A Quick Checkin- Clion, Unreal and Mac

Super quick check-in. Hello world! For the last year or so, I've been working with Echtra Inc. on a great project as a Tools Engineer/Technical Artist guy.

The project is using the Unreal Engine, which I like more and more every day. On Windows, C++ plus Visual Studio Pro and Visual Assist is a great combo, and I happily churn through my daily tasks without fighting the tools too much.

Not so on my Mac at home. Programming in Unity on a Mac is great! Mono Develop isn't amazing, but it isn't terrible. But Unreal on a Mac. I want it to be fun, I want it to be possible, but I just can't get myself to like, let alone enjoy, XCode.

On that, for anyone thinking "well, you could just use blueprints..." etc, I feel it's too much of a shackle to not be able to just dive into the guts of it. C++ or bust.

So anyway, I recently adopted PyCharm at work and really enjoyed using it for my Python tools. I noticed that JetBrains also made an IDE called CLion, and they also had recently got it running with Unreal, so I thought, what the hell, why not.

Turns out their documentation is missing a couple of important notes, that maybe they take for granted, but after a couple of forum dives I managed to actually get it compiling, and running, my little test project.

So what was missing?

Something isn't set...

Once I run through their setup scripts, these were the things I needed to double check.

  • Make sure Mono is installed and up to date, and that the mono command is available in the terminal.
  • Once you generate your CLion project via the editor (make sure to follow the instructions here) you need to update the generated configs with paths to the editor executable. 
  • eg: /Users/Shared/Epic Games/UE_4.15/Engine/Binaries/Mac/UE4Editor.app/Contents/MacOS/UE4Editor
  • Finally, now that it's pointing to the editor correctly, add an absolute path to your project's .uproject file in the project arguments. 
If everything went well, you should now be able to build and run your project from within CLion. Bye bye XCode. I'll probably post some time in the future about how I'm finding CLion. Well, it compiles, and thats a start...

GDC 2016- San Francisco Coffee places

Wait, what? 2016 already? I have not been as pro-active in this whole blogging thing as I could have been, so for now let me make it up to you all by letting you know where to find the good stuff while you are perusing the talks at GDC 2016.

Near the Moscone Center:

Special Xtra



One of my favorite places. Great coffee to get your energy back after a long talk about rigging (try the New Orleans iced coffee for a real kick). If you get there in the morning, grab one of the croissants fresh out of the oven. The staff are great, and could probably give you a bunch of pointers on good places to check out in the area.

Elite Audio and Coffee Bar


Because what goes better together than coffee and high end audio systems? Sure. Anyway, this one is very close to the Moscone, but will probably be packed full of people, so keep that in mind. Cappuccinos here are great, and once again staffed by a good crew of people. They serve Neighbor Bakehouse pastries most days, and those alone are worth checking out.

Sightglass Coffee



Great coffee, and also a good opportunity to take home a San Francisco local roast. A little bit of a walk from the Moscone, and there will probably be a line either way, but well worth the walk. Once again, Neighbor Bakehouse pastries. Eat them!


Chrome Industries



Continuing the trend of a store that sells something (in this case high end cycling gear) but also serves a decent roast, Chrome Industries is a short walk from the Moscone down 4th st. It's also near the Hotel Utah, which serves a different type of brew (worth checking out for beers!).


Not so near the Moscone Center:

Contraband Coffee bar

If you find yourself for some reason near the Polk street area, Contraband Coffee is nearby on Larkin and California. It's got good coffee and hot chocolate. The snacks are good too, but it's worth checking out Flower and Co. nearby or MyMy for a real meal. I have seen Neighbor Bakehouse pastries here too. See a trend?

The Interval


If you find yourself near Fort Mason, the interval is a good place to stop by. Good coffee, provided there aren't too many people around. The crowd can occasionally be a bit of a downer.


Four Barrel Coffee 

If you find yourself in the mission, check out the four barrel coffee place down there. I've heard mixed opinions about the Four Barrel coffee, but I'm a fan. Delicious! Being on Valencia St, its also surrounded by a bunch of excellent places to go grab lunch or dinner.

The Mill



The Mill serves four barrel coffee, as well as that whole thick toast thing. The toast is good I guess, but I really go there for the coffee- that's really good. They sell bread too which is pretty damn good bread, although carrying that around the conference floor might not work out so well.


