Friday, September 30, 2011

Quick and dirty guide to getting cocos2dx working on Android from Windows 7

Second Part: More advanced concepts of getting cocos2dx working on Android from Windows 7

This guide builds on the official guide for setting up Cocos2d-x on the Android Phone with additional explanations in the sections where the original one is outdated, incomplete or ambiguous, so hopefully no one else has to make the same mistakes I did.

First a general overview of what has to happen to see your precious game on the android phone. You create a Visual Studio project from a cocos2dx template and set it up to work with cocos2dx. Once you've got your game running and ready to test on the phone, you use a .bat file provided in the cocos2dx download to create a default android project from the "HelloWorld" project it comes with. In this new folder it creates in the android root, you override the existing classes and resources with the ones from your project, and you make sure they are in the makefile. Then you use Cygwin to compile everything into native code, and finally you create a new android project in eclipse, import the code you compiled and hopefully have it work in the phone.

It's a non-trivial process, but not that hard either, and the people at Cocos2dx have made quite an effort to get this working as it is. So, step by step.

Step by Step

Step 1: Get all the android material

Download android sdk, install it and test it in eclipse. This is a well-documented process in the android sdk website.
If you have an Android phone to test on, set it up for development and try a test application in it.
Download the android ndk and extract it to a folder with no spaces in the path.

Step 2: Get all the cocos2dx material

Download the latest version of cocos2d-x and set it up for win32 development as stated here. Download Cygwin and make sure you mark the "Devel" branch as "Install" when you download it.

Step 3: Get the create-android-project.bat working

From the original tutorial:

To adapt to my environment, I change the settings in create-android-project.bat.
set _CYGBIN=C:\cygwin\bin
The path of cygwin bin
set _ANDROIDTOOLS=D:\anroid\android-sdk-windows\tools
The path of android sdk tools
set _NDKROOT=D:\anroid\android-ndk-r5b
The root of ndk

Step 4: Creating the project

Now we create our Cocos2d-win Application form the MVS templates. If this template is not available, go back and check you did step 2 correctly. You can create this project wherever you want. For the sake of brevity, let’s assume you are creating a Pong game, and aptly name your project “Pong”. While following the cocos2dx creation template unmark every cocos2d library except Simple Audio Engine in Cocos Denshion.

Next up we need to add 3 things to make the Pong project reach the cocos2dx files it needs. Include the source files, link the library files, and copy the dll files. To make this process easier create an environment variable with the root of your cocos2dx installation. I call mine COCOS2DX and it’s defined as C:\eclipse\android\cocos2d-1.0.1-x-0.9.1\cocos2d-1.0.1-x-0.9.1.

NOTE: If you modify this variable, or any other, and want to use it from visual studio, you need to restart visual studio.

Step 4.1: Include the source files

Inside Visual Studio, with your Pong project open, right click on the project and select Properties. At the top make sure you select “Configuration: All Configurations”, otherwise you’ll have to repeat the whole process for the each configuration you’ve got (usually just debug and release).
Go to C/C++ / General /Additional Include Directories, there your template should have 9 includes already. Something like this:

  • .;
  • .\win32;
  • .\Classes;
  • ..\cocos2dx;
  • ..\cocos2dx\include;
  • ..\cocos2dx\platform;
  • ..\cocos2dx\platform\third_party\win32\OGLES;
  • ..\CocosDenshion\Include;
  • %(AdditionalIncludeDirectories)

The first 3 you can leave as-is, because they reference the project locally (including what’s in the project folder and in the win32 and classes folders. As you need these files, all is good. The next 5 however, all the ones that start with “..\cocos2dx”, assume you’re in the root cocos2dx folder. So we just correct this using our COCOS2DX environment variable.

  • .;
  • .\win32;
  • .\Classes;
  • $(COCOS2DX)\cocos2dx;
  • $(COCOS2DX)\cocos2dx\include;
  • $(COCOS2DX)\cocos2dx\platform;
  • $(COCOS2DX)\cocos2dx\platform\third_party\win32\OGLES;
  • $(COCOS2DX)\CocosDenshion\Include;
  • %(AdditionalIncludeDirectories)

To be honest, I don’t quite know what the AdditionalIncludeDirectories are, so I just leave it there.
With this however, your project knows where the cocos2dx files it needs are.

Step 4.2 : Adding the libraries

You need the .lib files that where created by compiling the cocos2d-win32.vc2010.sln, all the way back at step 2. We are going to store them locally for clarity, though you could just modify the linker path using our COCOS2DX variable.

In the Pong folder, next to the Classes and Resource folders, we create a Libs folder, and inside put two subfolders, Debug and Release.
Next we copy all the .lib files from our COCOS2DX/Debug.win32 and COCOS2DX/Release.win32 folders to the Debug and Release folders respectively.

