 features and since I wrote all of the samples as Console programs for clarity and compactness, you will need a version that supports C++ desktop development (currently VS 2012 Pro, Premium, or Ultimate). Sometime this Fall, Microsoft will be releasing Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Desktop which should provide a free way to use the samples.

That said, I tested all of the samples with MinGW and only the StorageDurationSample will not compile with it due to the thread-local storage code. If you comment that out then you can compile and run all the samples with MinGW (or using a recent version of GCC in a GNU/Linux environment, or any other C++ compiler that provides the same level of C++11 support that Visual Studio 2012 does).

I hope it proves helpful to those of you who choose to check it out!

Posted On Friday, September 7, 2012 6:20 PM | Comments (5)
Defaulting the HLSL Vertex and Pixel Shader Levels to Feature Level 9_1 in VS 2012

I love Visual Studio 2012. But this is not a post about that. This is a post about tweaking one particular parameter that I’ve found a bit annoying.

Disclaimer: You will be modifying important MSBuild files. If you screw up you will break your build tools. And maybe your computer will catch fire. I’m not responsible. No warranties or guaranties of any sort. This info is provided “as is”.

By default, if you add a new vertex shader or pixel shader item to a project, it will be set to build with shader profile 4.0_level_9_3. If you need 9_3 functionality, this is all well and good. But (especially for Windows Store apps) you really want to target the lowest shader profile possible so that your game will run on as many computers as possible. So it’s a good idea to default to 9_1.

To do this you could add in new HLSL files via “Add->New Item->Visual C++->HLSL->______ Shader File (.hlsl)” and then edit the shader files’ properties to set them manually to use 9_1 via “Properties->HLSL Compiler->General->Shader Model”. This is fine unless you forget to do this once and then submit your game with 9_3 shaders instead of 9_1 shaders to the Windows Store or to some other game store. Then you’d wind up with either rejection or angry “this doesn’t work on my computer! ripoff!” messages.

There’s another option though. In “Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 11.0\Common7\IDE\ItemTemplates\VC\HLSL\1033\VertexShader” (note the path might vary slightly for you if you are using a 32-bit system or have a non-ENU version of Visual Studio 2012) you will find a “VertexShader.vstemplate” file. If you open this file in a text editor (e.g. Notepad++), then inside the CustomParameters tag within the TemplateContent tag you should see a CustomParameter tag for the ShaderType, i.e.:

<CustomParameter Name="$ShaderType$" Value="Vertex"/>

On a new line, we are going to add another CustomParameter tag to the CustomParameters tag. It will look like this:

<CustomParameter Name="$ShaderModel$" Value="4.0_level_9_1"/>

such that we now have:

    <CustomParameters>
      <CustomParameter Name="$ShaderType$" Value="Vertex"/>
      <CustomParameter Name="$ShaderModel$" Value="4.0_level_9_1"/>
    </CustomParameters>

You can then save the file (you will need to be an Administrator or have Administrator access). Back in the 1033 directory (or whatever the number is for your language), go into the “PixelShader” directory. Edit the “PixelShader.vstemplate” file and make the same change (note that this time $ShaderType$ is “Pixel” not “Vertex”; you shouldn’t be changing that line anyway, but if you were to just copy and replace the above four lines then you will wind up creating pixel shaders that the HLSL compiler would try to compile as vertex shaders, with all sort of weird errors as a result). Once you’ve added the $ShaderModel$ line to “PixelShader.vstemplate” and have saved it, everything should be done.

Since Feature Level 9_1 and 9_3 don’t support any of the other shader types, those are set to default to their appropriate minimums already (Compute and Geometry are set to “4.0” and Domain and Hull are set to “5.0”, which are their respective minimums (though not all 4.0 cards support Compute shaders; they were an optional feature added with DirectX 10.1 and only became required for DirectX 11 hardware).

In case you are wondering where these magic values come from, you can find them all in the “fxc.xml” file in the “\Program Files (x86)\MSBuild\Microsoft.CPP\v4.0\V110\1033” directory (or whatever your language number is; 1033 is ENU and various other product languages have their own respective numbers (see: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/goglobal/bb964664.aspx ) such that Japanese is 1041 (for example), though for all I know MSBuild tasks might be 1033 for everyone).

If, like me, you installed VS 2012 to a drive other than the C:\ drive, you will find the vstemplate files in the drive to which you installed VS 2012 (D:\ in my case) but you will find the fxc.xml file on the C:\ drive. You should not edit fxc.xml. You will almost definitely break things by doing that; it’s just something you can look through to see all the other options that the FXC task takes such that you could, if needed, add further CustomParameter tags if you wanted to default to other supported options. I haven’t tried any others though so I don’t have any advice on how to set them.

Posted On Friday, September 7, 2012 5:49 PM | Comments (0)
Bob Taco Industries is an ISV focused on game and app development for Microsoft platforms headed up by Michael B. McLaughlin. Mike is a Microsoft Visual C++ MVP (previously an XNA/DirectX MVP from 2011-2013), a developer, a writer, a consultant, and a retired lawyer. If you're a developer who is just getting started, consider checking out the BTI website's section for developers for links to code samples and other helpful sites.
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