Let’s be honest: Integrated Development Environments are hardly the most glamorous of software packages. In fact, many would say they’re not even that necessary – maybe people stuck in the middle ages with nothing but a vim terminal window and a gcc toolchain. And while that’s certainly a viable method of development, and one that even has a place in modern times, it’s not surprising that most would want a slightly more user-friendly, more productive programming environment.
It was ten years ago that Microsoft first unified its development environments together to make Visual Studio, although that original version still featured separate applications for each language, from C++ to J++ (and presumably not the other letters in between). Visual Studio 2008 is the latest version of Microsoft’s one-stop development solution, but what relevance does it have to game developers?
Sure, there are a bucket-load of features aimed at the enterprise developer – better integration with databases, integrated support for SQL Server 2005 Compact Edition for mobile and handheld platforms, the ability to create Microsoft Office applications and customise the Office interface, and more productive data handling with the Language Integrated Query (LINQ) extensions to C# and Visual Basic – but most of these can seem irrelevant to problems and situations encountered in game development.
Significant improvements have been made to the environment, however, that can aid in the game development process. The source control, rename re-factoring and a deployment solution that includes visual diff/merge are sure to be of use, as is support for test-driven development. An increasingly popular tenet of Extreme Programming, Visual Studio 2008’s unit testing capabilities have been enhanced with speed increases for tests run from both the IDE and command-line, and the addition of test inheritance now also enabling developers to re-use inherited methods.
Also of interest to game developers is the integration of performance tuning and diagnostics into the IDE’s test tools. Developers can now profile during tests, allowing them to run load and test procedures against a system, watch how it behaves, and use the integrated tools to profile, debug and tune. Support for performance base-lining is also included, meaning that a baseline profile can be saved and then, if the performance degrades, users can compare up-to-date traces to identify the source of the regression.
Tools programmers will also benefit from full support for developing Windows Vista ‘look and feel’ applications, even from unmanaged C++ code, with many MFC applications benefiting from visual enhancements with just a simple recompile. Designing user interfaces has also been hugely improved with compatibility with Microsoft’s new art program Expression enabling artists to have full control of UI design, especially useful for tools that non-technical staff will use.
All in all, Visual Studio 2008 is an update significant enough to deserve a place on most programmers’ workstations – and you don’t even have to take our word for it, with the full Beta 2 included with this issue for you to try.
FEATURES AT A GLANCE
- Integrated support for unit testing
- Integrated performance profiling and analysis
- Windows Vista UI support
- Support for Expression-designed UIs
- Enhanced database support
- Visual Studio Tools for Office built-in
- Office 2007 UI support for native C++ apps
- Better interoperability between native and managed code