Inside Visual Studio, with your Pong project open, right click on the project and select Properties. At the top make sure you select “Configuration: All Configurations”, otherwise you’ll have to repeat the whole process for the each configuration you’ve got (usually just debug and release).
Go to Linker / General / Additional Library Directories and you should find something like:

  • $(OutDir);
  • %(AdditionalLibraryDirectories)

We need to add the library path, so we make it:

  • $(OutDir);
  • $(SolutionDir)\Pong\Libs\$(Configuration);
  • %(AdditionalLibraryDirectories)

As long as you only have Debug and Release configurations this should work fine. Visual will go to Pong/Libs/Debug or Pong/Libs/Release and get the .lib files from there when needed. If you add more configurations, make sure to add the appropriate folder to Libs. If your project is not named Pong, modify the path accordingly.
Right now it should let you compile the project without errors but not run it. We’re missing the dlls.

Step 4.3: Adding dlls

First build your application both in release and in debug. This should create in your visual studio project debug and release folders with an executable called Pong.exe, and maybe a few other things.

Go back to the COCOS2DX/Debug.win32 and COCOS2DX/Release.win32 folders and fish out all the .dll files copying them to the Debug and Release folders in your Pong project folder respectively.
There. You should be able to build and run, seeing your project on a small window.

Step 5: Use the .bat to create an android project

This is pretty well covered in the original tutorial. Click the create-android-project.bat and fill out the package path (org.cocos2dx.Pong in our case) and the name (Pong) and finally the version to compile to (a list of versions should appear in screen).

NOTE: This step is irrelevant of your visual studio project, you don’t need to copy your Pong visual studio project to the cocos2dx root or anything. The .bat creates a folder all by itself.

Step 6: Fill in the meat

This is the step that really had me stumped until I asked in the forums. The .bat creates a new project based on the HelloWorld example in the root directory, so if you just run the bat and continue to the next step, in the end you’ll have the HelloWorld project in your phone instead of the Pong game.

Once you have the Pong folder created by the .bat in the root cocos2dx folder, you need to copy the content of your Classes folder in your visual studio Pong project to the cocos2dx Pong Classes folder, substituting the contents, and do the same with the Resources folder.

Now the files are in the appropriate place, but we still need to tell tel the makefile to take them into consideration when compiling, so we go to COCOS2DX\Pong\android\jni\helloworld\ and modify the makefile. You’ll notice that near the top of the file there is a LOCAL_SRC_FILES that already includes the path of the main.cpp and the 2 HelloWorld project files. Leave the main but override the rest so it has the paths of the files you added.

In my case:
LOCAL_SRC_FILES := main.cpp \
../../../Classes/AppDelegate.cpp \
../../../Classes/Elements/Ball.cpp \
../../../Classes/Elements/Stick.cpp \
../../../Classes/Scenes/PlayScene.cpp \

Step 6: Run Cygwin to compile

Just like the original tutorial explains

Step 7: Create a project in eclipse and import the Pong project

Just like the original tutorial explains.

Second Part: More advanced concepts of getting cocos2dx working on Android from Windows 7

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Baddies 4–Saving



The objective of the saving system is, given a node, any node, serialize it completely and automatically without having to go through the mistake prone method of each time we add a member, having to remember to update the load and save functions.

To this aim, we will use the IntermediateSerializer class, with a few auxiliary classes to handle logical exceptions in our design and in the IntermediateSerializer class.

Considered options

There are several options when saving the game in XNA, the 3 more common ones are serializing using the XmlSerializer class, serializing using the IntermediateSerializer class, and finally, saving with a BinaryWriter class.

The reasons why I won’t use the XmlSerializer are explained in the conclusion in this post, so I won’t expand on it. The BinaryWriter, on the other hand, requires knowing the data you are going to read beforehand, as it’s in binary format and you need to select “chunks” of specific lengths to be interpreted as variables. This does not work well with the initial objective of the saving being automatic or not having to make custom save / load functions for each class. This leaves us with the IntermediateSerializer.


Serializing with the IntermediateSerializer

The use of the IntermediateSerializer is best documented in these 2 articles by Shawn Hargraves: Teaching a man to fish, and Everything you ever wanted to know about IntermediateSerializer.

On the positive side, it’s simple (doesn’t require the multithreading gymnastics for the container that the XmlSerializer needs), and highly customizable (adding private members, excluding public members, setting members as references, dealing with collections, etc…). On the negative side, it only works on windows, but that’s an acceptable inconvenient, and it needs the full .Net Framework 4.0 instead of the client version (explanation).

Working with the Node

For our specific situation, we want to serialize a subtree of nodes, this nodes being any class that might derive from node. For example, we might have a situation like this:


This diagram represents that there is a root node “Scene” with two added child nodes “Camera” and “Map” (ignore the UML notation, it was the only editor at hand). We want to serialize Scene without caring about what hangs from it and have everything serialized to XML.

