TvGameLauncherGUI

July 12, 2014

A couple of months ago I blogged about TvGameLauncher, a command line tool to help you launch your favorite games on your HDMI-connected TV (or any other connected display) with all the necessary steps carried out for you (change primary display, change default audio endpoint, prevent sleep).

The tool works great (at least for me :) ), but its command-line nature leaves is inaccessible to users who aren’t comfortable with the command line and the entire experience isn’t that much fun.

Enter TvGameLauncherGUI. I’ve created a nice(?) WPF GUI front-end for TvGameLauncher, and also improved the latter for good measure:

  1. There is now a useful “darken non-primary displays” that will darken all displays except the one where the game takes place for improved gaming immersion atmosphere.
  2. TvGameLauncher now employs the excellent NirCmd instead of the previous relatively unknown (and less reliable and updated) tools.
  3. Improved logging, error handling, and more.

Get it at SourceForge, and be sure to check out the 5 minute tutorial on Youtube.

TvGameLauncher

 

The Windows API Code Pack – the case of the missing samples

June 13, 2014

The Windows API Code Pack can be a boon for managed code developers wanting to access Windows functionality such as the TaskBar, Windows Shell, DirectX, Aero, Sensors, and more (see the article for a more complete list).

Unfortunately, the original link is dead (as is the entire MSDN Archive Gallery, may it rest in peace) - you can try the wayback machine but the download link won’t work. As it turns out, the code pack has found a new home in the Nuget repository:

This is all well and good, but these are just the binaries – where are the original code samples? The documentation comprises of thin XML API coverage, not nearly enough for a developer wanting to get started with development quickly. The original download contained many useful samples and these don’t seem to be available anymore.

Fortunately, a quick web search revealed quite a few mirrors of the original package (in its latest 1.1 version) :

And just because I’m paranoid, I’ve uploaded a copy to my OneDrive.

But wait, there’s more! The Windows 7 Training Kit For Developers contains yet additional samples using the Windows API Code Pack!

Happy coding :)

 

Creating managed wrappers for COM interfaces

May 31, 2014

COM interop can be a very useful tool, but it requires the definitions of the unmanaged interfaces one wants to use. This may be a little tricky, so here’s a small guide to help you out. Note that much of the advice below is applicable to P/Invoke as well.

Make sure it’s necessary

Many COM APIs have managed counterparts, so make sure you don’t waste your time doing what the BCL team already did for you. A quick search would usually lead you to the right StackOverflow / MSDN page. Make sure you check the Windows API Code Pack too.

See if it’s been done

Many times, the interface you want to use has already been written in managed form. For example, IPersistFile is already defined in mscorlib.dll (hint: you already have this referenced in your project by default) under the System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes namespace.

A quick MSDN search should start you off in the right direction – you’d be surprised where you find some of them… For example, Microsoft.VisualStudio.TestTools.UITest.Extension contains IUniformResourceLocator, and Microsoft.VisualStudio.OLE.Interop contains IPropertyStorage. Searches beyond MSDN could be worthwhile as well, especially note PInvoke.net. Another useful source is Ohloh code search (note that you can filter by language, e.g. C#).

If you don’t want to take a dependency on the assembly that has the definition you want, you can always copy the definitions you need to your source (e.g. from Reflector).

Another repository of managed code definitions is embedded in the P/Invoke Interop Assistant (more on this tool later).

Use TlbImp

Sometimes you won’t find the interface you want defined anywhere. Fortunately, TlbImp can automatically create the needed managed COM definitions for you, provided that you can feed it with the appropriate type library (.tlb) files (note that these could be embedded in EXE and DLL files as resource) .

That would have been straightforward had the OS / SDK actually come with tlb files for the entire Win32 COM API, but that is not always the case. Instead, you can usually find an interface definition (.idl) file containing the interface you desire (use findstr or something like find in files in Notepad++).

Once you find the relevant IDL file, you will need to compile it into a TLB file, which in turn could be fed to TlbImp. The midl compiler does just that, but it will only produce tlb files for Library definitions, which may not be present. Fortunately, we can simply inject some Library definition with the interfaces we want into the IDL file and thus “trick” midl into producing the tlb.

For example, suppose you want to get the managed definition of the IPropertySetStorage interace, which resides in [SDKFolder]\Include\um\PropIdl.Idl. 

