Update (2/1/2018): Blog post and GitHub code has been updated with instructions on how to connect to CosmosDB using Table Storage API.
Azure Table Storage Service is an inexpensive, highly available NoSQL key-value store. It can store petabytes of structured data, supports a flexible data schema and Azure team provides a REST API. Furthermore, Azure CosmosDB has a Table Storage API, so the same code can also be used here. So, I thought, why not extending my Azure Services for Unity library with support for access to Azure Table Storage Service from any Unity game? Well, here we are, our latest commit to the repository contains access methods for the service.
Yeah, title is long but nevertheless you get the point of what I’m going to describe. So, to cut a long story short, last weekend I attended a hackathon where my teammates and I built a PoC of a movie quiz chat bot. At the end of the hackathon, we attempted to “dockerize” it and host it on App Service on Linux (currently on preview). This blog post documents the process.
- Great video intro (+demo!) of chat bots and Microsoft’s Bot Framework, an easy and flexible way to create an awesome chat bot
- You can develop a chat bot in many ways, check here for the Bot Builder Node.js SDK
- Check out my blog post about building a chat bot for Greek startup ParkAround
- App Service is Azure’s PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering, it supports Windows and Linux (preview). Check here for App Service on Linux documentation
- You can deploy apps as files into App Service, if you want to deploy a Docker container check here for Docker containers on App Service on Linux
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tl;dr – Azure and Unity, really?
Azure Services for Unity is a small library (currently in beta) that provides you an easy way you to access an Azure database and/or APIs (hosted on Azure App Service) via the Unity game engine. You can use it to save highscores, status messages, send messages between players and much more. As there are no plugins involved, library is cross-platform and can run everywhere that Unity runs (editor, standalone players, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and Windows Store Apps). Of course, it is completely open source and free to use. It was last tested on Unity 5.3.4f1. Current version 0.0.13.
Update: for some additions and fixes to the library check out my newer blog post here
Update2: check this blog post for an addition to the library that allows you to access Azure Table Storage Service or CosmosDB with Table Storage API.
Azure App Service is quite an interesting cloud platform to develop web and mobile apps. One can easily create web apps that scale, create mobile apps backend and integrate with existing services either on the cloud or on-premise. App Service also has a very simple mechanism to store data and use various APIs, called Easy Tables and Easy APIs, respectively. Those can be rather helpful to game developers that want to create a backend for their game. In this blog post, we’ll describe a small library that allows a game written in Unity to access them.
Creating an Azure App Service and database
We assume you have an active Azure subscription. If not, refer to the last paragraph on this blog post to find out easy ways to get one. First, you’ll need to visit the new Azure portal at http://portal.azure.com.
Recently I became the happy owner of a brand new Raspberry Pi 2. In case you don’t know about it, Raspberry is a pretty powerful computing device in a form factor of a credit card. You can install Windows 10 IoT Core on the Raspberry and code against it using the Universal Windows Platform (UWP_, aka write programs for this small device using C# and XAML. So, I embarked on a new self-education journey and, after some reading, I had to pick a pre-made hands-on sample and replicate it. I picked this one, since the only extra hardware it requires is a shield (Sparkfun Weather Shield) and some cables to connect it with the Raspberry. The sample instructions on hackster.io are pretty straight forward and the source code provided for the Weather Shield + UWP integration is pretty self-explanatory. Only modification I made was to add a timer to pull humidity and temperature from the shield at a fixed time interval.
However, I wanted to take this project one step further. Connect the device to Azure IoT Hub, send data to it, pass the data via a simple Azure Stream Analytics job and store it to Azure Table Storage, expose it via a Web API web service and consume it from an ASP.NET MVC web application. Well, it’s not as difficult as it sounds! I’ll briefly describe the steps I used
Azure IoT Hub
The Azure IoT Hub (in preview, at the time of writing) is a service in which millions of devices can connect and exchange messages. The IoT Hub enables bidirectional communication to and from each device, can manage each device separately and provides a high level of security. To create a new IoT Hub, login into the new Azure management portal and create it. There is also a free tier to support app development, which you can use. If you do not have an active Azure subscription, you can easily create a trial account. Even though it requires a credit card, you will not be charged at all, provided you stay within your spending limits.
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