The first attempt at serializing this launched an error of cyclic reference, as each Node has a pointer to it’s parent. To solve this we declared the parent member of a node as a ContentSerializerAttribute.SharedResource so instead of storing the parent, it just stored a reference to this. This serialized, but upon closer investigation of the XML code it became apparent that this generated “shadow” parents, as we had both the original parent that called the serialization, and the one each child was referencing, resulting in something like this:


That’s because the children of each node are not references themselves, if they were we’d just have a very slim XML tree with just references, no content, and then the references at the bottom. Something like this:

Code Snippet
  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
  2. <XnaContent xmlns:Utils="Baddies.Utils"
  3.             xmlns:Scenes="Baddies.Scenes"
  4.             xmlns:Nodes="Baddies.Nodes">
  6.   <!-- Root of the tree-->
  7.   <Asset Type="Utils:NodeSerializer">
  8.     <root>#Resource1</root>
  9.   </Asset>
  11.   <!-- References-->
  12.   <Resources>
  14.     <!-- Scene node-->
  15.     <Resource ID="#Resource1" Type="Scenes:Scene">
  16.       <Name>Node</Name>
  17.       <ParentRelativePos>false</ParentRelativePos>
  18.       <Children Type="Utils:SharedResourceDictionary[int,Nodes:Node]">
  19.         <Item>
  20.           <Key>0</Key>
  21.           <Value>#Resource2</Value>
  22.         </Item>
  23.         <Item>
  24.           <Key>1</Key>
  25.           <Value>#Resource3</Value>
  26.         </Item>
  27.       </Children>
  28.       <Visible>true</Visible>
  29.       <Position>-0 -0 -0</Position>
  30.       <Parent />
  31.     </Resource>
  33.     <!-- Camera node -->
  34.     <Resource ID="#Resource2" Type="Baddies.Camera">
  35.       <Name>Cam</Name>
  36.       <ParentRelativePos>false</ParentRelativePos>
  37.       <Children Type="Utils:SharedResourceDictionary[int,Nodes:Node]" />
  38.       <Visible>true</Visible>
  39.       <Position>0 0 0</Position>
  40.       <Parent>#Resource1</Parent>
  41.       <W>673</W>
  42.       <H>442</H>
  43.       <DisplayBorder>true</DisplayBorder>
  44.     </Resource>
  46.     <!-- Map node -->
  47.     <Resource ID="#Resource3" Type="Baddies.Map.MapGrid">
  48.       <Name>Map</Name>
  49.       <ParentRelativePos>true</ParentRelativePos>
  50.       <Children Type="Utils:SharedResourceDictionary[int,Nodes:Node]" />
  51.       <Visible>true</Visible>
  52.       <Position>0 0 0</Position>
  53.       <Parent>#Resource1</Parent>
  54.       <DisplayTerrain>true</DisplayTerrain>
  55.       <DisplayGrid>true</DisplayGrid>
  56.       <DisplayCollisionMap>false</DisplayCollisionMap>
  57.       <MapWidth>16</MapWidth>
  58.       <MapHeight>16</MapHeight>
  59.       <TileSize>16</TileSize>
  60.       <Tiles>
  61.         <!-- Map tiles excuded for brevity -->
  62.       </Tiles>
  63.       <tileSetTex>
  64.         <Name>TileMap/tileset1</Name>
  65.         <contentRef>#Resource3</contentRef>
  66.       </tileSetTex>
  67.     </Resource>
  69.   </Resources>
  70. </XnaContent>

To achieve that structure we need to set the children of the Node as references as well. The children of each node are kept in a dictionary, so to solve this “dictionary of shared resources” dilemma, I wrote a class to handle it, explained in this article. This is one of the few exceptions to the “not writing custom code for saving different data” but only because the IntermediateSerializer doesn’t support these type of dictionaries out of the box.

Another exception is that even if we mark everything as references, the first node to be serialized is not considered a reference because it’s the starting point of the serializer. To solve this I made a wrapper class to serialize that only contains the root node, as a reference.

Code Snippet
  1. /// <summary>
  2. /// Auxiliary class that takes care of
  3. /// the serialization of a Node tree.
  4. /// <remarks>
  5. /// Works by having a reference to the
  6. /// node and serializing itself, so the root
  7. /// node is also regarded as a reference.
  8. /// </remarks>
  9. /// </summary>
  10. public class NodeSerializer
  11. {
  12.     /// <summary>
  13.     /// Root node to serialize.
  14.     /// </summary>
  15.     [ContentSerializerAttribute(SharedResource = true)]
  16.     private Node root;
  18.     /// <summary>
  19.     /// Serializes a node to XML.
  20.     /// </summary>
  21.     /// <param name="node">Node to
  22.     /// serialize.</param>
  23.     /// <param name="name">Name of the
  24.     /// file to serialize to.</param>
  25.     public void Serialize(Node node, string name)
  26.     {
  27.         this.root = node;
  29.         XmlWriterSettings settings =
  30.             new XmlWriterSettings();
  31.         settings.Indent = true;
  33.         using (XmlWriter writer =
  34.             XmlWriter.Create(name, settings))
  35.         {
  36.             IntermediateSerializer.
  37.                 Serialize(writer, this, null);
  38.         }
  39.     }
  41.     /// <summary>
  42.     /// Deserializes the XML file provided
  43.     /// and returns the created node.
  44.     /// </summary>
  45.     /// <param name="name">Name of the xml file.</param>
  46.     /// <returns>Node serialized in that file.</returns>
  47.     public Node Deserialize(string name)
  48.     {
  49.         Node node = null;
  50.         XmlReaderSettings settings =
  51.             new XmlReaderSettings();
  53.         using (XmlReader reader =
  54.             XmlReader.Create(name, settings))
  55.         {
  56.             NodeSerializer serial =
  57.                 IntermediateSerializer.
  58.                 Deserialize<NodeSerializer>(reader, null);
  59.             node = serial.root;
  60.         }
  62.         return node;
  63.     }
  64. }

The last exception comes with the Texture2D class. I wanted that the serializing of a tree included the actual textures used, as not to have to do a “second” step when loading. This has 2 problems. First, the texture is binary data, so kind of difficult to serialize in xml. Second, the texture has a reference to the ContentManager that loaded it, so it creates a circular dependency that there is no way to solve, short of dumping the use of the ContentManager all together.

