Category Archives: Microsoft

Azure for Students

This last weekend at Philly Code Camp I did a short presentation on Azure Websites. I was going to outline it here today, but then a few things on the Azure side changed overnight and I’d rather talk about those things instead!

Today we’re announcing  Azure for Students: a way for students to get easy access to the Azure platform for free – no credit card required! This is a pretty big deal, because…

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Currently Playing – Ori and the Blind Forest

I had a weekend set aside to relax, so I spent some of it playing Ori and the Blind Forest on Xbox One. I first saw the game at the ID@Xbox showcase at GDC, and then it was available just a few days later, so I took the plunge. It’s super pretty but super hard, like Super Metroid mashed up with Super Meat Boy … and then rolled in a Miyazaki film (I ran out of ‘supers’). I’m just past the 50 percent mark, and I’ve died over 200 times. Which is probably lousy!

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But look how pretty it is!

I just changed my Twitter background to this just because it’s so soothing. It felt a little weird to have Mario and not a Microsoft game in that background (even though I still love Mario).

I’d definitely recommend the game, if you have a high tolerance for thumb numbing frustration. (Or, naturally, if you are much better at tricky platforming than I am. The GDC demoer had a much easier time with the “tree escape” sequence than I did.)

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The big trends in indie gaming this year so far seem to be Metroidvanias in the single player, and 4 or 8-player local arena games for the multiplayer. Towerfall and Sportsfriends are the trendsetters here. At GDC I also spent some time with ClusterPuck 99, which I’ve written about at Tap-Repeatedly after a good chat with the developers.

Metroidvanias I’ve played so far this year:

  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Chasm
  • Axiom Verge

Local Arena games I’ve played (or at least watched) so far this year:

I feel like I’m forgetting some, and here it’s only March.

Feel free to talk about how “metroidvania” is a bad name for a genre – I am not 100% on it, but it seems to be what everyone’s settling on for now.

Learn Some New (or older) Game Technology!

Having just got back from GDC, I saw a little bit of That Reddit Post that’s going around. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry about it, though I for one support colorful hair and hugging (As I said in so many words on Twitter – Hug a Dev – Ask First). Specifically, though, I want to address just part of the post that I found interesting, which was about the game technologies on display at GDC.

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First of all, I noticed that this poster praised Torque, which I found odd. A few jobs ago it was the engine I was using, and everyone that I said that to expressed their sympathies. Nothing against the people working on that middleware, but it had a really difficult asset pipeline, especially for teaching to students. And it lacked flexibility; things that seemed like they should be easy, like moving platforms for a platforming game required hacking the base sourcecode. I still think we learned valuable skills working in Torque. But when I saw how simple the same tasks were comparatively in Unity, I was really happy to switch. Maybe that makes it easier for just anybody to make moving platforms, but there’s no point in emphasizing a higher barrier to entry for the same exact resulting game mechanic. (Please note that is is all just my personal tech opinions, but it’s something that I worked with for several years.)

At GDC I was part of the Quick Start Challenges for Microsoft’s booth, right on the expo floor, and people were allowed to check out whatever challenge they thought was most interesting. The premise: code up a coding challenge and enter a raffle to win great MS prizes. From my observations (and our post-event surveys) people were most interested in checking out our Unity challenge above all. Maybe it was because they were already familiar with the engine and thought it seemed easy. Or maybe it was because of the really amazing graphics in our sample game, Zombie Pumpkin Slayer (Source code and assets available on GitHub thanks to the amazing Adam Tuliper).

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But there were some other challenges in the QSCs equally worth checking out. For one, we showcased the Xbox Live SDK for Windows 10, which will allow developers to use XBox Live Leaderboards, Friends Lists, etc, in their Windows 10 games. I’m really excited about this because it’s a feature people have been asking for, and that I’ve personally wanted too.

We also had a Cocos2d-x Challenge!  I don’t know if this is a surprise to the Reddit poster who seemed to imply it wasn’t around anymore, but Cocos2d is a platform MS is committing support to, and if you want to learn it, we’re here to help. I helped out with the live event for the Cocos2d-x tutorial on Microsoft Virtual Academy, which is lead by Eric Mittelete and Sanjeev Dwivedi. If you want to check out the challenge that people were able to do on the floor at GDC, it’s available on MVA as well.

Microsoft is posting a lot of free game development tutorials on Virtual Academy to get beginners started. There’s resources for WebGL, C++/Direct X, and MonoGame, as well as the “easier” middlewares like Construct 2, GameMaker, and of course Unity.

