HexarViz: An XNA Music Visualizer

Media Player Visualization Data

Recently, at a local Microsoft GameDevz meeting that I attended, we had a short 45-minute contest to see which 2-3 person team could come up with the coolest visualization given a relatively simple XNA project that retrieves visualization data from the song currently playing in the Media Center. HexarViz is an evolution of the project that my partner Daniel Taylor and I came up with during this competition.

The way to retrieve music visualization data from XNA is very simple. Call the MediaPlayer.GetVisualizationData method in XNA 3.0 or later, and you will retrieve an object of type VisualizationData. The VisualizationData class provides only two properties, Samples and Frequencies. The former is an array of 256 float values from -1.0 to 1.0 indicating the raw amplitude of the currently playing sound sample. The latter is an array of 256 float values from 0 to 1.0 indicating the logarithmic scaled power value of each frequency band in the currently playing sound sample – essentially the result of a FFT on the sound data. The frequency distribution seemed like a more obvious choice to use in a visualizer, so that’s what we used.


The idea for this visualizer was inspired by the standard horizontal bar UI that is typically used to display the currently playing frequency bands. It looks like this:

And in fact, this is the first part we implemented, by using a simple 10×10 white square as a texture, and drawing one red rectangle per frequency band, from the left side of the screen to the right. But, let’s be honest, that’s boring, because it’s been done a million times.

We wanted something more interesting, so I thought maybe it would be cool to make the frequency band values rotate around a center point, kinda like a circle. Except since each rectangle drawn rotationally this way will have a different length depending on its power value – so the shape of this sound circle will change drastically over time. Here’s basically what that looks like:

This image depicts pretty closely what we ended up with for the competition, in about 45 minutes. We also had a few rudimentary features:

  • Previous Song / Next Song
  • Sound Circle Rotation

But like I said, HexarViz is an evolved version of the results of that competition, meaning that after the competition I added a lot of features, namely:

  • Pause
  • Volume Up / Volume Down
  • Displaying the currently playing playlist, album, artist, and song name
  • Playlist change support
  • Toggle individual Red/Green/Blue components of the target color
  • Color Cycling
  • Change the current texture

Color Cycling was probably the most difficult part to implement. In order to effect a smooth transition of target colors, I calculate the HSB (Hue/Saturation/Brightness) of the current target color, increment the hue, and then convert back to an RGB value. The color of each individual rectangle is also a linear interpolation between black and the target color, based on the frequency band’s percentage of maximum power.

Changing the current texture, from a 10×10 white square to something else, also has some very interesting effects on the way that the sound circle looks. Give that a try.

Source and Windows Installer




Change Playlist – P
Previous Song – Left Arrow
Next Song – Right Arrow
Pause – Spacebar
Increase Volume – Up Arrow
Decrease Volume – Down Arrow
Toggle Spin – S
Toggle Red – R
Toggle Green – G
Toggle Blue – B
Cycle Colors – C
Change Texture – T
Quit – Escape

HexShooter: An XNA 2D Tutorial Upgrade

XNA Game Studio 3.1

XNA Game Studio, if you haven’t heard of it, is an integrated development environment for the development of Windows and Xbox 360 games using either C# Express 2008 or Visual Studio 2008. It is essentially a Visual Studio Package which includes a set of XNA assemblies, as well as new project types to create Windows and Xbox 360 games. The latest version, 3.1, was released earlier this year and its newest features include video playback, an updated audio API, avatar support, and use of the XBox Live Party system.

In addition, budding game developers with a Premium Creators Club account can submit their game to the XNA Creators Club for peer review; if passed, these games can be sold on Xbox Live Indie Games for $1, $3, or $5. Developers receive 70% of all sales revenue for copies of their game that are purchased via Xbox Live. Not too bad a deal, though creating an independent game with mass market appeal and a decent purchase rate is no small task.

Creators Club Website

The epicenter of all things XNA is located at the XNA Creators Club Website. This is where you obtain a Premium account, submit your game for review, playtest others’ creations, and access a multitude of resources including forums and tutorials.

The 2D Tutorial

The Beginner’s 2D Tutorial uses video to demonstrate how to create a simple 2D shooter starting from a blank Windows Game project, given a couple of pre-created images. The videos walk you through creation of the game project, adding assets, drawing the background, creating cannons, firing cannonballs, adding enemies, and destroying enemies. It’s actually a very handy tutorial, and you end up with something like this (skip to 4:17)


As you can see in the video above, there are three enemy ships moving from right to left at all times, and you can shoot them to earn points. It’s pretty smooth, but there’s something important missing. Because there’s no inherent challenge, no sense of danger, and no real goal, this project is unfortunately little more than a toy, and the fun factor is completely missing. HexShooter is my attempt to take this project and change it in ways that will make it challenging and fun.

So here’s a list of some of the features I added:

  • Explosions and Smoke (from Joshua Foss’ excellent Adding 2D Particles and Explosions videos.
  • The ability to move the cannon from left to right with the left thumstick, aiming now with the right.
  • Enemies now spawn from either the left or right sides of the screen, and they bounce off the edges and come back with the same height and speed.
  • Player cannonballs are now very fast, but you can only have one on screen at once.
  • Enemies now fire green cannons back at you, and if they hit the center circle of your cannon, you lose.
  • For every ten enemies killed, a new enemy is added.

There are several reasons why I think this upgrade is a lot more fun to play than the original. First, there is the very real possibility of losing, and there is a challenge. Namely, kill as many aliens as you can while avoiding enemy fire for as long as possible. Because of the way that enemies are added, the game starts out easy but becomes increasingly challenging the more enemies you kill. Eventually you will find yourself spending most of your attention on dodging enemy fire, which reminds me of the fun and challenge of Galaga.

The choice to change the cannon to only fire one fast cannonball at once was also intentional. In the tutorial version, you can fire three cannonballs at once, but they are very slow. This makes aiming and firing tedious and somewhat pointless. With only one cannonball, you have to make your shots matter, so your aim counts.

For a while I considered creating a complete mesh-based collision detection system for the cannon, including not just the circle but the barrel too. But I realized that not only would that be a lot of extra work, but it would probably detract from the gameplay. Having to worry about your cannon aim in order to dodge enemy cannonballs is silly, and would make evasion nearly impossible in the late game.

Source and Executable

I am offering both the source code and executable for inspection and playtesting. If you want to compile and run the source you must have XNA Game Studio 3.1 installed.

[HexShooter Source]

If you just want to play the game, you need to have the Microsoft XNA Framework Redistributable 3.1 installed, and either:

Or, you could just use the keyboard.

[HexShooter Installer]

Using the keyboard isn’t too bad, but if you’d like to use an Xbox controller, I’d recommend the cheaper USB wired controller, unless you already have some Xbox 360 controllers lying around and you absolutely must have wireless controllers.


Move – Left thumbstick or A/D keys
Aim – Right thumbstick or Left/Right arrow keys
Shoot – Right trigger or Spacebar
New Game – Start or Enter