  1. Open PropIdl.Idl in your favorite text editor
  2. Add the following after the definition of IPropertySetStorage:
    [ uuid( 03383777-9430-4A45-9417-38B4B5CB4143 )] // (use guidgen.exe to generate this guid)
    library TempLib {
    interface IPropertySetStorage;
    }
  3. Run midl PropIdl.Idl
  4. Run tlbimp PropIdl.tlb
  5. Don’t forget to undo your changes to PropIdl.Idl !

You will now have TempLib.dll containing all the required definitions for the interface.

Use the P/Invoke Interop Assistant

Sometimes you can’t even find IDL definitions for the interfaces you want, and in those cases you have to go hardcore and define them yourself. Note that you should look at the unmanaged definitions in the header (.h) file itself (again find it in the SDK folder with findstr or a similar tool) rather than the MSDN documentation, as definition order is very important and the docs don’t preserve it. MSDN may also present the signatures of the ANSI interface, whereas you’d likely want the Unicode variety (in the header file, they will be defined as InterfaceA for ANSI and InterfaceW for Unicode).

As for the signature conversion itself, the CLR Interop team has released the P/Invoke Interop Assistant to, well, assist you with that. Basically, you paste in the unmanaged signature of the interface / struct you want to use (grab them from MSDN), and it generates the managed definitions for you. Note that it may need your help sometimes for typedefs it doesn’t know (in these cases you need to “unwrap” the typedefs until you reach something it knows,  usually a basic type) so browsing the actual header files in Visual Studio may be more convenient (simply start a new Win32 project and include the desired header).

For more information on marshaling data between managed and unmanaged code see Marshaling Data with Platform Invoke. The P/Invoke Data Types table and the COM Data Types table are great cheat-sheets to have handy, too.

Don’t let Work Guy screw Home Guy over

May 1, 2014

A great man once said:

I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night, cause I’m Night Guy. Night Guy wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours sleep?’, oh that’s Morning Guy’s problem… That’s not my problem, I’m Night Guy - I stay up as late as I want! So you get up in the morning, you’re exhausted, groggy… oooh I hate that Night Guy!

See, Night Guy always screws Morning Guy. There’s nothing Morning Guy can do. The only Morning Guy can do is try and oversleep often enough so that Day Guy looses his job and Night Guy has no money to go out anymore.

Today, after tackling some annoying WCF issues at a late hour, I realized Work Guy and Home Guy have a very similar relationship.

When I’m at work , I stay to work late cause I’m Work Guy. I  want to track down that bug, I want to finish that piece of code, I want to get that test to pass, I want to study that interesting .NET topic a little further.

“What about getting home at 10:00 PM, missing the gym session you wanted to have, skipping that UFC title fight event you wanted to watch, and delaying that level you wanted to complete in your latest video game?”, oh that’s Home Guy’s problem - I’m Work Guy, I stay at work as late as I want!

So you get home late, and by the time you eat, shower, and write a small blog post you have to go to bed… ooh I hate that Work Guy ! It’s a good thing that by that time you’re already Night Guy, so you can stay up late :)

Measuring on-screen pixels

January 30, 2014

There are times when measuring pixels on-screen may be useful. This is especially true when following redline specifications (just make sure your browser zoom is set to 100%). There exist many free tools to aid in this task, and this SuperUser thread lists many of them. Luckily for you, I’ve tested most of the utilities proposed in the thread and the winner is… Cropper !

Image

Even though it’s a screen capture utility, it works very well for pixel measuring. Some of its useful features (the full list appears on their site):

  • Always On Top
  • F8 Show the main form
  • Arrow keys Nudge the main form one pixel (hold Ctrl for 10 pixels)
  • Alt+Arrow keys Resize the main form one pixel (hold Ctrl for 10 pixels)

When you need that extreme precision, you can use it in conjunction with the Windows Magnifier:

  • Win + ‘+’ Magnify (will also open the magnifier if not already open)
  • Win + ‘-’ Reduce
  • Win + Esc Close Magnifier

An honorary mention goes to Meazure. It is an excellent choice if you prefer a more verbose, extremely detailed UI with many features.

Image

There are also various browser extensions that offer similar functionality, but a global tool is obviously better (I actually didn’t like any of the extensions I tried regardless).

Introducing TvGameLauncher

January 12, 2014

I recently blogged about Playing PC games on your HDMI-connected TV, and I mentioned a couple of programs you could use to get the job done, along with a couple of batch files you could whip up to ease the process.

