The Anet Shell
Last updated: 16 August 97
The Anet Shell, or Netshell, is a ready-made network pregame
setup component which can be used by game programmers. Its main reason
for existence is to keep us from having to reinvent the wheel with every
new game. Every game has had to have a network shell programmer; with the
Anet Shell to draw on, that programmer should need less
time to write and debug the game's network shell.
The Anet Shell takes care of managing phone numbers and dialing
(when using modem), selecting and authenticating to game servers (when
using Internet), lobby chat, and hosting or joining games. Once the user
decides to host or join a game, the Anet Shell passes control to the
game program, which then lets the user set game options and launch.
A fundamental goal of the Anet Shell is stability and support for
all our games. To that end, the shell will only be compiled once, and all
customization will be handled by loading in files at runtime. Updates to
the Anet Shell can be downloaded and installed once, and will automatically
affect all games installed on the user's machine.
Initially, it will have a standard screen layout, and the game programmer
will be able to customize it by specifying background and button art and
sounds. Later, if there is demand for more customizability, we may allow
the game programmer to override some of the behavior of the Anet Shell
to allow game-specific screen layouts and functions. This will be done
via DLL's or a similar mechanism.
The Anet Shell will eventually be able to handle English, German,
and Japanese. In fact, when Japanese users chat, and English users are
in the room, the English users should be able to see the Japanese characters
properly on the screen. (The limiting factor is the font- we currently
can't afford to ship a Japanese font; they're expensive!)
The Anet Shell will be implemented as a program which can be run
from the Start menu or from splash screens. It can be started with a parameter
which specifies which game is selected. If no game is specified when starting,
it presents a menu of games to the user.
The user interface will take the user through the following screens:
Transport-specific setup (e.g. phone book or server selection)
Game-themed chat screen
How the Shell knows what games are installed
Under Windows 95, the Shell will locate compatible applications by looking
in the Registry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Activision/Activenet/Applications/MyGame
for a key named 'Cwd' containing the absolute path to the directory the
game is installed in. Under MacOS, the Shell will look in the Preferences
folder for a folder called "Activenet", which will contain an alias to
each Anet-enabled application.
A file named ANET.INF should be installed in the same folder
as each game application; it describes the game application to the Shell.
For instance, one of the demo applications in the SDK has the following
Here's what each line means:
name is the name of the game. (This is only used during debugging.)
run is the executable to run (e.g. mech2.exe)
SessionType is a number assigned by Dan
Kegel to identify this application
cmdline is any commandline arguments the game needs; usually
ShellOpts are options that control how the Shell treats your
game. Usually blank, but can contain the word /nopregame if your
game doesn't want the Shell to give your game a pregame chat screen or
the word /nosync if your game doesn't require synchronized launching.
The following words can also be used in ShellOpts under Windows 95 for
/NEWCONSOLE => new Win32 console created for game
/OLDCONSOLE => existing Win32 console used for game
How to Enable Your Game to run under the Shell
Here's what you need to do to register your application at setup time:
Here's what you need to do to get your application to launch properly:
Ask Dan Kegel for a SessionType for your game, and create an anet.inf
file in the directory where your game is installed. For instance, assuming
your game is called "My Game", and Dan gave you session type 1234, here's
what anet.inf might look like:
The AppKey line is a new addition to the anet.inf file (1/9/98), and must
be included if your game will support automatic downloading of patches
from the web using dkupddll.dll. Otherwise, you need not include it.
The value here provides information to automatically launch your game after
patches are downloaded from the web and executed.
The value here is the registry subkey your game uses under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/App
For example, if you used AppKey=Mygame_exe, then to launch your game
after patching, dkupddll would look to the key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/App
The default value of this key is the path to your game's main executable.
Contact Cross Production if the installer for your game does not yet create
a registry key here. The AppKey line here is necessary in spite of the
Run line, since Run points to the executable for the multiplayer version
of your game, which may not be the main executable of your game.
