Category Archives: Data Saving and Loading

Getting data into and out of the MUD engine.

A New Save System – Easy Save To The Rescue

With Into The Inferno development, I reached the point where it was time to get a better save-game system than the existing hacked-together-in-an-hour XML file. It had been on my to-do list for a while as part of evolving past the “you get one save slot, and that’s it” stage.

I have a ton of experience with C#, so throwing something in an XML file is second nature. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but some of the legacy bits are strongly disrecommended by Microsoft at this point (BinaryFormatter for example).

I decided to “do what everyone else does” and get a copy of Easy Save from the Unity Asset Store. It’s immensely popular and highly recommended and it seemed like it’d be the shortest time-to-implement of the available options.

Fast-forward 8 hours later. I have a working save system with three save slots and it’s better in every way than the previous system. I was able to re-use a lot of my existing data code, rewrote some of it to be cleaner, and have “summaries” that are saved as part of the game saves that say where and who the party was at the time of save, and the interface changes necessary to support all of this.


Into The Inferno Main Menu Load Game - Before

Loading From the Main Menu – Before

Into The Inferno Save Game - Before

Saving At The Inn – Before\

As you can see, there’s just “Load Game” but you have no idea what you’re loading. Similarly, saving the game is just “Save Game” with nothing beyond that.

After implementing Easy Save, this is what I have:

Loading From the Main Menu - After

Loading From the Main Menu – After

Into The Inferno Save Game - After

Saving At The Inn – After

The first screenshot shows what comes up after you click “Load Game” on the menu. The summary text is localized in realtime, so in Spanish you’ll see that Archie is a “nivel 1 guerrero” even if you saved the game in English.

The second screenshot is saving the game from the inn. Saves at this point are an intentionally-limited resource (for better or worse), but at least now you have more control over them, and it’s easy to customize the number of slots that there are.

In the future I’d like to add Steam cloud save synchronization, but I have no idea how tough that will be. In any case, Easy Save made what I thought was a 40-hour task into a single day project, testing and UI changes included, and I definitely recommend it.

Preserving Newlines in XML Serialization

With .NET’s XML serialization, it kills newlines when you serialize XML to disk. More specifically, it converts a CR+LF into just an LF (\r\n becomes just \n).

This was causing annoyances with the spell editor, since you can edit source code for spells with it, but the code would appear all on one line after saving and reloading.

The fix was to declare XmlWriterSettings with a newline preference.

The code was this:

         public void Save()
             XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer(GetType());
             Stream stream = new FileStream(FileLocation.SpellDirectory + FileName,
                 FileMode.Create, FileAccess.Write, FileShare.None);
             serializer.Serialize(stream, this);

And now it’s this:

        public void Save()
            XmlWriterSettings ws = new XmlWriterSettings();
            ws.NewLineHandling = NewLineHandling.Entitize;
            XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer(GetType());
            Stream stream = new FileStream(FileLocation.SpellDirectory + FileName,
                FileMode.Create, FileAccess.Write, FileShare.None);
            XmlWriter writer = XmlWriter.Create(stream, ws);
            serializer.Serialize(writer, this);

I can have my newlines and eat them too. Oh joy!

More Fixes To File Loading

A week ago I wrote about Mono not being happy with XmlElementAttribute.  I had cleaned up loading/saving for players and zone files, but skill and spell data needed some work.  I took care of that today, so all of the xml serialization is happy now.

I’ve hired the wife as a QA tester to do some preliminary “how broken is it” testing so I know what needs to be fixed before the real work (building) can begin.

Visual Studio Refactoring And Encapsulation

I love the refactoring support in MS Visual Studio.  It makes certain things like field encapsulation incredibly easy.

For instance, thanks to its origins in C, most of the Basternae 3 codebase doesn’t have encapsulation yet.  This means that there are tons of class member variables declared like this:

public string _keyword;

Setting the _keyword member variable to private and creating a property named Keyword with getters and setters that reference the _keyword variable would take about 30 seconds.

With Visual Studio it’s easier:  Just right-click on the variable and select “Encapsulate Field”.  It will come up with a reasonable property name and automatically generate the code and set the variable to private.