To work around these 2 issues I created a Texture2D proxy class, as shown here:

Code Snippet
  1. public class Texture2DProxy
  2. {
  3.     /// <summary>
  4.     /// Reference to the the parent class
  5.     /// that holds a ContentManager to load
  6.     /// this texture.
  7.     /// </summary>
  8.     [ContentSerializerAttribute(SharedResource = true)]
  9.     private IContentHolder contentRef;
  11.     /// <summary>
  12.     /// Texture we wrap.
  13.     /// </summary>
  14.     private Texture2D texture;
  16.     /// <summary>
  17.     /// Name of the texture in the
  18.     /// ContentManager.
  19.     /// </summary>
  20.     private string name;
  22.     /// <summary>
  23.     /// Initializes a new instance of
  24.     /// the Texture2DProxy class.
  25.     /// </summary>
  26.     /// <param name="contentRef">
  27.     /// Content manager that will be
  28.     /// used for loading.</param>
  29.     public Texture2DProxy(IContentHolder contentRef)
  30.     {
  31.         this.contentRef = contentRef;
  32. = string.Empty;
  33.         this.texture = null;
  34.     }
  36.     /// <summary>
  37.     /// Initializes a new instance of
  38.     /// the Texture2DProxy class.
  39.     /// </summary>
  40.     public Texture2DProxy()
  41.     {
  42.         this.contentRef = null;
  43. = string.Empty;
  44.         this.texture = null;
  45.     }
  47.     /// <summary>
  48.     /// Gets or sets the name of the texture.
  49.     /// </summary>
  50.     /// <value>Name of the texture.</value>
  51.     public string Name
  52.     {
  53.         set { = value; }
  54.         get { return; }
  55.     }
  57.     /// <summary>
  58.     /// Gets or sets the texture of the proxy.
  59.     /// <remarks>
  60.     /// The Get method has lazy
  61.     /// initialization of the texture,
  62.     /// in the sense that if we have the
  63.     /// texture name and not the texture,
  64.     /// it loads it when we request the
  65.     /// texture. This is useful for when
  66.     /// we load a texture via serialization.
  67.     /// </remarks>
  68.     /// </summary>
  69.     /// <value>Texture that we wrap.</value>
  70.     [ContentSerializerIgnore]
  71.     public Texture2D Texture
  72.     {
  73.         get
  74.         {
  75.             if (this.texture == null &&
  76.        != string.Empty)
  77.             {
  78.                 ContentManager man =
  79.                     this.contentRef.GetContent();
  81.                 this.texture =
  82.                     this.contentRef.GetContent().
  83.                     Load<Texture2D>(;
  85.             }
  87.             return this.texture;
  88.         }
  90.         set
  91.         {
  92.             this.texture = value;
  93.         }
  94.     }
  96.     /// <summary>
  97.     /// Loads the selected texture.
  98.     /// </summary>
  99.     /// <param name="name">
  100.     /// Name of the texture to
  101.     /// load.</param>
  102.     public void Load(string name)
  103.     {
  104. = name;
  106.         this.texture =
  107.             this.contentRef.GetContent().
  108.             Load<Texture2D>(name);
  109.     }
  110. }

What is serialized in the texture is the actual name of the texture, so afterwards we can load the name, and load the actual texture by request in the “get” field.  This makes for a simple method of loading the textures from xml, the only problem is a project can have many ContentManagers running, and we have no way of knowing which one is the one the texture is associated to. To get around this we create a IContentHolder interface.

Code Snippet
  1. /// <summary>
  2. /// Class that has a content manager.
  3. /// </summary>
  4. public interface IContentHolder
  5. {
  6.     /// <summary>
  7.     /// Returns the ContentManager
  8.     /// associated to this class.
  9.     /// </summary>
  10.     /// <returns>A ContentManager object.</returns>
  11.     ContentManager GetContent();
  12. }

The parent class that owns the texture implements this interface, and is required to pass itself to the texture as a reference upon creation. That way the steps when deserializing are as follows:

  1. When the serializer creates the parent class, the parent class creates the Texture2DProxy object and assigns itself as the ContentHolder.
  2. The deserializer fills the serialized data of the Texture2DProxy (the name of the texture),
  3. At some point, the game requests the texture for the first time, in the “get” field we see it’s not loaded yet, so we create it using the ContentManager of our parent, and we’re ready to go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dictionary of shared resources for serializing in XNA



This is a class built on the articles of Shawn Hargreaves for using the IntermediateSerializer class to serialize collections of shared resources. In his article he only does the List<T> collection, but I had the need to serialize a Dictionary<T,K> instead, and maybe someone else will need it at some point, so here it is.