So that's some places to get you started- have you found any that you think should be on this list? Also, hit me up you you want to meet up for coffee and talk game dev stuff. As you can tell, I like coffee.

Scratch Pad Unity Utility.

One of my friends has made his Unity Asset Store debut with "Scratch Pad"- a handy little utility that lets you bookmark scenes, animations, scripts etc.


It always kinda bugged me that you can't put files into your favorites area of the Project panel, which is something this Utility does pretty well- being able to make 'working sets' of files is pretty useful, especially when debugging all the different components that might make up a single asset in game.

Check it out here. 

Do you want to play a game?

My Chrome browser split in half last night and asked me if I wanted to play a game. Saying yes turned my browser into a pseudo python console. Apparently Google has been tracking my search history and seen that, yeah, I like Python. Ok, having the browser window suddenly split open because someone is watching your search history is vaguely creepy, but what the hey, I do like Python!

Why do they want to play a game with me? I don't know, its Google. Why did they make Google maps into Pac Man? Its Google. They do stuff like that.

The first challenge was to take an equation as a string and parse it into reverse polish notation. After thinking about it today I was able to write a passable parser that will probably make any real mathematician twitch- but it works and the code doesn't make me twitch.

The challenge was, well, challenging, but fun! It reminds me a bit of the Project Euler challenges, except this one gives you a hopping bunny when you succeed. An animated ASCII hopping bunny.

Why?

Pac Man

Hop little bunny. Hop for joy!

GDC 2015- Coffee Places!

Because I assume almost every game company runs on coffee, and Technical Artists are surely no exception, here is a list of great coffee places in close proximity to the GDC.

SightGlass Coffee:
Short walk from the Moscone center down Folsom Street- not really many food options, but excellent coffee.
www.sightglasscoffee.com/our-company/locations 

Special Extra:
Small coffee cart. The staff are all cool, once again not much in the way of food beyond muffins, but I rate the coffee as some of the best in the bay area. Its down the alley next to the MOMA (building under construction across the street from Yerba Buena park), so its about a five minute walk from the Moscone center.
http://www.yelp.com/biz/special-xtra-san-francisco

Epicenter Cafe:
Good food (lunch, breakfast), beers and good coffee. Also has a batman board game that looks like its from the '70s. I've always wanted to play it, but have never had the chance...
http://www.epicentercafe.com/

Elite Audio:
Another blue bottle cafe- a little hit and miss, but on the balance usually good coffee. They have the same pastries that Sightglass gets, but not as expansive a selection. This is also a five minute walk from Moscone.
http://www.eliteaudiosf.com/menu/

Chrome Cafe:
This is a bit more of a walk, about on the same scale as Sightglass. Tiny cafe, but good, strong coffee. Serves four barrel coffee, which is pretty good.
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chrome-coffee-bar-powered-by-cento-san-francisco

There are a few others, but those are my go-tos. I've also got bars and places to eat if anyone wants suggestions. Give me a shout if you want to catch up and talk coffee/scripting during GDC week.

Google Spreadsheet: Script to Change Row Background Color on Cell Edit

Now for something a little different! Google Spreadsheets!

Here is a little script I cooked up today for changing a row color in Google Spreadsheet when you change the contents of a drop down menu.

When you change the contents of a cell in the designated "status" column the entire row will change it's background color to match whatever rule you have defined in the switch statement.

A useful addition to this would be the ability to automatically find the status column in whatever sheet you have open, but it was beyond the scope of what the script was meant for, so here is it in the raw!

/**
Google Sheets Script to modify a row's color based on the 'Status' entry. 

This script uses the onEdit() method, which is called every time a cell is edited.

The statusColumn variable's cells are assumed to be a drop-down with the following options:
Complete
In Progress
Not Started
Revisions Req
Blocked

The script modifies a row's color based on the contents- leaving the color white if it's not matched by an expected type.
*/

function onEdit() {

    var sSheet = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet().getActiveSheet();
    var statusColumn = 8; // Status column index

    // As this is called onEdit() we don't want to perform the entire script every time a cell is
    // edited- only when a status cell is mofified. 
    // To ensure this, before anything else we check to see if the modified cell is actually in the status column.
    if (sSheet.getActiveCell().getColumn() == statusColumn) {
        var row = sSheet.getActiveRange().getRow();
        var value = sSheet.getActiveCell().getValue();
        var col = "white"; // Default background color
        var colLimit = 15; // Number of columns across to affect

        switch (value) {
            case "Complete":
                col = "MediumSeaGreen";
                break;
            case "In Progress":
                col = "Orange";
                break;
            case "Not Started":
                col = "DarkGray";
                break;
            case "Revisions Req":
                col = "Gold";
                break;
            case "Blocked":
                col = "LightCoral";
                break;
            default:
                break;
        }

        sSheet.getRange(row, 1, 1, colLimit).setBackground(col);
    }
};

New Photoshop Exporter- ExportThis!