Pretty nice, but nothing to write home about.

But, here’s the magic:

All references to that variable in code are AUTOMATICALLY changed to refer to the property.  If that member variable was used in 50 different places, Visual Studio just saved you the trouble of making 50 different changes or doing a search-and-replace that may or may not get everything on the first try.

Of course, this doesn’t automatically update any XML files that have been saved using the old variable name.  To take care of that you can do one of two things.

1. Do a search and replace in every XML file that your class would have been serialized to and hope you didn’t miss one.
2. Use the XmlElementAttribute on your property to map the saved attributes to your new type:
public string Keyword

#2 is obviously safer and easier, especially since it doesn’t require changes to existing data.  Of course, your data files might be clearer to read if they used the exact property names, but do you want to go through the trouble?  Likely not.

Continuing Spell Migration

When we last saw our hero, he was working on migrating spells from being hard-coded in 15 different places to being individual XML data files that are loaded at boot time.

While this makes it easy to modify, enable, disable, rename, or adjust spells without a recompile, the main reason I’m doing so is because there’s just so dang much clutter in the codebase with spell info strewn about everywhere.  It’s like a pack of wizards exploded in there, I swear.

This will also make it far easier to make minor adjustments for balance.  Instead of having to track down a developer to go through many slow tweak-recompile-reboot cycles just to adjust spell damage, the “balance engineer” will be able to work independently.  In the future it may be possible to perform online editing of spell attributes without a reload.  This is obviously not something that everyone should be allowed to do.

Part of the migration will be to move most of the actual function code into the spell files.  Most spells are pretty generic in nature — add an affect (flight, strength, poison) or affect hitpoints in some way (fireball, heal).  Even so, the same ~10 lines of code are duplicated for pretty much every spell with only the name changed.

Making the spells somewhat independent of the game engine also makes the engine less “tied” to Basternae.  At some point I’d like to create a space-based MUD using the same code, and the spells would obviously be dead weight.

A Whole New Spell And Skill Engine

Well, maybe not a *whole* engine quite yet, but certainly two thirds of one.

I’ve generated about 500 little XML files to hold all of the skill and spell data for dynamic runtime loading.  It’s all pretty neat — skills and spells can be tweaked by hand without having to compile any code (though the MUD requires a reboot) and they’re loaded at runtime, stored in a Dictionary type, and accessed based on their names.

There isn’t a single hard-coded spell or skill value in the engine.  Hardcoded values were something that always bothered me.

Another thing I did in this process is embed “logical preference” data in the skill and spell files so that the AI engine can be improved while at the same time removing the need for thousands of lines of “spaghetti code” like in Basternae 2.  You see, each spell and skill check in B2 was hardcoded in a specific order and with a specific percentage chance.  Adding a skill or rearranging mob AI meant editing these in more than one place.

Instead (when the AI code is done), we’ll be able to set a few flags on each spell or skill and it will handle it automatically (unless a specific mob has a personality override file).

Oversimplified example:

Fireball.xml:  Type = offensive, Preference = 65, Likelihood = 40
LightningBolt.xml:  Type = offensive, Preference = 50, Likelihood = 50

This means, essentially, that a mob would have a 40% chance of casting fireball during combat, and if that didn’t go off, it would have a 50% chance of casting lightning bolt.  Changing the way the mob performs in combat is just a simple number tweak.

I have some pretty huge plans for mob AI, but this new spell/skill system goes a long way toward making those plans easy to implement.

I also have yet to embed all necessary custom code in the spell/skill files, but one thing that’ll be done is that most information needed to trigger a spell will be embedded in the file.  Instead of manually writing a dozen lines of the same code for each spell to validate the target, check saving throws, set damage type and amount, send messages, and deliver the affect(s), most spells will use one general-purpose function that checks the spell types and flags and executes the spell’s action.

This means that most standard spells that are just damage or single-affect, like “soulshield” or “fireball” won’t have any embedded code at all.  Instead, only super-involved custom spells like the enchantment spell “earthen smith” will have their own embedded instructions.

Well, that was long-winded.  It had to be — I’ve done a lot and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished with this.