The class is to be used with the IntermediateSerializer. It’s a class for serializing data to XML in XNA, and though it only works on the windows platform, it’s easier to use and has a lot more flexibility than the XmlSerializer. Introduction to the IntermediateSerializer can be found here, and a more extensive explanation can be found here. Following that, you might want to check out how to write your own ContentTypeSerializer, and specifically, how to do it for a collection of shared resources.


As you have seen in the example about collections of shared resources, Shawn only deals with the List class, leaving us to work through the rest. Well, here is a Dictionary class with the values as shared resources.

Dictionary evolves to… SharedResourceDictionary!

The shared resource dictionary is nothing more than an empty wrapper:

Code Snippet
  1. class SharedResourceDictionary<K, T> :
  2.     Dictionary<K, T>
  3. {    }


This is where the serializing gets done. As a side note, you don’t need to do anything special to get the SharedResourceDictionary to use the SharedResourceDictionarySerializer, just by having both classes in your project it’s fine.

Code Snippet
  1. [ContentTypeSerializer]
  2. class SharedResourceDictionarySerializer<T, K> :
  3.     ContentTypeSerializer
  4.         <SharedResourceDictionary<T, K>>
  5. {
  6.     static ContentSerializerAttribute itemFormat =
  7.         new ContentSerializerAttribute()
  8.     {
  9.         ElementName = "Item"
  10.     };
  12.     static ContentSerializerAttribute keyFormat =
  13.         new ContentSerializerAttribute()
  14.     {
  15.         ElementName = "Key"
  16.     };
  18.     static ContentSerializerAttribute valueFormat =
  19.         new ContentSerializerAttribute()
  20.     {
  21.         ElementName = "Value"
  22.     };
  26.     protected override void Serialize(
  27.         IntermediateWriter output,
  28.         SharedResourceDictionary<T, K> value,
  29.         ContentSerializerAttribute format)
  30.     {
  31.             foreach (KeyValuePair<T, K> item in value)
  32.         {
  33.             output.Xml.WriteStartElement(
  34.                 itemFormat.ElementName);
  36.             output.WriteObject(
  37.                 item.Key,
  38.                 keyFormat);
  40.             output.WriteSharedResource(
  41.                 item.Value,
  42.                 valueFormat);
  44.             output.Xml.WriteEndElement();
  45.         }
  46.     }
  49.     protected override SharedResourceDictionary<T, K>
  50.         Deserialize(
  51.         IntermediateReader input,
  52.         ContentSerializerAttribute format,
  53.         SharedResourceDictionary<T, K> existingInstance)
  54.     {
  55.         if (existingInstance == null)
  56.         {
  57.             existingInstance =
  58.                 new SharedResourceDictionary<T, K>();
  59.         }
  61.         while (input.MoveToElement(itemFormat.ElementName))
  62.         {
  63.             T key;
  65.             input.Xml.ReadToDescendant(
  66.                 keyFormat.ElementName);
  68.             key = input.ReadObject<T>(keyFormat);
  70.             input.Xml.ReadToNextSibling(
  71.                 valueFormat.ElementName);
  73.             input.ReadSharedResource<K>(
  74.                 valueFormat,
  75.                 (K value) =>
  76.             {
  77.                 existingInstance.Add(key, value);
  78.             });
  79.             input.Xml.ReadEndElement();
  80.         }
  82.         return existingInstance;
  83.     }
  84. }

Sorry about the “strung out” format of the code, otherwise the blog settings compact it into an unreadable mess.

Calling the serializer

To use this code, we have a dictionary we want to serialize:

Code Snippet
  1. SharedResourceDictionary<int, string> dictTest =
  2.     new SharedResourceDictionary<int, string>();

To serialize it to Xml we do this:

Code Snippet
  1. XmlWriterSettings settings = new XmlWriterSettings();
  2. settings.Indent = true;
  4. using (XmlWriter writer =
  5.     XmlWriter.Create("out.xml", settings))
  6. {
  7.     IntermediateSerializer.Serialize(
  8.         writer,
  9.         dictTest,
  10.         null);
  11. }

To deserialize from Xml we do this:

Code Snippet
  1. XmlReaderSettings settings = new XmlReaderSettings();
  2. using (XmlReader reader =
  3.     XmlReader.Create("out.xml", settings))
  4. {
  5.     this.dictTest = IntermediateSerializer.
  6.         Deserialize<SharedResourceDictionary<int,string>>
  7.         (reader, null);
  8. }



Special thanks to r2d2rigo for helping me hunt down some bugs in the code.

Friday, August 19, 2011

XNA Serialization to XML tutorial


What is serialization?

Serialization is a semi-automatic process where XNA gets a class that has been marked as [Serializable] and stores/loads it from xml. An awesome idea in theory but with a few shortcomings.

Why these tutorials?

While trying to add serialization to one of my games, I’ve come to notice that there is a very real lack of documentation on XML serialization if you want to do anything more complex than serializing a struct with a few value members inside. When you get to serializing derived classes, dictionaries, trees,… and in general the normal stuff any game needs, there are a lot of hidden pitfalls to be aware of.
It’s a big list of things to go work, but I’m going to share my experiments with serialization and hopefully it will help someone else.