Install a copy of NetShell and its two test applications (chat and turn).
(In real life, you'd use an installer for this step:) Run regedit and look
at the key "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Activision/Activenet/Applications/Chat".
Notice it has a CWD value pointing to the directory holding the Chat demo.
Create a new key just like it for your game, e.g. "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Activision/Activenet/Applications/MyGame/CWD",
and set it to the absolute path where your game is installed.
If you want to start Shell with your game preselected, make a shortcut
where [sessionType] is the sessionType you got from Dan Kegel. (Your installer
will eventually make a start menu shortcut for this.)
That's it! You should be able to see your game in the list of games when
you run Shell.
In the directory containing your executable, make a directory named "dll"
and copy the transport dll's there (e.g. copy \anetsdk\win\dll\w*.dll dll).
Create a DLL subdirectory in your product's directory containing (in the
case of a Windows game) the files WINET.DLL, WIPX.DLL, WSERIAL.DLL, WMODEM.DLL,
ANETDLLD.DLL, and ANETDLL.DLL from the WIN\DLL folder of the SDK.
Make sure MSVCRT.DLL (and, for debugging, MSVCRTD.DLL) are either in the
WINDOWS\SYSTEM directory, or in the product's directory.
Link the release version of your program to ANETDLL.LIB, and the debug
version to ANETDLLD.LIB.
In your program, call dpCreate as follows:
err = dpCreate(&dp, NULL, NULL, "freeze.dat");
if (err != dp_RES_OK)
abort("Can't initialize DP");
When your program is done, call
then tell NetShell whether it should start again by calling
If you use a zero exit status, and don't crash, the Shell will start up
again when your app exits.
Using a debugger with a game launched from the Shell
To run your game under a debugger, edit the game's anet.inf
file, and change the line that normally starts your game directly, e.g.
to invoke the debugger instead, e.g.
or to start a DOS window where you can start the debugger by hand, e.g.
If the dpCreate function call fails, run the debugging version of your
game (which was linked to ANETDLLD.LIB), and create the file dp.ini as
described in dp.htm, with the lines
TOLOG=1 # use TOALOG instead of TOLOG if program is crashing
Then look for the logfile dp.log after running
your program; it will contain information that will help you and/or the
Anet team debug the problem.
Data Files and Customization
If game-specific art or behavior is required in a game's pregame chat area
in the Shell, the programmer can create it during development by dropping
the right files into the directory where the Shell is installed. When it's
finished, the assets should be provided to the Anet team, who will
include the data in the next update of the Shell. We will have an automatic
update mechanism, so even users who don't have a product installed can
visit the game's chat area (but they probably won't be allowed to chat
unless they actually have the game installed).
In the Shell directory, all game-specific data is stored in the data
directory. Whenever a file is read from the data directory, the following
directories are searched in this order:
/data/[session type].[language code] || /data/[session type]
/data/default.[language code] || /data/default
Therefore, if you have any game-specific files which you want to load instead
of the default files (like sounds or art), you can place these files in
the /data/[session type] directory.
If you want to define your own custom colors or fonts, you can create
a java class Settings which derives from NS.Settings (see NS.java), and
place the "Settings.class" file in your data directory.
In a similar fashion, you can substitute you own classes for just about
any part of the netshell. For example, if you wanted to make your own pregame
setup panel, you would create a class called PregamePanel which derived
from Area.Panel, and place this in a file call PregamePanel.class in your
data/[session type] directory.
Other internal Shell details
NetShell uses the following registry keys under "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Activision/Activenet/Applications/NetShell":
Cmdline (contains the arguments to Java Runtime Environment)
Cwd (contains the full path to the directory where NetShell was installed)
Name (contains the name NetShell)
Path (contains the full path to netshell.exe which keeps track of NetShell
and the games launched from it)
Run (contains the full path to Java Runtime Environment which is needed
to run NetShell)
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