The Summer & Autumn Upgrade
In yesterday's Bi-Week in Review we'd mentioned we a bit of an information drop that was too long for a single post. Perhaps you may recall earlier this spring how there were some noises of a public release in sight, only to be followed by months and months of vague progress? Well, a major and substantial change was taking place during that time
SharpDX Fully Integrated
Back in February, Microsoft announced they were discontinuing XNA, forcing us to re-consider the rendering API for Blockade Runner. We concluded SharpDX was our best fit for a replacement, and so Zack immediatelybegan tests to see how much trouble it'd be to make the move. The XNA builds of the game progressed in the meantime to the point where after some LAN tests in April we were pegging May-June for the next release of the game.
After a slew of tests under Zack's belt, we had to put thoughts of a release on hold as we determined that transitioning out of XNA was imperative, and the longer it was delayed the harder SharpDX would be to implement. We'd considered taking the time to polish up an XNA version to maintain both versions, but quickly ruled it out since it'd only take attention away from the bigger problem and split our limited resources.
Resolved in what needed to be done, we took the plunge in May and started the conversion of Blockade Runner's core rendering code from XNA to SharpDX, with the game fully running off of SharpDX a month later in June.
Video of a multiplayer group construction test back in April
The SharpDX conversion in June gave Zack and Nathan time to review the old render code from 2011, helping them to spot some considerable room for improvement. The decision to renovate the renderer code was made, fueled partly from Zack's added experience (he'd begun full-time development on BR this spring), and partly from the two years of working within the limitations of XNA.
From stem to stern, every part of the game's engine has been refactored. On the rendering side in particular, this meant Direct Input, 2D pipelines, 3D pipelines, textures, surfaces -- everything's received a thorough scrubbing for modern industry standards. It was a lot of unexpected work (you don't say :L) that puts BR's engine in a much better position then its W71 era counterpart.
There's still a ways to go with the refactoring, and the results are an engine that's smarter, leaner, cleaner, and meaner, and built to last thanks to SharpDX.A lot of attention is also going towards modding accessibility, with the goal of making our hard work not only stable and easy for us to work with, but for others too to help provide for years of new development. As we've said since the beginning, we're in this one for the long haul and firmly believe in the value of "short term loss, long term gain"! ^^
How does SharpDX benefit BR?
Free of XNA's limitations, the SharpDX API represents a major upgrade to Blockade Runner's engine, granting us full control over all of DirectX's deeper capabilities as well as DirectX 10/11 support, Dot NET 4.5 functionality (amazingly simple multithread support!), and some awesomely time-saving rendering debuggers from Visual Studio 2012.
To put it simply, it makes development easier, fixes a lot of W71 era graphical defects, provides better graphics, and will make for powerful performance optimizations in the future.
What does this mean for a release window?
As stated in the daily progress reports, we're still amidst the refactoring stages. Although we are getting closer to a playable state again (3D drawing and the newly renovated block data), the in-game portion is still too rough around the edges to be useful for any kind of supporter playtesting.
Therefor we're still holding to a tentative "Q4 2013", and may begin raw 'development snapshots' (rough releases) for supporters as soon as it's viable to test rather than wait for any 'grand opening' like we had planned this spring.
We're feeling that the sooner the supporters are involved again, the better.
It's taking a little longer than we expected to reach a public release, but we're loving how BR's foundation is growing and evolving in an iterative fashion, free from the push of a publisher breathing down our necks to rush something out for a quick buck.