Windows only

This tutorial is aimed only at the windows platform, simply because it’s the only one I’ve got. I promise that if anyone likes them enough to send me a WP7 or an Xbox, I’ll make sure they are compatible. :D

Note*: Check the comments to see the small change to make it work in WP7 and XBox

Serialization example

A look at MSDN serialization

This tutorial is based on the simplest of all options, the default MSDN tutorial for serializing xml, to be found at MSDN: Serialization. The version provided in the download of that article is aimed for the Xbox, which makes it kind of confusing on the windows platform as it uses classes that are not needed, such as the Guide class. If you are working on the Xbox and have doubts, have a look in the book: "XNA Game Studio 4.0 Programming".

My main objection to the example at MSDN: Serialization is that it does NOT tell you where it gets the "device" object, and if you download the code to find out, it uses the "Guide" to get the device in a rather confusing way.

Searching around on how to make it work I found another 3 ways to get the storage device here MSDN : Get StorageDevice. Note that even though they are ALMOST the same as in the MSDN: Serialization example code, the function call varies, not much, but enough to drive one crazy. God bless IntelliSense. If you’ve got more interest, there is a theoretical explanation on how to get a storage device at MSDN : User Storage.


For both saving and loading the steps are almost the same. Notice most of the work goes into getting the actual file we are going to save to. The function calls to achieve this vary slightly from platform to platform, but we’re going to stick with windows, as the code download at the MSDN: Serialization tutorial has a Xbox version.

  1. User requests to Save / Load
  2. Get the StorageDevice.
    1. Request StorageDevice
    2. Receive StorageDevice
  3. Get a StorageContainer from the device.
    1. Request StorageContainer
    2. Receive StorageContainer
  4. Get the Stream of the file we want to use from the container.
  5. Serialize / Deserialize.
  6. Cleanup.


With that out of the way, let’s head over to the code!
We will be using a very simple data class to serialize in this first tutorial.

Code Snippet
  1. /// <summary>
  2. /// Data class with some basic data
  3. /// for testing.
  4. /// </summary>
  5. [Serializable]
  6. public class Data1
  7. {
  8. public int age;
  9. public string name = "Chuel";
  10. /// <summary>
  11. /// Initializes a new instance of
  12. /// the Data1 class.
  13. /// Required default constructor for
  14. /// serialization.
  15. /// </summary>
  16. public Data1()
  17. {
  18. this.age = 0;
  19. }
  20. /// <summary>
  21. /// Initializes a new instance of
  22. /// the Data1 class.
  23. /// </summary>
  24. /// <param name="age">Age of the chuel.</param>
  25. public Data1(int age)
  26. {
  27. this.age = age;
  28. }
  29. public void Draw(SpriteBatch spriteBatch, SpriteFont font)
  30. {
  31. string text = "Name: " + +
  32. " Age: " + this.age;
  33. spriteBatch.DrawString(
  34. font, text,
  35. new Vector2(10, 10),
  36. Color.White);
  37. }
  38. }

First thing to notice here is that you need to mark with the [Serializable] attribute the class you want to serialize (Not necessary for serializing to XML, check r2d2rigo's comment), there are more options to explore with related attributes and you can find it here. Second, that it’s a public class, as the object you serialize must be public. Third, only public properties or fields will be serialized (age and name).

And here is how we load / save the data.

