Upgrade Your Game: Tiny Tennis (Visual Basic)

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  This article is a part of Upgrade Your Game series of tutorials. It walks you through the game architecture components for our tribute to Pong!, which we'll call TinyTennis.
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Difficulty: Intermediate
Time Required: 1-3 hours
Cost: Free
Software: Visual Basic or Visual C# Express Editions

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Visual Basic Upgrade Your Game Series



Welcome to the Upgrade Your Game series of tutorials. There are four tutorials, each covering how to write a simple computer game using Visual Studio Express products. Though the games are simple, each one teaches some game development techniques and builds on the last to improve your skills. The skills can be applied to more complex games including 3D games using Microsoft DirectX.

Let's begin by creating a really simple game like Pong!, which uses only three moving objects and a straightforward gameplay and scoring technique. Given that you probably play games thousands of times more complex than this (such as The Sims or Half Life), you may initially dismiss this exercise as a waste of time; however, it's a great way to learn some of the fundamental concepts of video games in just a few lines of code. If these techniques are already familiar to you, then you may be interested in the MSDN game development webcasts, which cover 2D and 3D game development with Managed DirectX.

This tutorial walks you through the game architecture components for our tribute to Pong!, which we'll call TinyTennis.

You are also free to use the source code as the basis for your own projects, and to share your work with others or upload it to the Internet.

Note: This documentation assumes that you have a basic knowledge of programming concepts and the Visual Basic environment. You can learn more about these topics in the product documentation by clicking Help on the menu bar, and then clicking Contents, Index, or Search. You can also access Help by positioning the mouse cursor on language keywords or user interface elements such as windows or dialog boxes, and pressing F1.

Getting Started

Building and Running TinyTennis

Once your project is loaded into the Visual Basic environment, you can compile and run the program in one step.

To build and run TinyTennis:

  • Press F5 to build and start the game under the debugger.

The game launches and you can control the left bat using the Q and A keys.



  • Sprite.vb
    The base class for the sprites. It contains initialization code and basic movement code.
  • TinyTennis.vb
    The main form for the application. It initializes the sprites for the bats and ball, passes keyboard intput to the bats, and controls drawing the game to the screen.
  • ControlSprite.vb
    An implementation of a sprite that uses a Windows control to draw to the screen.
  • Bat.vb
    A ControlSprite representing the bat. Contains the keyboard movement code for human players and AI code for computer players.
  • Ball.vb
    A ControlSprite representing the ball. Contains the code for checking for collisions with the walls and the bats and the bounces. Also plays the only sound in the game.
  • GameState.vb
    Stores the scores.


Game Development Concepts

If you are new to 2D game development, check out the 2D Game Primer (Visual Basic).


Implementing Sprites

For TinyTennis, you'll need three very simple rectangular sprites that can be moved around the screen. In order to keep things simple for the first game (and because I recognize that a lot of .NET developers come from a Windows Forms background), I have chosen to use PictureBox controls to represent the sprites. A picture box has all the characteristics needed for this simple game:

  • It's rectangular.
  • It can have a background color.
  • It can be positioned at specific positions on the screen.

Using a picture box is not something you would do in a real computer game, but it's something that is very simple to get started with and hopefully something you already know about. In the next game, you will replace the picture box with real graphics.

The base class definition is:

Public Class Sprite
Public Velocity As PointF
Public Location As PointF
Public Size As SizeF


The inherited class adds a member for the control.

Public Class ControlSprite : Inherits Sprite

Public Control As Control


The inherited class defines how to draw it. Since Windows Forms can only be positioned at integer pixel boundaries, you have to round the sprite positions.


Public Overrides Sub Draw()
'Move the control to the correct location
Control.Location = New Point(CInt(Location.X + 0.5F), CInt(Location.Y + 0.5F))

'and redraw it
End Sub

The Windows Forms controls used in this game are created in the designer by dragging picture boxes onto the form. Since the size and position are set in the code, there's no need to position or size them correctly in the designer. All you need to do is name them correctly.

(Click image to zoom)


Code structure

Just because the game is simple doesn't mean that you should avoid good software engineering practices. This is especially important since you want to create a base on which to build the next two games. And, although Visual Studio Express has some refactoring support, it always helps to get things right from the beginning.

The most important class is the sprite. Sprites have a position and a velocity. Velocity is how fast the position changes in pixels per second. If velocity is 0, then the position will stay the same and you'll have a static sprite. In addition, you need to remember how big the sprite is so that you can work out collisions.

The game loop needs to call each sprite and perform two tasks: update and draw. Since you know the velocity, you can implement the movement part of the animation in the base class. Any complex or additional updates will be handled in an inherited class. For this game, drawing the sprite will be left to an inherited class since there is no general case.

Because I'm using PictureBox controls, I've decided to create an inherited ControlSprite class that can be thrown away in the later examples. ControlSprite sets the position of the control that represents the sprite and calls the RefreshMethod to paint it on the screen.

