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Author Topic: IDEA: PC game launcher/organizer/frontend  (Read 19937 times)
garbanzo
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« on: May 05, 2011, 07:14:28 PM »

I have searched high and low for a simple PC game launcher, but to no avail.

The retro gaming scene is filled with specialized launchers. Arcade gaming has MAMEUI. Console and handheld emulation has QuickPlay. And an excellent frontend to DOSBox for running old DOS games is DOSBox Game Launcher. But where is the frontend for PC games?

All these apps have the same general layout. On the left is a folder tree which saves searches and helps to organize games by various criteria. The main part of the screen is a list/details view that shows the games that have been loaded into the frontend. On the right is a spot for game screenshots. All these apps are built around a database, and many are able to scrape data from websites like Moby Games.

There are frontends that support PC games. One that comes to mind is D-Fend Reloaded. But this, like many others, is first and foremost a DOSBox frontend, so it's not exactly ideal for PC gaming.

Here's what an app like this would need:

1. A database, xml or ini or whatever, filled with game profiles. Entries include game name, target executable and any associated command line switches, screenshot directory, icon (if different from executable), year, genre, developer, publisher, playcount, etc.
2. A basic GUI, with folders on the left, a list in the middle with icons and columns of info, and space for game screenshots/scans on the right.
3. A simple game import dialog, with a browse button for the EXE, and space to fill in data.
4. Ideally, it would interface with Moby Games and grab data/screenshots automatically!

I have no idea how difficult it would be to make an app like this. If it's an unreasonable request, then let me know. If not, I would love to dig in and beta test whatever comes out!
« Last Edit: May 05, 2011, 08:30:03 PM by garbanzo » Logged
wraith808
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« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2011, 07:32:34 PM »

Are you on Vista or Windows 7?  If so, there's already the games explorer, and a few apps that integrate with that to make it more user friendly and editable.  Would one of these work for you?  And if not, why?  (Just trying to get a feel for what's missing/that you would like to change)

http://windows7themes.net...ames-explorer-editor.html
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garbanzo
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« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2011, 07:43:32 PM »

Thanks for the reply  Cool

I'm on Windows 7 but didn't even know Games Explorer existed! I had a look - it's like all native Windows apps, pretty and somewhat functional but not at all customizable and not terribly powerful. No custom columns, no custom filters or categories, no support for command line switches, no support for launching helper apps like FRAPS or Xpadder, no support for game screenshots, no support for custom icons...

I've been spoiled by the power and flexibility of the apps I mentioned in my original post, and would love to see something similar dedicated to PC games Wink
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wraith808
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« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2011, 07:47:33 PM »

There's a lot hidden in the interface.

1. You can customize the columns.  Change the view to details, and right click on the columns at the top.  You can select what columns show.
2. You can filter the games.  The search in the upper right hand corner applies to only the games.  Type in what you would filter on, and as you type, the view is filtered.
3. Custom icons are supported with the game explorer in the article I linked, along with adding new games with command line switches and other applications.
4. You can also change the grouping by right clicking on a game and changing the grouping.

I can post a little tutorial/how to if it's not obvious when you take a second look.  I guess this is the reason I'm asking- all of what you asked for (other than perhaps the interface- they have a preview rather than the tree view, but windows interfaces are getting away from that) is available, so I'm trying to figure out what isn't?
« Last Edit: May 05, 2011, 07:49:44 PM by wraith808 » Logged

garbanzo
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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2011, 08:24:10 PM »

1. You can choose other preset columns, but you can't create custom columns. You can't rate games, you can't add tags, you can't sort them in your own way like these other apps allow.
2. This is just a basic instant search. It cannot search specific fields, and the searches cannot be saved. I cannot create a folder of all games I've completed, or for all FPS games older than 2000.
3. OK you got me there smiley
4. I was talking about a folder tree - call me old-fashioned I guess.