Code Snippet
  1. /// <summary>
  2. /// This is a game component that
  3. /// implements IUpdateable.
  4. /// It serializes data in a simple way,
  5. /// no preprocesing or special content.
  6. /// No blocking when doing the async. calls.
  7. /// </summary>
  8. public class Mode2 :
  9. Microsoft.Xna.Framework.DrawableGameComponent
  10. {
  11. public Data1 data1;
  12. private SpriteBatch spriteBatch;
  13. // Keyboard polling helpers
  14. private KeyboardState currentState;
  15. private KeyboardState previousState;
  16. // Action to do
  17. private enum State {
  18. Innactive, RequestDevice,
  19. GetDevice, GetContainer,
  20. SaveLoad };
  21. private State state;
  22. private enum Action { None, Save, Load };
  23. private Action action;
  24. // Needed variables
  25. IAsyncResult result = null;
  26. StorageDevice device = null;
  27. StorageContainer container = null;
  28. public Mode2(Game game)
  29. : base(game)
  30. {
  31. state = State.Innactive;
  32. action = Action.None;
  33. }
  34. public override void Initialize()
  35. {
  36. base.Initialize();
  37. this.spriteBatch =
  38. new SpriteBatch(Game.GraphicsDevice);
  39. this.data1 = new Data1();
  40. }
  41. public override void Update(GameTime gameTime)
  42. {
  43. // Key checking
  44. previousState = currentState;
  45. currentState = Keyboard.GetState();
  46. // STEP 1: User requests save / load
  47. // When we press the "s" key
  48. if (currentState.IsKeyUp(Keys.S) &&
  49. previousState.IsKeyDown(Keys.S))
  50. {
  51. // Request to save
  52. if (state == State.Innactive &&
  53. action == Action.None)
  54. {
  55. this.state = State.RequestDevice;
  56. this.action = Action.Save;
  57. }
  58. }
  59. // When we press the "l" key
  60. if (currentState.IsKeyUp(Keys.L) &&
  61. previousState.IsKeyDown(Keys.L))
  62. {
  63. // Request to save
  64. if (state == State.Innactive &&
  65. action == Action.None)
  66. {
  67. this.state = State.RequestDevice;
  68. this.action = Action.Load;
  69. }
  70. }
  71. // Do the actual save or load
  72. if (this.action == Action.Save &&
  73. this.state != State.Innactive)
  74. {
  75. this.Save();
  76. }
  77. if (this.action == Action.Load &&
  78. this.state != State.Innactive)
  79. {
  80. this.Load();
  81. }
  82. // Make the age change so we can see
  83. // stuff change with the save / load
  84. if (Mouse.GetState().LeftButton ==
  85. ButtonState.Pressed)
  86. {
  87. this.data1.age += 1;
  88. }
  89. base.Update(gameTime);
  90. }
  91. /// <summary>
  92. /// Function where we do all the saving
  93. /// </summary>
  94. private void Save()
  95. {
  96. switch (this.state)
  97. {
  98. case State.RequestDevice:
  99. {
  100. // STEP 2.a: Request the device
  101. result =
  102. StorageDevice.BeginShowSelector(
  103. PlayerIndex.One,
  104. null,
  105. null);
  106. this.state = State.GetDevice;
  107. }
  108. break;
  109. case State.GetDevice:
  110. {
  111. // If the device is ready
  112. if (result.IsCompleted)
  113. {
  114. // STEP 2.b: Recieve the device
  115. device =
  116. StorageDevice.EndShowSelector(result);
  117. // STEP 3.a: Request the container
  118. result.AsyncWaitHandle.Close();
  119. result = null;
  120. result = device.BeginOpenContainer(
  121. "StorageDemo",
  122. null,
  123. null);
  124. this.state = State.GetContainer;
  125. }
  126. }
  127. break;
  128. case State.GetContainer:
  129. {
  130. // If the container is ready
  131. if (result.IsCompleted)
  132. {
  133. // STEP 3.b: Recieve the container
  134. container = device.EndOpenContainer(result);
  135. result.AsyncWaitHandle.Close();
  136. this.state = State.SaveLoad;
  137. }
  138. }
  139. break;
  140. case State.SaveLoad:
  141. {
  142. string filename = "savegame.sav";
  143. // Check to see whether
  144. // the file exists.
  145. if (container.FileExists(filename))
  146. {
  147. // Delete it so that we
  148. // can create one fresh.
  149. container.DeleteFile(filename);
  150. }
  151. // Create the file.
  152. Stream stream =
  153. container.CreateFile(filename);
  154. // Convert the object to XML data
  155. // and put it in the stream.
  156. XmlSerializer serializer =
  157. new XmlSerializer(typeof(Data1));
  158. serializer.Serialize(stream, data1);
  159. // Close the file.
  160. stream.Close();
  161. // Dispose the container, to
  162. // commit changes.
  163. container.Dispose();
  164. state = State.Innactive;
  165. action = Action.None;
  166. }
  167. break;
  168. }
  169. }
  170. /// <summary>
  171. /// Function where we do all the loading
  172. /// </summary>
  173. private void Load()
  174. {
  175. switch (this.state)
  176. {
  177. case State.RequestDevice:
  178. {
  179. // STEP 2.a: Request the device
  180. result =
  181. StorageDevice.BeginShowSelector(
  182. PlayerIndex.One,
  183. null,
  184. null);
  185. this.state = State.GetDevice;
  186. }
  187. break;
  188. case State.GetDevice:
  189. {
  190. // If the device is ready
  191. if (result.IsCompleted)
  192. {
  193. // STEP 2.b: Recieve the device
  194. device =
  195. StorageDevice.EndShowSelector(result);
  196. // STEP 3.a: Request the container
  197. result.AsyncWaitHandle.Close();
  198. result = null;
  199. result =
  200. device.BeginOpenContainer(
  201. "StorageDemo",
  202. null,
  203. null);
  204. this.state = State.GetContainer;
  205. }
  206. }
  207. break;
  208. case State.GetContainer:
  209. {
  210. // If the container is ready
  211. if (result.IsCompleted)
  212. {
  213. // STEP 3.b: Recieve the container
  214. container =
  215. device.EndOpenContainer(result);
  216. result.AsyncWaitHandle.Close();
  217. this.state = State.SaveLoad;
  218. }
  219. }
  220. break;
  221. case State.SaveLoad:
  222. {
  223. string filename = "savegame.sav";
  224. // Check to see whether the save exists.
  225. if (!container.FileExists(filename))
  226. {
  227. // If not, dispose of the
  228. // container and return.
  229. container.Dispose();
  230. return;
  231. }
  232. // Create the file.
  233. Stream stream =
  234. container.OpenFile(
  235. filename,
  236. FileMode.Open);
  237. // Convert the object to XML
  238. // data and put it in the stream.
  239. XmlSerializer serializer =
  240. new XmlSerializer(typeof(Data1));
  241. data1 =
  242. (Data1)serializer.Deserialize(stream);
  243. // Close the file.
  244. stream.Close();
  245. // Dispose the container, to commit changes.
  246. container.Dispose();
  247. state = State.Innactive;
  248. action = Action.None;
  249. }
  250. break;
  251. }
  252. }
  253. public override void Draw(GameTime gameTime)
  254. {
  255. base.Draw(gameTime);
  256. this.spriteBatch.Begin();
  257. this.data1.Draw(
  258. this.spriteBatch,
  259. Game.Content.Load<SpriteFont>("Font"));
  260. this.spriteBatch.End();
  261. }
  262. }

We need to get 2 objects with asynchronous calls, the device and the container. This means we need to be careful not to block the game while we wait for the calls to return, and that’s why the code looks like a magical rainbow of cases, because the Update() function might be called lots of times while we wait and we don’t want strange stuff to happen.

