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  • 03/12/04 10:48 AM
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    Designing a Screen Shot System

    General and Gameplay Programming

    Myopic Rhino

    In this article I want to show you a way to design a high quality screen shot system. Most screen shot systems just take a snap shot of the current rendered scene and save it to an image format. Low-resolution screen shots (Normal screen shots) are good for putting a picture of your game on a web page, send it to someone through e-mail, or making a splash screen for your game. What if you wanted to put the picture in a magazine or book though? What if you wanted to make a video to show off your game? These situations would be very hard if not impossible to accomplish using low-resolution screen shots. What if after you take the screen shot or the video you made and wanted a watermark placed on it? You would need to take them into a separate program and modify them to add the watermark.

    In this article I will discuss how to:

    • Create standard low-resolution screen shots
    • Create high-resolution screen shots
    • Create an AVI video of your game in real time
    • Create a screen shot and video file manager
    • Add a watermark to the screen shot or video When this article is done, you should have a high quality screen shot system that you can adopt to your game engine with little hassle. The system is setup for OpenGL and Direct3D. I had chosen these because they are the most widely used graphic libraries. I am sure they can be adopted to work with Allegro, SDL, and other common graphic libraries. I have never used them, so I can't be sure. The only code that is specific to OpenGL or Direct3D is the multiplication for the projection matrix that is used in the high-resolution screen shots. Also, this was made for Win32 programmers. It uses windows specific code for the actual screen shot process.

      About The Different Systems

      Low-Resolution Screen Shot System
      A low-resolution screen shot system is the most common one used. As described above, it simply takes a snap shot of the current rendered scene and saves it as an image file. Although low-resolution screen shots are the fastest method, they're limited to what you can do with them. They would be good for putting a picture of your game on a web page, e-mail, splash screens, etc. If the window dimensions are 800 x 600, it will produce an 800 x 600 screen shot. Most game developers think that an 800 x 600 screen shot is a good enough resolution, but it is not. If you were going to put the screen shot in a magazine or a color plate for a book, the result would be a pixilated image. Compare the image sizes to those produced by a digital camera. An 800 x 600 image on a digital camera is considered low-resolution. When you start getting into mega-pixels is when the images are considered high-resolution.

      High-Resolution Screen Shot System
      High-resolution screen shots are good for creating screen shots that are needed for printing. The high-resolution screen shots can be used in magazines, color plates for books, etc. The size of the screen shots produced are (Window Width * 3) x (Window Height * 3). So if your game window dimensions were set at 800 x 600, a screen shot with the size of 2,400 x 1,800 would be produced. If your game window dimensions were set at 1,024 x 768, a screen shot with the size of 3,072 x 2,304 would be produced. The screen shots produced have no image loss, which means it looks like a low-resolution screen shot only bigger. This system is slower than the low-resolution screen shot system, but it's not that big of a deal considering what it's doing. The reason it's slower is because it has to render the scene 9 times to produce the final screen shot. It's a good pay off though if you need high-resolution screen shots.

      Video System (Movie Mode)
      The video system will create an AVI video while you play your game. This is the slowest system of the 3 types presented. When using a codec, the current screen shot gets taken, the screen shot then gets compressed, and then finally written to the video file. Even when using no codec the FPS will still drop a lot. Granted it's a little faster, but it's a good idea to use a codec so anyone that wants to see your videos don't have to download a 500 MB video. I tested it on a demo of mine that ran at 800 FPS. When the movie mode was turned on, the FPS dropped to 10 FPS. It's a huge impact, but keep in mind that it does not get run at production time. I know that may be a little weird to say, but my friend was upset when he had seen the FPS. The movie dimensions will be the same size as the game window. The number of frames it will produce depends on the videos FPS, not your games FPS.

      Screen Shot/Video File Manager
      The built in file manager is a simple system that will create a folder called "Screen Shots" to place all the screen shots (and videos) in and it will also prevent the files from being over written. Most systems I have seen fail to add this. If you take a screen shot, then take another one right after that, the first one will be replaced. This system will prevent that from happening. If you save a screen shot called "ScreenShot.bmp," then try to save another one with the same name, it will change the filename by adding _[###] before the file extension. So if the system sees a file called "ScreenShot.bmp," it will create a new one called "ScreenShot_001.bmp." If the system sees a screen shot called "ScreenShot_001.bmp," it will create a new one called "ScreenShot_002.bmp," and so on. This will work the same way with the video files too. It's easy to implement and definitely worth it.

      Watermark System
      The watermarking system is something I thought I would add to save a lot time. It will, as the name suggests, add a watermark to any screen shot as it is being taken. You can specify which corner of the screen shot the watermark gets placed and the watermarks strength. The strength is like the alpha component in the range of 0 to 1. A value of 0 means the watermark will not be visible while a value of 1 mean fully visible. Any values in between 0 and 1 will blend the watermark with the screen shot depending on the strength. For instance, a value of 0.5 means the output will be half of the watermark color and half screen shot color. If you have a watermark that you want some parts to be invisible and other parts visible, you can specify a transparent color. It will skip any pixels in the watermark with the same color. Think of the transparent color as a color key. This system works with the movie mode to so you can save a lot of time by not having to take the video into an editor and adding it your self.