I downloaded that game adder you linked to. I didn't find anything about custom icons or command line switches. It crashed on me before I could add Bejeweled Blitz. That's the problem with native Windows apps - you need to download 3rd party programs to hack into them in order to make them useful.

THIS is the sort of thing I am looking for. It's QuickPlay, a frontend for emulators. It can run PC games after a fashion, if you create .lnk shortcut files in place of "roms" and link to explorer.exe as the emulator. It could even display game icons if I were to take the time to extract them from each EXE and zip them up. It's great for emulators, but for PC games, it's far from ideal.

I don't just want an easy way to launch my games - I want a way to sort them, rate them, tag them, categorize them, and explore them visually via screenshots and box scans... But moreover, I like to be in control of the apps I use. I use Directory Opus instead of Explorer, and foobar2000 instead of WMP. Windows apps, designed for the average user, simply don't offer that kind of flexibility.

Oh, and one more thing - what happens when I want to re-install Windows? My games might all be backed up on a non-system partition or drive, but I'll lose all my data in Games Explorer. Not a good incentive to spend time adding a few hundred titles...



« Last Edit: May 05, 2011, 08:34:14 PM by garbanzo » Logged
wraith808
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« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2011, 09:20:12 PM »

Some of what you say is true... while some you can actually do with Game Explorer.  But I guess the basic thing is that you are not satisfied with it.  But my questions were more about what you actually want?  You name a few things... but what you want seems more than just a few basic things, but more of a full fledged game management/launcher system... and no matter what is done, it won't have everything that you want.  If QuickPlay does what you want, but just not for PC games- what are the features that it has that you'd want (1) at a bare minimum to start and (2) overall?
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garbanzo
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« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2011, 09:40:33 PM »

Sorry, I guess I'm so familiar with apps like this that I forget not everyone else is smiley

It should be stand-alone, self-contained and portable. ZIP distribution, relative paths, and all the rest.

It should be based around some sort of database where all information is stored - something that can be backed up, and maybe even manually edited if mass changes need to be made.

The GUI should be tripartite, taking the form of FOLDER TREE - DETAILS LIST - SCREENSHOTS. Tree doesn't really need custom icons like QuickPlay has, but it should offer folders for each of the default columns in the details view (name, date, publisher, distributer, genre, rating, playcount, etc), along with the ability to create custom folders based on user-defined queries.

The details list should offer an icon column (preferrably 32x32 rather than just 16x16), followed by all preset and any custom data fields present. Columns should be moveable and sortable. In-line editing of data would be nice.

A "new game" dialog should let users easly add a new executable, and to designate any command line switches and/or helper apps to launch with the game. By default it will choose the EXE's icon, but users should be able to choose an alternative icon if desired. Ideally most data would be scraped from MobyGames - I'm sure their API is published someplace. DOSBox Game Launcher even pulls screenshots from there, it's very handy!

The screenshot window simply displays all images in the directory associated with the selected game.

This is pretty much the minimum - though the MobyGames scraping is just an added perk. Later could come things like local links to files such as manuals, walkthroughs and maps, mounting of CD images for launching game backups, GUI customizations, and more.

I'm probably asking for a lot - oh how I wish I knew how to write this app myself!

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Deozaan
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« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2011, 09:48:06 PM »

Well, I just use Steam as my game launcher. Even for non-Steam games. But that probably won't be useful for games that require DOSBox.
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kamahl
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« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2011, 10:21:51 PM »

I use XFire for my game launcher, although I'm currently also playing the Raptr, which is quite similar.
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wraith808
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« Reply #9 on: May 06, 2011, 06:06:24 AM »

Well, I just use Steam as my game launcher. Even for non-Steam games. But that probably won't be useful for games that require DOSBox.

I use XFire for my game launcher, although I'm currently also playing the Raptr, which is quite similar.

I didn't suggest that either b/c if he wasn't satisfied with the game explorer, he definitely wouldn't be satisfied with steam or xfire or raptr.  They have even *less* customization options.
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wraith808
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2011, 06:58:58 AM »

Sorry, I guess I'm so familiar with apps like this that I forget not everyone else is smiley

It should be stand-alone, self-contained and portable. ZIP distribution, relative paths, and all the rest.