We create a data object with just a name and an age, when we press the left button of the mouse the age increments, press “s” to save and “l” to load the last saved data.

Following the comments in the code should give a pretty clear idea of what is going on, but we’ll go over it none the less, I’ll ignore the support code not directly related with serialization, but if there are any doubts just ask in the comments. There is some redundant code but I haven’t shortened to make it as simple as possible to follow the logic.

Both save and load work very similar. First thing we need to do is get a storage device. This requires using an asynchronous call, so we request it (2.a) by calling BeginShowSelector and when it’s ready result.IsCompleted will return true. Notice that in windows we pass PlayerIndex.One as the parameter.

We then receive the device (2.b) and request the container from the device (3.a) with BeginContainer, where we pass the name of the “container” to use, in this case, the folder StorageDemo.

We finally we receive the container (3.b) and we’re ready to go! No more magical asynchronous stuff.

The last part is where the actual serializing takes place. For saving we get ourselves a file to write on (4) and a serializer for the type of data we want to serialize (Data1 in this case), and then just serialize it into the file (5) and tidy up (6). For loading we check the file exists (4) and then open it and deserialize into our data object (5) and clean up (6).

The generated XML looks like this:

Code Snippet
  1. <?xml version="1.0"?>
  2. <Data1 xmlns:xsi="" xmlns:xsd="">
  3. <age>43</age>
  4. <name>Chuel</name>
  5. </Data1>

A last note on how the system is set up. The Mode2 class is a DrawableGameComponent so that the XNA framework takes care of everything (updating and drawing and so on), and in our game class we only need to add one line. Has nothing to do with serializing.

Code Snippet
  1. public Game1()
  2. {
  3. graphics = new GraphicsDeviceManager(this);
  4. Content.RootDirectory = "Content";
  5. this.Components.Add(new Mode2(this));
  6. }


Data that XNA serializes

XNA doesn’t serialize everything that there is in the class, but the documentation is not too specific on what’s game besides “public properties and fields”. So I went ahead a did a little testing. Here are the results of testing, plus what I found searching around the net.

  • Serializes public properties, not private or protected.
  • Serializes public fields with both get and set, not partially implemented fields.
  • Arrays of values or of objects work fine.
  • Lists<> of values or of objects work fine. Tough not generic List<T>
  • Cannot serialize ArrayList.
  • Cannot serialize an enumeration of unsigned long with any value larger than 9,223,372,036,854,775,807.
  • Typical XNA classes like Rectangle or Vector work just fine with the serialization.
  • On serializing references, I found this bit from the MSDN forum:

    “It will serialize references, but always as a copy. Basically what this means is that each time the serializer hits an object that has a reference to another serializable object exposed as a public property or field, it will write out the all of the public properties/fields of the object that reference points to. This is a problem if you have the same object referenced multiple times by something you're serializing. For instance...say you had two MeleeAttack's referencing the same PhysicsObject. After deserialization, you'd end up with your MeleeAttack's having references to different PhysicsObject's with identical properties. I used to get around this by giving certain types of objects a unique integer ID, and then having the objects serialize the ID rather than the reference. Then after deserialization I'd have another initialization step where I'd use the ID to look up the corresponding object and grab a reference.”
  • From textures it only saves the name.

Leads for more complex serialization magic

For elements that we read from Xml that are not in the object, we can use the XmlAnyElementAttribute and XmlAnyAttributeAttribute attributes. Useful for compatibility with older versions of our code. Check it here.

To ignore a field we can use the XmlIgnoreAttribute. Check it here.

You can override the serialization of any set of objects by creating one of the appropriate attributes and adding it to an instance of the XmlAttributes class. More complex stuff that can be used to serialize things that come from dlls, or to control how to serialize your own data. Check it here.

You can use the IXmlSerializable interface to provide custom formatting for Xml serialization and deserialization. Check it here.

4 Quick rules

To end, 4 quick reference rules to keep in mind for serializing:

  • Note #1: You need to mark the class you want to serialize with the [Serializable] attribute.
  • Note #2: Serialized classes must have a default constructor.
  • Note #3: Serialization only converts the public properties and fields
  • Note #3: The actual object you serialize must be public.


The serialization mechanism is awesome as in it’s automatic for the classes marked, but it’s lack of handling references correctly makes it useless for saving a big “chunk” of game data (like a whole level) as it doesn’t avoid the work of having to set up a ID system to take care of the references. It is best suited for things as saving the player preferences, or the control settings or similar.