Learned Something New Today

I came across this article on Scripting with C#.

Quick summary: It tells how to load and compile C# code from within a running application so that you can dynamically load scripts.

This is something I’ve been meaning to find out how to do for a while. I’ve always wanted to create a file-based spell system that loads and compiles all spells at boot time so that they aren’t so tightly integrated into the engine. As it was historically, if you removed a single hardcoded spell, such as “armor”, the entire mud would crash or at least be very unhappy.

Well, what good are 400+ hardcoded spells going to do you when you use the mud engine for a sci-fi, historical fiction, or contemporary post-apocalyptic setting? None at all. That’s why getting them once-removed from the core is something I wanted to do. Super-long-term there’s not just one MUD coming out of all this effort.

The Joy of the Flags Enumeration

In the old days of MUDs it became a rather common occurrence to use each bit of a 32-bit integer as a binary flag to set or unset a value. This was far more efficient than using an array of 32 boolean values because the integer consumed 4 bytes, while an array of 32 booleans consumed anywhere from 32 to 128 bytes, depending on the system architecture.

This helped to save a great deal of storage space and memory, which was incredibly important given the machines of 1991 or so: a 33MHz 80486 processor with 16 megabytes of RAM was pretty typical.

Even with systems a lot cheaper and a lot faster now, the amount of RAM and processor time you use is still a pretty big determinant of the type of hosting plan you will need to purchase. Saving RAM is still a good idea.

Take, for instance, the “system flags”. It’s a group of flags that control certain things about the game, such as whether equipment wears out in combat and whether mobs are limited in the number of spells they can cast in battle. Stored in the new XML format as an integer, a typical value is:


That’s not very descriptive.

We can make it a little more descriptive by using an enum tagged with the FlagsAttribute. Here’s how we implement it:

public enum MudFlags
none = 0,
turbolevel = 1,
equipmentdamage = 2,
mobcastslots = 4,
mobslootplayers = 8,
autoprice = 16,
walkableocean = 32,
nameapproval = 64

In our system data class we have a variable that is a MudFlags type.

As with an enumerated value, this type uses the flag names for serialization and deserialization. Now we can see what things are turned on with a quick glance at the system data file:

<_actFlags>equipmentdamage autoprice</_actFlags>

So, equipment damage and automatic pricing is turned on.

This is also handy for displaying what flags are set — we can just use the ToString() method of the MudFlags type to get more info.

.Net XML Serialization

Most of the saving and loading of MUD data in Basterne 2 was handled by low-level C functions that used a custom text file format for each data type. That is just a bad idea.

Save and load functions were typically dozens or hundreds of lines of code with lots of room for error and data loss. If a word was off by one space or a character was miscapitalized, a file load would fail and nothing could be done. Players of Basternae 2 probably remember pfile corruption issues with anything but fondness.

Every time we changed a file format by adding another value to an object, we had to build a translator that would convert the old file to the new version. Usually this wasn’t too hard, but it did result in a LOT of extra code lying around where it didn’t belong.

.Net makes this a lot better by giving us XML serialization.

With XML serialization, data is dumped out in a neat little XML file that can be read not only by our MUD server, but by just about anything that can read XML, which these days is just about every application in existence. Gone are the days of low-level custom file formats and painful data corruption issues (I hope).

So, how do we do it?

For example, I just rewrote the saving and loading of fraglists to use XML serialization. The code started as 174 lines of custom textfile saving and loading with lots of recursive looping to save and read the arrays containing numbers on the frag list by race and class.

Now the code looks like:

public void Load()
XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer( this.GetType() );
Stream stream = new FileStream( Database.SYSTEM_DIR + Database.FRAG_FILE, FileMode.Open,
FileAccess.Read, FileShare.None );
fraglist = (frag_data)serializer.Deserialize(stream);

public void Save()
XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer( this.GetType() );
Stream stream = new FileStream( Database.SYSTEM_DIR + Database.FRAG_FILE, FileMode.Create,
FileAccess.Write, FileShare.None );
serializer.Serialize( stream, this );

Cleaner and better, just the way we like it. I still hate the way WordPress formats source code.

The compile error count is now down to 1,649.