It should be based around some sort of database where all information is stored - something that can be backed up, and maybe even manually edited if mass changes need to be made.

The GUI should be tripartite, taking the form of FOLDER TREE - DETAILS LIST - SCREENSHOTS. Tree doesn't really need custom icons like QuickPlay has, but it should offer folders for each of the default columns in the details view (name, date, publisher, distributer, genre, rating, playcount, etc), along with the ability to create custom folders based on user-defined queries.

The details list should offer an icon column (preferrably 32x32 rather than just 16x16), followed by all preset and any custom data fields present. Columns should be moveable and sortable. In-line editing of data would be nice.

A "new game" dialog should let users easly add a new executable, and to designate any command line switches and/or helper apps to launch with the game. By default it will choose the EXE's icon, but users should be able to choose an alternative icon if desired. Ideally most data would be scraped from MobyGames - I'm sure their API is published someplace. DOSBox Game Launcher even pulls screenshots from there, it's very handy!

The screenshot window simply displays all images in the directory associated with the selected game.

This is pretty much the minimum - though the MobyGames scraping is just an added perk. Later could come things like local links to files such as manuals, walkthroughs and maps, mounting of CD images for launching game backups, GUI customizations, and more.

I'm probably asking for a lot - oh how I wish I knew how to write this app myself!



Unless anyone else wants to take this, I'll see what I can put together.  I'll probably do it iteratively, i.e. get the basics done and continue from there.
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garbanzo
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« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2011, 08:15:20 AM »

 Grin

good to hear, wraith808.

fyi i'm here all next week, then away for 2 weeks, so if you post something and get no feedback/praise from my end, then that's why!

i know my donation is currently at $0 but if you put are willing to put your time and energy into this, that will certainly change.   
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kamahl
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« Reply #12 on: May 07, 2011, 06:53:02 AM »

Well, I just use Steam as my game launcher. Even for non-Steam games. But that probably won't be useful for games that require DOSBox.

I use XFire for my game launcher, although I'm currently also playing the Raptr, which is quite similar.

I didn't suggest that either b/c if he wasn't satisfied with the game explorer, he definitely wouldn't be satisfied with steam or xfire or raptr.  They have even *less* customization options.

I agree, but thought I'd weigh in my opinion regardless - My personal complaint with Games Explorer is that of the 200 games on my computer, Games explorer notices eight of them.

(Also, Both Steam and XFire allow you to put in Command Line Arguments, which was one of the requests above, and also have a per-game screenshot manager)
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Ath
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« Reply #13 on: May 07, 2011, 07:23:46 AM »

Games explorer notices eight of them
Problem here is that games have to register with Games Explorer, during install usually, to be noticed by GE, so it's not directly GE's 'fault', IMHO ohmy
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wraith808
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« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2011, 08:23:41 AM »

Games explorer notices eight of them
Problem here is that games have to register with Games Explorer, during install usually, to be noticed by GE, so it's not directly GE's 'fault', IMHO ohmy

Exactly.  And there are ways around that.
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kamahl
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« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2011, 09:23:54 AM »

Games explorer notices eight of them
Problem here is that games have to register with Games Explorer, during install usually, to be noticed by GE, so it's not directly GE's 'fault', IMHO ohmy

Exactly.  And there are ways around that.

Yes, and I have used that to input an additional 5 games - It's just too slow and ugly to use, when doing in a large scale.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2011, 09:29:41 AM by kamahl » Logged
zissakos
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« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2011, 04:30:53 AM »

hi guys,

coincidentally i was planning to make something like this.
A Game Launcher with the following features:
- portable!
- games are ordered in tabs that can be created freely (e.g. genre)
- each game has: name, executable, optional configure executable, image, maybe more
- ideally controllable by a joypad (for couch potatoes using their pc in the living room - like me)
- a lot more stuff depending on my free time

i have already started and a rudimentary prototype working. It's a .Net project written in C#. I was eventually planning to publish it on codeplex.com some day.