And here’s some other MVA’s Microsoft is encouraging people to check out right now:

C# Fundamentals for Absolute Beginners (Very valuable to me as I started my C# journey in Unity 3D)

Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (If you want to learn about Cloud and how that can fit into your pipeline)

Developing Universal Windows Apps with C# and XAML (The Universal App Platform is what Windows is moving toward in in the future – no separate codebase for your  PC and Phone versions!)

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So… maybe you want to dive right into writing code. Or maybe you find that intimidating, and something more graphical is more your speed. Whatever it is, I’m happy to help point you in the right direction. Good luck to all the beginners, and experienced coders, and riffraff out there.

Microsoft Startup Ventures Event

Hi everyone – I’ll get back to game dev blog soon, but first a word from our sponsors:

It wasn’t very long ago that I heard the phrase “The Internet of Things” for the first time, and now it seems to be everywhere. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, and then someone said “It’s like MegaMan Battle Network,” and then I was like, “Oh!”

But maybe you’re already working in the Internet of Things, on some cool home automation solution that you think will change the future. It’d probably be nice to have some more capital, mentorship, and support to make that happen. If that’s you, you will want to check out Microsoft Ventures. Microsoft has had success with startups around the globe, and now they want to hear from the smartest people in home automation to decide whose startup they should support and fund. Or, more specifically:

 “Home automation is ripe for startup innovation,” said Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president, Developer Experience and Evangelism for Microsoft. “We are working closely with American Family Insurance to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for entrepreneurs in our accelerator. Startups accepted into the program will gain critical industry insight to build companies with the potential to have an enormous impact on our lives.”

The accelerator provides mentorship, workspace and an immersive experience focused on launching world-class companies with an eye on the global marketplace. Access to customer, partners and investors while taking no equity, no debt and no dilution. American Family Insurance, the eighth largest homeowners’ insurer in the U.S., will provide deep industry experience, important consumer insights and a wealth of homeowner knowledge that would be impossible for young companies to gain access to on their own. American Family Insurance is also offering a minimum optional $25,000 equity investment in each startup accepted into the program.

If you want more information, Microsoft Ventures is holding a meeting on July 17th at the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, New York. Check out all the details here! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/microsoft-ventures-city-meetup-new-york-tickets-12044099225

If you have a cool startup based on the Internet of Things, and you can make it out to New York next week, consider registering for the event. It’s win-win: you could get funding and workspace for your amazing new business, and I can get Roll.EXE to bust the viruses in my wafflemaker.

Announcing BAM! – Best App a Month

Now that the site is moved over, time for an announcement:

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Microsoft is sponsoring a contest for app development, and it’s through me! (And the other Technical Evangelists in your area. But in this case, me.) If you happen to have the Best App a Month, you can win a Dell Venue Pro Windows 8 Tablet. There’s four different giveaways: March, April, May, and June. Each month one app developer will win the tablet… So if you want a chance to win you can start right now.

There’s a few rules for how to be considered for the contest:

  • Must be 18 or older.
  • Legal resident of the USA.
  • Must publish your app on Windows 8 during the selection window. In this case, when you publish before March 31, you’ll be included in the March contest. In the next few months, we’ll do more!
  • Your app needs to work without being buggy – use modern design and features – be creative – and ideally take some advantage of Azure services.
  • Must attend a workshop that I’m running or contact me during my Office Hours for a personal workshop. Then I’ll link you to the form to submit your app for consideration.

But Amanda how do I find your office hours – well I’ve signed up for ohours.org to make this process simpler. I’ll be holding open hours on Skype tomorrow, or, I’ll also be at Philly Dev Night the following Thursday, March 13.

I’m also attending other workshops in the region where you can hit me up for more information, and I will post here about any events I’m hosting in the future.  If you have questions or have an app you know you want me to check out, you can reply right here on this blog, or on Twitter, or anyplace else you typically reach me. This offer is for Philly area devs, but, if you’re in another region in the Eastern US you may be near another eligible city.

On XBox One Self Publishing

While I was at IndieCade East (read my Tap-Repeatedly article here!) I saw a talk about self-publishing for Indie games on the PlayStation 4.

What a lot of indie developers that I talked to didn’t realize is that self publishing on XBox One is also a thing. If you’re interested in being on the One, you can sign up for ID@Xbox and just let them know.

Easy questions answered:

Unity Support? Yes
Huge fee to join the program? No, free
Huge patching fees? No, no patching fees
Achievements? Kinect? Yes – and I’m pretty excited to see what indies will do with the new Kinect. It seems like it’s the hackers and crackers that did the coolest stuff with even the old device.

I hope you found this informative if you have interest in XBox! It feels like a lot of people still didn’t know about this program.