Secretly though, I knew it wasn’t enough. So I wrote TvGameLauncher to take care of everything for you (including something I forgot – preventing computer sleep). Everything is now done automatically in one fell swoop. 

For example, in order to run ioquake3 on your TV, you could run a command such as TvGameLauncher.exe -t -h 2 -s 0 -e “F:\Games\ioquake3\ioquake3.x86.exe”

And in order to run Hotline Miami (through Steam): TvGameLauncher.exe -t -h 2 -s 0 -l steam://rungameid/219150 -e HotlineGL.exe

Again, thanks go to Dave Amenta and Michael Welter for their useful utilities that made this possible!

I have some ideas for improvements, but this should suffice for now. 

Enjoy!

Image

Playing PC games on your HDMI-connected TV

January 4, 2014

Many people have a TV connected to their computer via HDMI as their secondary monitor. It is very convenient for HTPC usages, but playing games on the TV can be nice as well (especially when you have a gamepad connected).

The trouble is, most games will only run on the primary monitor, and the only way to get them to run on the TV is to make it the primary monitor. Windows makes this rather easy, but still, doing it manually each and every time before playing can be cumbersome. Fortunately, Michael Welter comes to the rescue with W7ToggleDisplay, a simple command-line tool that does the switching (don’t worry about the name, it works on Windows 8.1 as well). Simply run w7toggledisplay.exe /primary to make the switch.

Another annoyance is in the audio department. Presumably, when you play a game on the TV, you want the audio to come out of it as well (be it through its speakers or through some audio system connected to it). Since HDMI can carry audio, the easiest thing to do is switch the default playback device to the HDMI audio device. Again, this is easy enough to do but a nuisance to do every time. Fortunately, Dave Amenta created AudioEndPointController, a command-line tool that switches playback devices (even though the post mentions Windows 7, I’ve used it on Windows 8.1 without a hitch). First run EndPointController.exe and note the number identifiers for your regular and HDMI audio devices (the X in Audio Device X:). Then Run EndPointController.exe X where X is the number of the device you want to switch to.

Putting it all together

Now that we have all the prerequisites, we can create the following batch file to switch primary monitors, switch to HDMI audio output, run the game, and finally when the game is over switch everything back:

EndPointController.exe X
w7toggledisplay.exe /primary
Game.exe
EndPointController.exe Y
w7toggledisplay.exe /primary

Where X is the ID of your HDMI audio device, Y is the ID of your regular audio device, and Game.exe is the executable of your game.

Steam

Unfortunately, the above won’t work for Steam games, since they are not launched directly via their executable. Instead, they are launched via a special protocol that looks like steam://rungameid/219150. You can replace Game.exe above with start steam://rungameid/X where X is the steam ID of your game (as it appears in the original shortcut). This will launch the game, but the trouble is it won’t wait for the game to quit, switching the audio and display immediately back (the /wait switch doesn’t help). I haven’t found a way around that (if anyone is aware of one I’d be happy to hear), so for Steam games I use two batch files. One to switch primary display and audio, and run the game:

EndPointController.exe IdOfHdmiAudioDevice
w7toggledisplay.exe /primary
start steam://rungameid/SteamId

And then another script to toggle everything back (I give it a shortcut so I don’t have to find the icon on the TV every time):

EndPointController.exe IdOfRegularAudioDevice
w7toggledisplay.exe /primary

Happy gaming !

Mapping network resources to local files using Fiddler

December 9, 2013

In web development, it is sometimes useful to alter files locally on the client (browser) side and test their behavior.

For example, let’s say I’m the developer of Microsoft.com and I want to test mobile compatibility. One of the scripts participating in this mechanism, at the time of writing, is apparently http://www.microsoft.com/global/en-us/home/renderingAssets/wt_capi.js.

Now, say I want to make some changes to this file and test them out, but I want to make them locally on my computer. Maybe I don’t have access to the server right now. Maybe I don’t have a convenient testing environment. Maybe I want to test my changes on the production environment without affecting everyone.

Whatever the reason may be, Fiddler makes the process very simple.

