Developer diary: plans and progress reports.

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Archive of January 2012

Happy Mayan Death Year 2012 Sunday 29th January 2012

Salutations chaps and chapettes! Boxer 1.2.1 has been kicked into the street, shivering and bloody. You can grab the new release here, and as usual the full release notes are here (RSS). This release is still 10.5- and PowerPC-compatible, as it contains Serious Bugfixes. The next feature release won’t be however.

The big things for this version are a flicker-free renderer, GOG game-import fixes, and the removal of the first-run games folder choice.

Back to basics

Back when I tore out DOSBox’s old renderer and wrote my own, I was inordinately proud of an Apple-specific rendering optimisation I put in: one which mapped the emulator’s framebuffer directly to an OpenGL texture, saving on potentially expensive writes when new frames are ready.

So proud I was of it, that I blinded myself to three things:

  1. It significantly increased frame-tearing, as Boxer was frequently rendering the previous frame to the display while the emulation was writing over it with the next frame;

  2. Many Mac GPU chipsets didn’t handle the trick very well, causing stuttering or weird rendering artifacts in fullscreen mode;

  3. The actual performance improvement was negligible because these are 20-year-old games for god’s sake, not Wipeout HD.

So in 1.2.1 I swallowed my pride and rewrote the frame updates in a more traditional way: to my chagrin, it turned out very similar to how DOSBox does it. With tweaks to sync up rendering with the display’s vertical refresh rate, Boxer now renders completely free of frame-tearing. If you play games with lot of scrolling (like platformers or pinball) you’ll notice the difference straight away.

The moral of this story: sometimes the smart solution isn’t very smart.

War of attrition

This update also fixes a serious (and stupid) bug in 1.2 whereby Boxer would crash at the end of importing a GOG game that had BIN+CUE disc images, resulting in a broken game import. If you’ve encountered this, try reimporting games now.

However, Boxer still won’t import certain newer GOG releases correctly: Rayman Forever being exhibit A. Fixing these will require fairly major rewrites to Boxer’s import system, which I hope to do for the next update if I don’t slit my wrists first.

Goodbye choices

I finally pulled my thumb out of my ass and removed the initial first-run window that asks where to keep your DOS games. This now defaults to Documents/DOS Games – though the folder can still be changed later from the Preferences window, or just moved somewhere else via Finder. This change has no impact on existing game folders, it only affects people who are running Boxer for the first time.

I’ve been planning this for a while, because I felt humiliated having to ask the user for a commitment before they’ve tried out the app, and because this is a key part of the shift to a ‘post-filesystem’ game browser model. That shift won’t prevent you from accessing your games from the filesystem or organizing your games how you wish — the goal is just to eliminate the need for everybody to care about where things are located.

Anyway! I should be getting on with the game browser in the next major update, though there may be another minor release before then.

Crossing the floor

Since November I’ve been settling into my new career as an iOS games developer at TicBits! Crossing over into games and iOS development alike have been major long-term goals of mine, and I’m able to work with a great bunch of people, so this has been the perfect opportunity (and one that Boxer helped me get, incidentally). My first game will be out shortly, so look forward to borderline-inappropriate cross-promotion in the coming weeks.

Game development as a day job has meant learning to balance my creative juices between that and Boxer, which is why it’s taken 3 months for me to get a straightforward bugfix release out the door. I think I’ve finally got the hang of this though (the key: weekends) so there should be more substantial updates from here on in 2012.

Incidentally, 1.2.1 is the version I’ll finally be submitting to the Mac App Store: I’ll keep you posted on how that process goes.

Design by 40watt.