      Designing The System
      Screen Shot System Flow

      The flow structure is straight forward, but so we are on the same page I'll describe what is going on and what it means. There's nothing different about the file manager that I didn't described above. After the filename gets validated then the actual screen capture happens. The screen capture can be the low-resolution screen capture, high-resolution screen capture, or the video capture. All three of these systems will fall into this spot. After the screen capture, the watermark gets applied to the screen capture. If no watermark is setup, then this part would be skipped. Then finally it can be written to the file. The file is obviously the image file or avi video. With that said, I'll go through the systems now.

      Screen Shot/Video File Manager
      The file manager is broke up into 3 steps. First the manager will take the passed in filename and strip any directory or path off of it. Since all screen shots are being stored in the 'screen shot' directory, there can be no path on the filename. The second step strips the extension off of the filename. This is another important part to the system. Since the only supported file type is a bitmap, the system needs to make sure the bitmap extension is used. Finally the filename gets passed into a function called GetValidFilename(*). This function will search the 'screen shots' directory and see if any other screen shots with that name exists. If it does, it will rename the file title and do another search. It will keep searching until a valid filename is found. Once a valid filename is found, it will return the modified filename. Like I stated earlier, pretty simple, but powerful, system. This is the only system I will show source code for. The rest can be viewed in the provided source. There are too many lines of code to show it all.

      Step 1 - Strip the directory off of the filename:

      void StripDirectoryFromFilename(char* Filename) { char Buffer[256]; //--Make sure a valid filename is passed in if(Filename == NULL) { return; } else { //--Copy the filename to the buffer sprintf(Buffer, "%s", Filename); } //--See if the filename contains a directory separator char* InString = strrchr(Buffer, '\\'); //--It does if(InString) { //--Copy the file title to the filename strcpy(Filename, (InString + 1)); return; } //--See if the filename contains this kind //--of directory seperator InString = strrchr(Buffer, '/'); //--It does if(InString) { //--Copy the file title to the filename strcpy(Filename, (InString + 1)); } } Step 2 - Strip the extension off of the filename:

      void StripExtensionFromFilename(char* Filename) { int Position = 0; char Extension[5]; char Buffer[256]; //--If the filename is valid and it length is >= 4 if(Filename && strlen(Filename) >= 4) { //--Copy the last 4 characters the the extension strcpy(Extension, &Filename[strlen(Filename) - 4]); //--Add the null terminator Extension[strlen(Extension)] = '\0'; } else { return; } //--If it has a valid extension on it if(Extension[0] == '.') { //--Loop through every character except the extension for(unsigned int ID = 0; ID < strlen(Filename) - 4; ID++) { //--Copy the current character to the buffer Buffer[Position] = Filename[ID]; //--Accumulate the buffer position Position++; } //--Add the null terminator Buffer[Position] = '\0'; //--Copy the modified character array to the filename strcpy(Filename, Buffer); } } Step 3 - Validate filename:

      bool ScreenShotExists(const char* Filename) { WIN32_FIND_DATA FindData; //--Make sure a valid filename is passed in if(Filename == NULL) { //--Not valid, return false return false; } //--Try to find the file HANDLE FileHandle = FindFirstFile(Filename, &FindData); //--If the file handle turned out to be INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE, //--then the screen shot does not exist bool Exists = (FileHandle != INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE ? true : false); //--Close the file FindClose(FileHandle); //--Return the result return Exists; } void GetValidFilename(char* ValidFilename, char* Filename, bool InMovieMode) { int NewIndex = 1; //--Make sure the filenames are valid if(ValidFilename == NULL || Filename == NULL) { return; } if(InMovieMode == true) { //--Try this filename to see if it exists sprintf(ValidFilename, "Screen Shots\\%s.avi", Filename); } else { //--Try this filename to see if it exists sprintf(ValidFilename, "Screen Shots\\%s.bmp", Filename); } //--See if this screen shot already exists if(ScreenShotExists(ValidFilename) == true) { //--Keep looping until we get a valid filename while(ScreenShotExists(ValidFilename) == true) { if(InMovieMode == true) { //--Create the new filename as discussed //--in the article _[###] sprintf(ValidFilename, "Screen Shots\\%s_%0003d.avi", Filename, NewIndex); } else { //--Create the new filename as discussed //--in the article _[###] sprintf(ValidFilename, "Screen Shots\\%s_%0003d.bmp", Filename, NewIndex); } //--Accumulate the index NewIndex++; } } }
      Low-Resolution Screen Capture
      The low-resolution screen shot system is pretty easy to implement. Instead of using the Direct3D or OpenGL specific functions, this system will simply grab the windows pixel data. This avoids any API specific functions making it more compatible with more graphic libraries. This will even work with software rendering systems. Here are the steps it takes to capture a low-resolution screen shot.