After a long and (mostly) successful run of controlling Photoshop with Python, I decided to take a stab at writing a fully integrated Photoshop Extension, this time using the native Javascript based API.

The end result is a cleaner, smaller and all round better Photoshop tool that does a number of kinda cool things.

Export This!
Some of the User-facing features
Because its written to take advantage of the native API there is a significant difference in app size- Texture Monkey being almost 40mb when including all the additional GUI and Python library files it required, vs a 29kb .ZXP installer for ExportThis. The ZXP is easily distributed, and uses Adobe Extension Manager CC to install/update/remove itself. 

Within the tool, the document template system was added to allow artists to easily make documents that would be compatible with the exporter (as a lot of it is group name/hierachy based) but I expanded on it to allow artists to make and save their own particular document setups too. 

I chose JSON files for the templates, user configuration and project definitions due to it's ease of use- and the fact that it can easily be read by anybody. This turned out to be a little bit of a challenge, as Javascript is generally blocked from accessing any local files, as well as the Asynchronous nature of Javascript itself meaning that sometimes your functions end up being called before you have any data to read.

In addition to the trouble with reading files, another odd little challenge popped up due to Javascript supporting JSON parsers out of the box and Javascript Extended completely lacking any. I got around this using the eval feature in order to read the JSON strings back into useful objects.

The tool uses the Adobe extension framework, which is made up of several components, each of which operate on different levels and have their own little quirks. 

The GUI is created in a very similar way to a web page, using HTML and CSS to define it's layout, content and internal behaviors. I was able to embed things like interactive help drop-downs using JQuery, as well as easily modifiable selection lists and other standard web-fare. 

Behind the GUI is a Javascript file that bridges the GUI to the actual Photoshop JSX extension. This is where it starts to get a little clunky, for three particular reasons:
  • This part of the tool has the same security restrictions imposed on it as any other web related Javascript code, for example, restrictions to the local file system. 
  • All calls to the actual Photoshop extension are passed as strings to evaluate (including arguments) meaning passing data back and forth between the extension and the GUI can be pretty cumbersome.
  • Javascript operates in an async manner. Due to this, the Javascript layer was kept very lightweight to minimize introducing any lame async related bugs. Although initially this lead to a little bit of head-scratching on my part, it resulted in a much easier to maintain tool, with all the heavy lifting confined to the Photoshop JSX engine. 
As I decided pretty early on that I wanted to use JSON files to store both user settings (such as the last project used, and their local project root) I had to figure out a way to be able to both read and write data from the tool, which I ended up doing on the Photoshop JSX side, which is the third component!

The Photoshop JSX (JavascriptExtended) file is where all the work actually happens- This is the part of the tool that can access the local drive, as well as drive Photoshop. I wrote it to contain a mix of environment definition and actual exporting functions. Any data sourced from the local drive that might be required by the GUI is read by the JSX and then passed back as a string to be parsed into a JSON object in memory. In a similar fashion, any GUI modified data is passed back as a string to be written back to the file system by the JSX. Lots of juggling!

The JSX also contains a component that can interact with the local system through the command line in order to check out elements from Perforce, using .bat files. 

(the hidden) GUIRilla, or a sprite exporter. 

Although the main focus of the exporter is Texture exporting for 3d models, an additional feature is the ability to author and export multiple 2D sprites from a single document. The exporter allows a "UI_SPRITE" flag document name prefix to be defined in the Project Settings, which will change the exporter to treat the document as a sprite atlas and export each group as a individual trimmed element, with transparency. It's pretty cool, but I'll go into this in a little more depth in another post, as its a whole other workflow. 

Overall, it was a fun exercise and the Artists using it have responded very well to it as a replacement for TextureMonkey. 

If you made it this far, hooray! Drop me a line if you are working with the Adobe Extension framework at all. Next up will be some tips for rapid iteration while working on extensions, and some of the terrible mistakes I made along the way...