Getting Started with UE4 and Visual Assist

Whether you’re new to Visual Assist and UE4 or a seasoned vet, we thought you might appreciate a little more insight into what you can expect and how to get started. Thanks to our resident UE4 wizards for putting this together.

1. Install Visual Assist

  1. Exit all instances of Visual Studio.
  2. Run the .exe installer you downloaded.
  3. Select the IDE(s) you want to install to.

2. Open your game solution

Visual Assist will come alive after it finishes parsing.

3. Look around

Open the Extensions > VAssistX menu. You will use the menu primarily to open tool windows, review keyboard shortcuts, and access the options dialog.

Appreciate the understated UI to Visual Assist. There are just a few visible changes.

4. Change a few settings

If you like meaningful syntax coloring, open the options dialog for Visual Assist and apply coloring to more of the UI.

If you highlight the current line, choose a thin frame that doesn’t obscure your code.

Visual Assist can add important information to tooltips when hovering over a symbol, such as comments from base classes. This is very helpful in UE4, as base class comments are the documentation.

Visual Assist can analyze your code and suggest improvements. Enable Code Inspections to see blue underlines where code might be improved. Visual Assist can even modernize your code for you! We will show how later.

Then, open the options dialog to Visual Studio and eliminate the redundant navigation bar. The version in Visual Assist includes the functionality of the built-in one.

Disable built-in navigation bar

After making the changes, Visual Studio is ready to use.

5. Navigation in UE4

Search for and open files using Alt + Shift + O. Precede a search filter with a hyphen to exclude symbols (negative filtering).

Understand and navigate the inheritance hierarchies of UE4 by using Alt + Shift + G on a class name. The Alt + Shift + G shortcut works on many types of symbols, try using it on a virtual method.

Source files in UE4 can be thousands of lines long. Use Alt + M to search for and navigate to methods inside the current file.

Find references to a symbol using Alt + Shift + F. Visual Assist’s find references is fast and accurate inside huge solutions like UE4. Try cloning your results to save them by clicking the Clone Results button or using the right-click menu.

Hover over a virtual method to see comments from base classes. Base class comments often contain useful documentation.

6. Refactoring in UE4

Access refactoring tools using the keyboard shortcut Alt + Shift + Q, or by hovering over a symbol and clicking the tomato icon that appears. The contents of the Alt + Shift + Q menu depend on the symbol.

It is common in UE4 to override virtual methods, such as Tick or SetupPlayerInputComponent. Visual Assist can implement these methods for you. Click on your class name and then use Alt + Shift + Q.

The Implement Methods dialog is searchable, and you can implement more than one method at once.

Visual Assist will intelligently add a call to the Super class version of the method for you when appropriate.

You will see blue underlines below code which could be modernized. This is Code Inspection.

Visual Assist can refactor the code for you! Use Alt + Shift + Q on the underlined symbol.

If you need to change the return type, parameters, or the name of a method you can use Change Signature. Edit the method definition in the window. References and call-sites to the method will be updated, so you won’t miss anything.

7. Tips

There is a lot of special functionality built into Visual Assist for UE4, such as suggestions for U* macros. The more you can use Visual Assist, the more opportunities to make your life a little easier in UE4.

You may find the built in IntelliSense to be unusably slow, or that it often adds red underlines to correct code in UE4. IntelliSense can be disabled. Visual Assist provides all the intelligent tooling expected in a modern C++ development environment.

You can throttle the initial parse in the Performance tab of the Visual Assist options dialog. By default, the one-time parse uses all available resources to finish as fast as possible.

For more information or support check out our forum and documentation.

Some features mentioned above require the latest build, check here for updates.

Developer Showcase: Visual Assist in Action

If you follow our blog, you’ve seen the features that our team is putting in place and likely felt their impact in your development. Instead of hearing more of the same, we thought we would share thoughts from one of our users. Meet Distalsoft, two brothers, one who can’t stop gaming and one with ideas. We’re not sure which one wrote this post, but either way check them out when you want to hunt for treasure or lose it all attempting Brexit.

C++ with Visual Assist, Visual Studio and Unreal Engine

It’s inspiring that software like Microsoft’s Visual Studio IDE and Epic’s Unreal Engine have been “free” for so long now. It pains me to think about where indie developers would be without the forward thinking force of these larger companies and their seemingly never-ending generosity. Helping start-ups and the like to get their feet on the ground is something I will forever be grateful for.

Although the tools come close to it, it would be naive to think that they can fulfil the job of every requirement. I want to point out a few problems we were facing at Distalsoft when it came to developing in Visual Studio using Unreal Engine and the solution we ended up going with.

Unreal Engine at its core uses the C++ language. Visual Studio – being a Microsoft product – makes development in C# very enjoyable. On the other hand, development in C++ has been a point of frustration for many years. From VS 2010 to VS 2017, improvements have been made to the overall speed of compilation, Intellisense, file searching and the like, but it has taken until 2019 for them to really make a dent in the problem. I must say that VS 2019 has done an excellent job of addressing the aforementioned issues but the question still stands – could it be better?

A few years ago when I was using VS 2015, I’d had enough. I’d sometimes be waiting several minutes for Intellisense to bring back a list of methods or properties that belonged to an object. I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it – smashing the heck out of the ctrl+shift+space keys and cursing at the screen while waiting for the Intellisense to pop up. Or simple searches in the solution explorer that end up taking longer to resolve than simply finding the file yourself. Perhaps even trying to navigate to the definition of a method only to be waiting minutes for the document to load up. Something had to change. I went searching on the internet for a solution. It didn’t take long to stumble across a piece of software called Visual Assist by Whole Tomato. It had been recommended many times on various parts of the AnswerHub forum for Unreal Engine and StackOverflow. Due to it having a trial version, I downloaded a copy to give it a try.

