Bamboo tablets with GIMP

We generate most of our textures using a combination of photos and hand drawn elements. Using a Wacom Bamboo tablet for manipulating GIMP works well for us – but you do have to remember to have the pen in the active area of the tablet when you start up GIMP otherwise it simply doesn’t respond on the drawing surfaces.

Profiling XNA Level loading times using Slimtune

Work has started on a small internal project that may turn into a game once some of the edges are smoothed off. The game features some maps that are produced on the CPU. This process on the PC takes a few seconds but on an XBOX it takes a few minutes!

Why is this? Time to start profiling.

One lesson I have definitely learnt over the years is profile first and then optimise your algorithms. Do it that way around. Profiling can definitely throw up some counter intuitive results.

My actual frame rate is fine (60 Hz locked to refresh) on both PC and XBOX.

I’m using slimtune which has some pretty good features – lets see how it does.

I’m starting the profiling straight away and exiting out immediately upon loading.

Once I have profiled lets look at what slimtune shows us.

I have 7 threads going. That’s OK, I use background loading of all the levels and the XNA framework generates a few of its own. I can see the GamerServices object is eating quite a lot of CPU. That’s not to surprising and not too much I can do about it.

If I drill into my own threads what we see is a substantial amount of time spent in creating vertex buffers. Ah!

The game world is split into a number of regions. Each region has an associated volume and bounding box. If the bounding box intersects the view frustrum then it is rendered in its entirety. Each region is a voxel space and each block within that space can be turned into a renderable cube. However the engine we’re creating also allows for blocks that are actually models. Each of these has a “cube renderer” that can also build vertex buffers.

Does each of these need its own vertex buffer or could we do better?

These cube renderers need to start sharing one big vertex buffer (independent mobiles / NPCs use different techniques)

Lets put that optimisation in place and see what happens. Load time is down to seconds!

Profilers are powerful tools – the high end commercial profiles can give you more details about what is going on but Slimtune is a pretty good starting point.



Horde of the Damned supports 4-player quickbattle mode. With maps specifically designed for multiplayer action. Each quickbattle map supports up to four players. Each color may be “local” (a human), “AI” (normal or hard) or “closed”. Each human player uses the same controller.

Each color is assigned one of the player types. Red is always Kingdom Troops, Blue is always undead, Yellow is Kingdom and Green is undead. If you want to have a two player undead vs undead then simply choose Blue vs Green.

The current player’s turn is indicated by the color of the cursor.

The AI comes with two difficulty settings – normal and hard. (In the campaign hard AI is used in later levels – the AI does wider analysis of what strategic objectives it wishes to meet).

Horde of the Damned – Campaign Level Walkthrough Investigation

You can watch a youtube video of this walkthrough.

  • Select the village of Tref (slightly to the north of where the cursor selection begins the level)
  • Build a Windmill. This gives you a guaranteed income once it has been built.
  • Move the Scouts to the South East of the map and attack the Watch tower.
    • The Undead will get less income
    • You will get more income
    • They will expose themselves and either attack you in the watch tower or move across the map to Tref
  • Build some defenders inteh Watch tower just in case
  • If they move the North (to attack Tref) then capture Owan
  • If they attack the watch tower then defeat the attacking army and then capture Owan
  • Don’t let your commander die. If Mervyn dies then it is game over – this applies to all levels.
  • If you don’t spend your money the upkeep on the scouts will drain it if they aren’t garrisoned in a settlement

Horde of the Damned – Settlement Control

Move the cursor to a town or village on the map. Press Y and the settlement management control will be shown. You may see information about enemy settlements.

Use the DPAD or thumbstick to move the cursor around the various elements of the screen. You can see the current pieces that are defending that settlement (the garrisioned pieces), you can see the upgrades and you can also see the piece types that you could buy or the new upgrades that are available. (You can only do that on your own settlements). As you move the selection around you will see information about the highlighted element.

Horde of the Damned - Settlement Control

Flap Basic Controls

Use the thumb stick to control your dragon. You may fly all over the screen but you cannot fly into the ground.

Left handed players use the right thumb stick; right handed players use the left thumb stick on the controller.

Use the right handed trigger to fire. You my keep it pressed and the dragon will fire as fast as it can.


As you destroy buildings and other targets Mana will be released. The Mana may be used to cast spells. Pressing the “A” button will cast the currently selected spell.

Use the D-Pad control to move the spell selector left and right.

Quick Cast

Two spells have buttons permanently assigned to them. The Shield spell may be cast with the “B” button Flap Quick Cast Shield and the heal spell may be cast with the “X” button. Button X

The next recommended spell will be assigned to the “Y”button Y button. As soon as you cast a spell with “Y” it will move onto the next recommendation. The quick cast buttons will only apear if you can afford the spells.

Flap Enemies

The world of Erda is filled with many enemies. As you destroy your enemies Mana will be released. Powerful enemy buildings release more mana than the natural trees or small houses.


House The basic lair of the Soastiks. Be careful – even the city dwellers can fire at you!


Trees The trees can release a small amount of mana that you may harvest to cast more spells.


Tower The towers and walls fortify the Soastik cities. The towers are also the lairs of some of the more powerful creatures such as knights and gryphons. As you travel further through the levels the towers become more tricky to destroy.


PillarsThe Soastiks use these pillars to extract the Mana from the ground. Destroying these will release a great deal of mana at the same time.


KnightsThe knights are the easiest of the creatures you will face in your quest from Erda.


GryphonThe gryphons can attack you in the air and have many strengths especially in the later levels