« Last Edit: May 25, 2011, 04:38:18 AM by zissakos » Logged
mouser
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« Reply #17 on: May 25, 2011, 04:31:38 AM »

sounds cool zissakos, keep us informed about your progress and show us some early versions!
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zissakos
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« Reply #18 on: May 25, 2011, 07:30:48 AM »

progress so far...














Any suggestions/ideas?

« Last Edit: May 25, 2011, 07:32:55 AM by zissakos » Logged
kamahl
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« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2011, 09:49:34 AM »

Make the "Other Executables" tab more expansive. (Five or six executables, and let us change the labels).
For example, one game could have:
  • Map Editor
  • DX9 version
  • Safe Mode
  • Save Game Editor ohmy
  • Config

And you should probably add an option to Close/Kill programs before you launch the game.

also, pics of the details view? smiley
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garbanzo
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« Reply #20 on: May 30, 2011, 08:52:53 PM »

wow zissakos, looking good!

i love the xpadder support, great idea! and the tabbed interface is very well designed, i would definitely make good use of it smiley

does the Executable field support command line switches?

could you post a screenshot of how it looks in Details view?

a few suggestions based on what i see so far:

- support for more images (screenshots, maps, media scans, etc). maybe assign a folder for each game, then show all images in the folder?

- the "Game Details" view should show blank lines if data is not present, rather than names like "Pulbisher" and "Year"

i'm looking forward to seeing this develop further!
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zissakos
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« Reply #21 on: June 03, 2011, 06:25:14 PM »

a very early beta version for you guys to play with:


what works:
- managing GameCategories
- managing Games (only Image and Game Details, no "Other Executables" or "Tools"
- start Game
- details view with column sorting
- drag&drop support:
    - drag tabs (GameCategories) to reorder them
    - drag an image (jpg,png,bmp) from Windows explorer to:
            a) Game Details Image -> updates the game image quickly
            b) Listview box -> opens up "Add New Game" Dialog with image already filled in
            c) "Add New Game" Dialog image textbox or preview box -> fills in the path to the image
    - drag an executable file (exe,bat) from Windows explorer to:
            a) Listview box -> opens up "Add New Game" Dialog with executable already filled in
            c) "Add New Game" Dialog executable textbox -> fills in the path to the executable file


what doesn't work yet:
- "Tools" in the Main Menu (including "Automatic Game Search" and "Settings")
- "Other Executables" and "Tools" in a game
- moving games across GameCategories

The Settings are stored in the file "settings.xml" once you have started the GameLauncher.exe. Look inside to see what you can customize (not that it's much ... :-))

With this early beta you can at least start adding and organizing your games and even launch them.

Please play with it and post some screenshots! Does Drag&Drop work as expected?

Thank you!




* GameLauncher.exe (51.5 KB - downloaded 256 times.)
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wraith808
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« Reply #22 on: June 06, 2011, 07:40:14 PM »

Well, as not to pollute this thread, I'll start a new thread for the launcher that I started.  It's taken me a bit longer because I've been using it to review something else, and I've been a bit swamped at work.  But I'm sure that the world has space for more than one of these.
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zissakos
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« Reply #23 on: June 22, 2011, 04:55:54 PM »

did anybody try it? what do you think?
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garbanzo
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« Reply #24 on: June 23, 2011, 09:00:21 PM »

yeah i played with it a bit. great start! i hope you develop it more:

i LOVE the xpadder support, great idea! the interface is nice and clean, it works well for this sort of app.
i would like to see native icon support in the details view, and support for more images (screenshots, box scans, etc)

a bug i found:
when you first open it, it lets you try to add a game before creating a category. then it gives you an error. when you click OK, the add new game option is grayed out. then if you create a category, everything works fine. maybe just add a default category to start with?
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