The Bat and Ball objects inherit from ControlSprite and provide the special processing that each of those require. For example the Bat class changes its velocity based on keyboard presses and AI. The Ball class changes its velocity based on collisions with bats and the edges of the gameplay area.


(Click image to zoom)

Implementing Time Based Animation

As mentioned in 2D Game Primer (Visual Basic), it's important to move the sprites based on time rather than a fixed distance per frame.

The first thing to do is make sure you have an accurate measure of the time. The .NET Framework 2.0 added the StopWatch class, which uses the most accurate measure available on your computer.

Private _timer As Stopwatch = New Stopwatch()
Public Sub New()
'Initialise and start the timer
_lastTime = 0.0
End Sub

Private Sub TinyTennis_Paint(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As PaintEventArgs) Handles MyBase.Paint
'Work out how long since we were last here in seconds
Dim gameTime As Double = _timer.ElapsedMilliseconds / 1000.0
Dim elapsedTime As Double = gameTime - _lastTime
_lastTime = gameTime
End Sub


Sometimes animation is based on how far into the game you are; sometimes it's based on how long it has been since the last time around the game loop. Rather than having every object calculate these two values, you do it once and pass it to the Update() function for each object.

The Update method of the Sprite objects and their inherited classes eventually gets called with these times:


Public Overridable Sub Update(ByVal gameTime As Double, ByVal elapsedTime As Double)
'Move the sprite based on the velocity
Location.X += Velocity.X * CSng(elapsedTime)
Location.Y += Velocity.Y * CSng(elapsedTime)

End Sub


Simple AI (Artificial Intelligence)

The interesting thing about AI for TinyTennis is actually making the AI do things wrong. It's interesting because normally AI is about making a computer play well. For this game playing, a perfect game is trivial for the computer:

  • Calculate the exact position the ball will end up and move the bat there. This involves some math but is simple to do.
  • Track the ball by moving the bat towards the current Y position of the ball. There is no math involved, but as long as the ball speed is not greater than the bat speed this will always work.

Of course this kind of opponent is no fun to play against, so the AI challenge for this game is making the computer miss the ball in a realistic, human way. I have chosen to take three approaches to this:

  1. The computer doesn't start moving the bat until the ball is close to the computer side of the screen. How close can be varied to make the AI smarter or dumber.
  2. The computer doesn't track bounces — it will look which way the ball is heading and move towards it, but a last-minute bounce may throw it off.
  3. Just like a human, sometimes the computer will over- or underestimate how well it tracks the ball. This is implemented by adding a random offset into the movement that can, once again, be varied to change the skill level.

Extending TinyTennis

  • Add a start-up splash screen that allows the player to choose between one and two players.
  • Add an additional bat for each player by creating an extra picture box, and then creating additional Bat objects.
  • Add multiple balls. The game play will need to change a little. For example, do you want to pause the game when a point is scored? Or, do you want to score the point and make a new ball appear?
  • Since the sprites are just picture boxes, you can set the background image property to give the game a whole new look and feel. Remember that the collision detection is done based on the rectangular shape of the picture box; if the image does not fill the picture box, it might look odd when the ball bounces.

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Zahid Shakoor


    Is there anyway i can download visual basic without being a computer admin?

  • User profile image

    What Program did you use to make that flowchart? give me an email ( bluefu5ion [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com ) because i do not check these sites often, Thanks !

  • User profile image

    Hi...Love Tiny Tennis...it's put me on the way to game programming....I've spent a couple of weeks on something that I can't figure out. Anyone know how to get the ball sprite to richochet off the paddle in a specific direction? Like real pong or breakout...say if the ball hits the top of the paddle, no matter what, It will go up? In addition if anyone has any idea how to detect edge hits...that would be greaaatttt  mmmmK Smiley

  • User profile image

    Im unable to get the code to compile.  With VB 05 Express I get a long list of "character no valid" errors which seem to be caused by the lines with :

    Namespace $safeprojectname$

    Ive never used namespace and don't really understand it or the error which seems to be caused by the first "$" character.  Im sure this is pretty obvious to most of you but some new guy help would sure be appreciated!

  • User profile image

    click on each error that indicates an invalid character, and it should take you to the error. take the $ (dollar sign) off of the front and back of the namespace, and it should work. you can re-run the program occasionally to pear down your error list from time to time. don't bother messing with any of the other errors as they will clean themselves up as you fix the namespace references. good luck.

  • User profile image

    Since this is my 1st time using vb 2008 express... could any of you guys tell me the code to control my paddle on the keyboard with the d pad and the w,a,s,d keys.

    Thank you!!

  • User profile image

    Without looking into the code and based on the article, look in tinytennis.vb

    It looks like already does key commands from the description.

  • User profile image

    hi! thx for the tip to earase the "$"..

    i started to program two weeks ago. and now i´m programming some mini 2d games.

    thanks for this useful tutorials

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