  1. In the right pane, click the AutoResponder tab and check Enable automatic responses and Unmatched requests pass through
  2. Find the network resource you wish to replace in the Web Sessions list (in our case, http://www.microsoft.com/global/en-us/home/renderingAssets/wt_capi.jsand drag it to the AutoResponder rule
  3. Make sure the newly created rule is selected and in the Rule Editor at the bottom write the path of the local file you want to respond with, for example C:\wt_capi.js (you can also click the drop-down arrow and select Find a file…)
  4. Click Save in the bottom right corner.
Fiddler AutoResponder

Fiddler AutoResponder

All done. Whenever the browser asks for http://www.microsoft.com/global/en-us/home/renderingAssets/wt_capi.js, Fiddler will intercept that request and respond with C:\wt_capi.js (Fiddler will indicate this by highlighting the corresponding session in the Web Sessions list).

HTTPS

In order for the above to work with HTTPS, Fiddler’s certificate must be installed. This is highly not recommended to do on any machine in which you care about security, and ideally should only be done in a dedicated test-only VM. See the following article for instructions:

http://fiddler2.com/documentation/Configure-Fiddler/Tasks/DecryptHTTPS

Note that FireFox requires special handling:

http://fiddler2.com/blog/blog/2013/04/01/configuring-firefox-for-fiddler

For further information on Fiddler’s AutoResponder see:

http://fiddler2.com/documentation/KnowledgeBase/AutoResponder

A note on Chrome

Mapping is also supported in Chrome both natively and via extensions:

  1. Dev tools workspaces
  2. Tincr (extension)
  3. Devtools Autosave (extension)

However, I was not able to get any of the above to work as reliably as Fiddler.

Programmatically launching Visual Studio with parameters

July 21, 2013

In the group where I work, we don’t open Visual Studio (VS) solutions by double-clicking on them in Windows explorer, rather we have a special command-line launcher that takes care of that. The reasons why are unimportant, what I want to focus on in this post is the programmatic launching of Visual Studio when you want to pass it parameters beyond the file name.

Suppose you have the path of an SLN file in your hands, and you want to launch it in VS. Assuming VS is registered as the default application for SLN files (a reasonable assumption), the solution is pretty simple: Process.Start("foo.sln"). But what happens if you want to run it with a switch, say /Build debug? The previous approach won’t work. Instead, there are two things you need to do:

1. Find out the full path of the application registered to open SLN files - remember, you want this tool to work on any computer, regardless of where VS is installed (and which version is installed). Note that this application actually won’t be devenv.exe (VS’s executable), rather it will be VSLauncher.exe which analyzes the SLN file and decides which VS version to open. Finding its path is done by examining the registry, and I posted a function on StackOverflow that does exactly that.

2. Start VSLauncher.exe with the desired command-line:
Process.Start(vsLauncherPath, string.Format("\"{0}\" /Build \"debug\"", solutionPath));
(note the escaped quotes (“\) – they are necessary due to the way VSLauncher passes parameters to devenv)

Another usage example is elevating VS’s process priority on startup. As professional .NET developer, we spend most of our working days in VS, and we want it to be as fast as possible. Of course, setting its process priority as “High” manually every time is easy enough, but that’s easy to forget. Enter devenv.exe’s /Command switch, which allows you to run any VS command on startup. A command in VS can be many thing, but we’ll use it to run a macro (VS 2012 dropped macro support so this method won’t work for it).

  1. Open Visual Studio (tested on 2010 but should work in earlier versions).
  2. Hit Alt+F11 to get to the macros window.
  3. In the left pane, expand “Samples” -> “Utilities” and add a new function named RaisePriority with the following implementation:
    For Each proc As System.Diagnostics.Process In System.Diagnostics.Process.GetProcessesByName("devenv")
    proc.PriorityClass = ProcessPriorityClass.High
    Next
  4. Save

Now you can use the following code to automatically launch VS with high priority:
Process.Start(vsLauncherPath, string.Format("\"{0}\" /Command \"Macros.Samples.Utilities.RaisePriority\"", solutionFile))
(again,note the escaped quotes – they are necessary!)

MCE Launcher – Configure which programs are launched when MCE buttons are pressed

June 17, 2013

I’ve been using XBMC for some time as my HTPC driver. Having an MCE remote though, its buttons are configured to run Windows Media Center. I ran into the following blog post that offers a way to change this, but I didn’t like the implementation:

  1. It replaces the wrong file (ehshell.exe instead of  ehtray.exe) which caused me some issues
  2. It uses hard-coded locations and is specific to XBMC
  3. The code is not green in Resharper :)

So I took the code and generalized it to a small program that lets you configure exactly which program will be launched by which MCE button. The result: MCE Launcher (see the Readme file for installation and configuration).

 

 


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