Microsoft steps up "power-ups" with the Virtual Machine Game Developer Toolset

Microsoft steps up “power-ups” with the Virtual Machine Game Developer Toolset

Game programming is wild. The process of developing software applications behind modern video games, designed for consoles, PCs and online cloud platforms, is an extremely creative process involving hundreds (if not thousands) of team members. Game developers must create fabricated worlds, design complex gamification challenges, master the use of sophisticated character motion engines, and render images and shapes down to the smallest detail – the whole process is a maelstrom of inventive and original design.

But as with enterprise software and its ability to identify areas of functional commonality between different applications (no one needs to code numerical calculator tools now, this feature is mostly available as a plug-in), the gaming universe has opportunities to achieve similar efficiencies.

If game development software programming doesn’t have quite the same ability to swap application components (no one would want a Marvel Avenger character to appear in Assassin’s Creed), there is a relationship between common tools used between different games.

Azure game development VM

This is a major reason why and how Microsoft developed Azure Game Development Virtual Machine – with Azure (obviously) being Microsoft’s cloud service, development (clearly) in terms of software developers and Virtual Machine (as technologists will know) a computing principle used means to “describe” and define a computer of any capacity in purely software-defined terms, typically provided via a cloud service.

Announced earlier this year at the industry’s annual Games Developer Conference (GDC), Azure Game Dev VM has only recently become widely available to programmers. To put it simply, Microsoft adapts its cloud service specifically to the needs of game developers. It makes sense. On the one hand it’s efficient for developers, on the other hand many console users give up CD-ROMs and play online in the cloud anyway.

By using existing GPU-optimized Azure VM SKUs (we’ll discuss it further below), this product brings common game developer tools into a customizable Azure virtual machine (VM), saving hours of time programmers would normally spend on installation and Configuring software would require tools, software development kits (SDKs), and software drivers.

As a reminder and for completeness, when Microsoft’s cloud team talks about SKUs, they’re referring to Stock Keeping Units. An Azure cloud SKU specifies the amount of compute capacity in a specific cloud instance. A SKU can be optimized for fast processing with low data input/output (I/O) latency for data processing – similarly, an Azure SKU could be storage-optimized and therefore better suited for workloads that require storage for large amounts of data.

Jazzed up & pretuned

What Microsoft has done with GPU-optimized Azure VM SKUs (where GPU means Graphical Processing Unit for supercharged processing speed) is to offer SKUs for gamer programmers that have beefed up and preset performance on the same disk. This technology is a core component of the Azure game production pipeline and serves as a catalyst that enables game developers to accelerate their cloud game production. It also provides a platform for partners to integrate their game development solutions on Azure and build the cloud gaming ecosystem together.

“We are excited to announce the Azure Game Development Virtual Machine, an Azure offering that simplifies the creation of modern games and opens the door for game developers to take advantage of game production in the cloud. Game studios around the world are trying to adapt to new working paradigms that support complexity [of enabling and working with] Remote and distributed teams, including our own,” wrote Ben Humphrey, Principal Engineering Manager, Microsoft Azure, on the Microsoft Game Dev Blog.

Humphrey and his team say they are aware of these challenges for the game development community. “We’re even seeing our own game studios accelerate their adoption of Azure to enable a more collaborative and efficient game development pipeline,” he adds.

How does it work?

In terms of working functionality, Azure Game Dev VM enables a hybrid, scalable and rapidly deployable software production environment with the ability to add or decommission resources at any time. It is designed to provide a modernized and sustainable work environment, not dependent on physical locations or hardware infrastructure, to support a creative team able to work globally.

This service aims to enable creatives in game development to always have the latest software versions and streamline archiving and disaster recovery in a secure and collaborative cloud infrastructure.

“This allows developers to quickly set up a working game development workstation or [production ready] ‘Build Server’ in about five minutes, allowing for easier validation of pipeline performance, [games programmers can also] Pull code/graphics assets from a Perforce repository to develop and test games directly from the cloud. Additionally, it saves hours of downloads and configurations to get the environment needed for game creation,” added Humphrey.

Faster Games, Better Games?

Will faster and more efficient game development lead to better games? In theory, of course, the answer is yes. The less time a software application developer has to spend deploying, planning, preparing, and preparing the base layer substrate system for programming tasks, the more time (and latitude) they have for creativity.

Microsoft also notes that Azure Game Development Virtual Machine will help game developers who want to evaluate and experiment with the game development experience on Azure. The cloud is now a game zone and a game development zone, game player in-game power-ups just ramped up.

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