Creating a simple Windows 10 game with Win2D

Some time ago while looking at some pixel art work I got an idea to create a retro pixel art game for Windows 10. The choice was obvious, Sokoban. I have a very special relationship with the Sokoban game. The Delpi version of Sokoban was the first game I ever created. I later ported it to all the platforms I played with, namely J2ME (for my Siemens S60 phone), Linux (using Kylix which was basically a Delphi for Linux), Windows Phone 7 and now Sokoban Pixel for the Universal Windows Platform.

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Creating better forms in Windows Phone apps

If you are a Windows Phone user you must know that filling in forms in apps is usually a real pain. There is no good way to move from one input to another or to collapse the keyboard. The whole process becomes a struggle, tapping outside the input fields to collapse the keyboard allowing you to scroll to the next input or to the submit button at the top of the screen, usually occluded by the keyboard.

The typical struggle to get to the last input fields and the submit button may look like this

There is no guidance on how to approach this. Take a look at the Store app on Windows 10 mobile, the perfect example of bad UI and UX directly from Microsoft and try review an app. You fill in the title of the review, then struggle to go into the review text input, you have to tap somewhere above the input to hide the keyboard, but not to hit the stars control … just an UX disaster.

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Using Tooltips to make better menus in Windows apps

If you use Windows apps with navigation menus consisting of icons, you may have noticed that some of those apps show you a text when hovering above those icons. This is a nice touch for the users, allowing them to quickly grasp the meaning of the menu icons without the need to click them or to expand the menu (if available).

Implementing this kind of hovers is really easy thanks to the ToolTipService that is available in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 UWP. You can add <ToolTipService.ToolTip> with any element and include basically any XAML content as the tooltip. Here is a sample from the animation using a simple localized TextBlock

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Choosing an image from gallery or camera a bit better in Universal Windows apps

When developing Windows Phone apps you may encounter a use case when you have to allow the user to either pick a photo from the photos gallery in the photo or a take a new photo using the phone’s camera. One example of this may be the registration process when the user may choose a profile picture.

In Windows Phone 8.1, this task is quite simple, just use the FileOpenPicker. It allows you to pick a photo from the gallery or take a new photo. Just take a look at this animation showing how the users takes a new photo using the phone’s camera.

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Using Hockey App to distribute Windows Phone apps

Distributing Windows Phone apps to testers has always been a pain. The Private Beta in the Windows Store intended for this is not very flexible and it got much worse with Windows 10 (generating promotional code that can take up to 24 hours).

One of the better ways to solve the beta build distribution is using a service like Hockey App, that Microsoft recently acquired. To be able to use Hockey App (or any other service) you need to buy a $299 certificate from Symantec.

You then use the certificate to sign the XAP or APPX files of your app. Those signed binaries can be than installed on devices with the correct application enrollment token directly from Hockey App, bypassing the Windows Store.

One of my clients got persuaded to try this approach after some problem with the Windows Store Private Beta and bough the certificate. It took a week for the purchase to go through and another week to finally get the certificate in the correct PFX format from Symantec.

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Problems getting paid from the Windows Store, again

I do not make much money on my Windows Phone apps (who does?), but when the payout time comes every couple of months, I expect the money to be delivered. Dealing with Microsoft, I should know better.

Failed payment

Last month I looked into the Dev Center and saw that my scheduled payment failed, telling me to contact the support. So I did. The result was one moth of exchanging email without a solution.

Dealing with support

The Microsoft employee told me that I am in a small group of people with this problem. I do not know if I have such a bad look always be in a problematic supposedly small group, or that the group are not that small. He told me that Microsoft will retry the payment. The payment was supposedly retried on June 24th and succeeded. So they say.

Great news, your June payout was returned due to an internal issue; however, the payout of 5264.17 CZK has been re-attempted and was successfully completed on June 24th. If you have not received the payout then please review this transaction with your bank. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

I never got the money. The employee asked me a few times if I got the money and then resigned, telling me that it is my problem and I should check with my bank. Of course I checked with my bank, they do not have the money. If they had, they would transfer it to my account.

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Implementing Google login in Universal Apps

In a recent project I had to implement Google login to an Universal App. I decided to use the native WebAuthenticationBroker control and the implementation was not as straightforward as I hoped. By implementing Google login I mean getting the authentication token that you can then use with your server API.

WebAuthenticationBroker is a good idea but it is implemented rather poorly. It works differently on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 due to the “AndContinue” pattern that Windows Phone 8.1 forces on you. You can solve this with some ifdefs and platform specific code, as always.

The real problem s that the MSDN sample states it works with Google login but it does not. The sample thinks it gets the authentication token but it does not, it just gets the success code that you have to exchange for the authentication token yourself.

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The death of the WinRT developer?

As many other Windows Phone / Windows 8 / Universal apps developers (lets just call us WinRT developers) I watched the Build 2015 keynote last night. And I did not like it. I know Microsoft does not know to communicate but the message for me was clear. We, the WinRT developer, are no longer needed.

First, Microsoft announced that WPF apps will be allowed to be submitted to the Windows Store to be used on desktops / tablets. So why would anyone want to develop (or want to have developed) a Windows 8 (WinRT) app, when they can just use WPF and get everything done easier? I do not know.

But allowing WPF apps to the Windows Store is a small news compared to the ability to run Android apps on Windows Phone. The first news talked about porting Android apps to the Windows Phone, but later, statements like this appeared

Android developers will be able to submit versions of their apps, written in Java or C++, to the Windows Store in he form of APKs and have those apps work on Windows Phone 10 devices. Android developers should be able to start submitting apps to the Windows 10 Store some time in the next few months.

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Player Framework localization

In my recent universal (Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1) project I implemented PlayReady DRM protected smooth streaming movies playback using the Player Framework. This projects seems to be dead, but it is still the best option when implementing any kind of video playback.

One of the first things I had to do was localize it’s controls, because the app I worked on was in Czech and Slovak, not in English (the only language the Player Framework supports out of the box). Not all the texts an be localized, but the most visible ones like button labels and error messages can.

To create your own localization, I suggest you create a new RESW file in your project. You can use and existing one, but I prefer to separate the texts for the Player Framework from texts for the rest of the app.

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Leveraging ETag caching in Windows Phone and Windows apps

In my previous article I showed you how to implements server side caching using ETag. HTTP clients on other platforms can usually work with ETag automatically, but of course, the portable HTTP client used on Windows platforms cannot. You have to implement ETag handling yourself.

In TvTime, all the server requests are GET request, so I remember the ETag values for each Url (= each GET request). I store the ETag values in application local settings.

When the app wants to get some data, I perform a GET request including the ETag as the If-None-Match header. If my ETag matches with the ETag on the server, the server returns HTTP 304 Not Modified and I return the cached data from disk. Otherwise I read the response body and return it.

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