      Low-Resolution Screen Capture Steps
      • Create a source device context by getting the game windows handle to the device context (HDC)
      • Create a compatible device context to work with
      • Create a compatible bitmap using the source device context
      • Select the bitmap to the compatible device context
      • BitBlt the window image to the compatible device context
      • Get a handle to the bitmap
      • Allocate global memory to store the bitmap data
      • Get the bitmap data It sounds like a lot of steps, but it's actually pretty easy. Once you have the bitmap data, you can do whatever you want to do with it like any normal image data. You can add the watermark, save it, apply an image filter, etc.

        High-Resolution Screen Capture
        The high-resolution screen shot system is a little harder to implement than the low-resolution screen shot system because you have to use a specialized perspective projection matrix [R1]. The multiplication of this matrix is what become API specific. To get a high-resolution screen shot, the window gets divided up into 9 quadrants using the perspective projection. Then the system will take a snap shot of every quadrant. So the current frame gets rendered 9 time for it to work. Each quadrant is the same size as the window.

        Here is a picture to help describe what I'm talking about:


        When the current quadrant is setup, you take a normal screen shot like the low-resolution system. One problem I didn't like is that it will produce 9 different screen shots, one for each quadrant. In the article [R1] it says, "Since current graphics hardware cannot render the resolutions required for print, the desired final image must be divided into a grid of sub images and pasted together." Since the article only explains about the perspective projection and what not, I had to find ways to accomplish this. There are 2 ways of doing this, taking all 9 screen shots into paint shop pro and pasting them together, or do it automatically. The first method is good if you have a lot of free time, but it's still a hassle that can be avoided. So I came up with a solution to get around this. I tried a couple of different way, and this seems to work the best.

        Pasting High Resolution Sub Images Together
        • Allocate enough memory to hold all 9 screen shots (Remember this is only temporary)
        • Take a screen shot of the current quadrant
        • Compute the position to where that screen shot should be placed on the final image
        • Copy the pixels from the current screen shot to the correct position on the final screen shot
        • Check if the current quadrant is 8 (As in the picture)
        • If it is, save the final screen shot and then free the memory used to hold the final screen shot
        • If it is not, continue to the next quadrant Of course there are a couple steps I have left out because I have not discussed the watermarking system yet. I will fill in the extra steps when I discuss that.

          Video System
          Designing the video system is pretty easy but very frustrating. I will not go into great detail about this here. Look at the source code, it is fully commented so you should be on the right track after reading the comments.

          Watermark System
          After a screen shot is taken, you can add the option to add a watermark to the final image. The system will compute the correct position on the screen shot to put the watermark after specifying where you want it. There are 4 choices you can choose from, Top Left, Top Right, Bottom Left, and Bottom Right. After it computes that, it loops through every pixel in the watermark. If the transparent color was set, it will see if the current pixel needs excluded. If it does, it will make the current pixel color the screen shots color. After the transparency is checked, it does the blending as described above. It uses linear interpolation to do the blending. In a high-resolution screen shot, you have to check if the current quadrant is right to add the watermark to. If the watermark is suppose to be in the top left corner, you have to make sure it is quadrant 0 (See above picture). If the position is Top Right, you have to make sure only to apply it to quadrant 2. Bottom left would be quadrant 6 and bottom right would be quadrant 8. If the quadrant is not correct, just skip adding the watermark. For a video, just add the watermark before you append the frame to the file. It's not that hard to implement, just a little confusing if you have never done something like this before.

          [R1]: Rendering Print Resolution Screen Shots by Alex Vlachos and Evan Hart
          Page 406 in the book: Game Programming Gems 2
          Designing a good screen shot system is something a lot of programmers do not think about. Most of the screen shot systems found on the web just show you how to use Direct3D's GetFrontBuffer(*) function or OpenGL's glReadPixels(*) function and that's it. This system moves beyond that and adds a little more advanced features to a standard screen shot system. Not only can you create standard low-resolution screen shots now, you can create high-resolution screen shots and videos with watermarks. Also, you never have to worry about your screen shots being over written, due to the file manager. I hope you will find this useful and I hope it will save you a lot of time and headaches. Best of luck to you and your future products. This system could use a lot of optimizing and organizing. Feel free to make that a personal exercise :)

          Some of the systems were hard to explain, so if you have any question try reading the source code. If you still have any questions, feel free to sent me an e-mail with a specific question and I will help you out.

          Don't forget to leave a message in the forum to let me know what you think of it! I'm open to suggestions also, let me know if there is something I can change or add to this.


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