The expression “night and day”, really doesn’t do the software justice but it’ll have to do for now. I was extremely relieved. Searching for files, definitions, even just including header files were now as you would expect from an IDE. The additional dialog menu that is available when right clicking on bits of code you want to perform actions against, has a variety of options that make you realise what was/is missing from the ootb VS. To be honest, I don’t use half of them, but it’s the baseline mechanics that just work so much better. And, to address my biggest issue – the speed of Intellisense – type-ahead now loaded within seconds and sometimes even instantly. What a relief!

Unreal Engine have improved their documentation, but unfortunately it’s still not quite there. I would always see people answer questions in AnswerHub with “Look through the Unreal Engine code, it’s open source”. I always assumed they were joking. Pressing F12 to go to method definitions without Visual Assist would take forever. Thanks to my new found friend Visual Assist, I finally had the ability to go find the answers to some of the most annoying questions. It’s hard to really communicate just how irritating it used to be. Seriously, Visual Assist has made me a happy C++ coder again.

I suppose the last thing to make note of is that Visual Assist is not currently free, but the trial is sufficient to make you realise just how much happier you can be when using it. I would be interested to see Visual Assist introduce a subscription based payment plan, but you can’t complain. They have done a stellar job at creating a brilliant tool.

So in conclusion, go check it out. See for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

This blog was brought to you by Distalsoft. If you’d like for us to showcase what you’re building (better and faster) with Visual Assist contact us.

Visual Studio 2019 moves VAssistX to Extensions menu

Microsoft Visual Studio 2019 moved all extension menus, including the VAssistX menu of Visual Assist, to a new, top-level Extensions menu. According to Mads Kristensen, a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, the menus were moved to “give the ecosystem more prominence and declutter the top-level menu when you have a lot of extensions installed“. That reasoning might be solid, but it does require an extra keystroke or click to reach extension commands.

In prior versions of Visual Studio, the VAssistX menu is opened via a single Alt+X. That shortcut, fortuitously, now opens the Extensions menu. In Visual Studio 2019, a subsequent X opens the VAssistX menu within the Extensions menu.

If you are a keyboard user of Visual Studio 2019, use Alt+X, X to reach any VAssistX command previously reached with Alt+X. And when you in the documentation for Visual Assist, know that you must use Alt+X, X every time you read Alt+X.

Those looking to restore old behavior in Visual Studio 2019 might find Extensions in Main menu useful. If you try the extension and want a single Alt+X to open VAssistX, use ‘Tools | Customize |Commands’ to change the accelerator key for Extensions, e.g. from &x to &i.

Speed up opening of editors when using Visual Assist in Windows 10 (Fall Creators Update)

Microsoft tightened security in the Windows 10 Version 1709 Fall Creators Update (FCU), but unfortunately, the tightening adversely affects the performance of applications that use the Win32 GetPixel API. Visual Assist is one such application so initial opening of editor windows in Visual Studio, when Visual Assist is active, can be extremely slow.

You can speed up the opening of edtor windows when using Visual Assist to pre-FCU levels by disabling Control Flow Guard for Visual Studio. Navigate to:

Windows Defender Security Center | App & browser control | Exploit protection settings | Program settings | Add program to customize | Add by program name

Be cautious and choose the exact file path(s) for Visual Studio, or disable protection for any application named “devenv.exe”.

Scroll to disable Control Flow Guard (CFG).

You might improve the performance other aspects of Visual Assist in Visual Studio, at least with respect to the effects of tighter security in the FCU, by disabling all 21 program security settings specific to the application.

Apply, and restart your PC.

You can improve performance of all affected applications in the FCU by disabling CFG at the system level:

App & browser control | Exploit protection settings | System Settings

Obviously, disabling a security feature has its own cost, i.e. less security. You can learn more about the slowness of the API at TenForums and in the Visual Studio Developer Community.

Filter using logical “or”

Many of the dialogs and drop-downs of Visual Assist allow efficient lookups via filtering. For example, filtering within Open File in Solution—a dialog with all files in a solution—lets one find a file quickly if only portions of a name are known. This means one can find veryLongFilenameInProjectTomato.cpp if he knows only “long” and “toma”.

Filtering takes many shapes. Aside from substrings, one can filter using simple expressions. Our expression syntax isn’t full regex but it is tailored to the content being searched.

In this blog post, I introduce searching using logical “or”.

Filtering using logical “or” is often applicable when searching VA Hashtags, where tags are created on-the-fly and often without standards. For example, developers might annotate code with VA Hashtags of the format “todo” followed by the name of the teammate who needs to review or fix the code, but names are entered as first names, last names, or misspelled variants thereof.

For tasks related to developer John Smith, we might find VA Hashtags in either of the following forms.

// #todoJohnSmith
// #todoJSmith

Filtering for “smith” in the VA Hashtags tool window easily finds both.

logicalOrSmithDialog

But a teammate might annotate code with only John’s first name.

// #todoJohn

In this case, filtering for “smith” won’t find the new hashtag. We need to search for “smith or john”, and we use a comma in our expression to do that.

logicalOrSmithJohnDialog

Then, our code might also include unrelated hashtags for John, e.g., a comment directed only at him.

// #John, I fixed this for you.

The previous filtering for “smith or john” will include the unwanted entry.

logicalOrSmithJohnDialog2

To omit the unwanted entry, we need to search for “todo and smith” or “todo and John”. We do that with multiple substrings and a comma.

logicalOrSmithJohnDialog3

This final expression using logical “or” gives us exactly what we want.

You can use expressions in all dialogs and drop-downs that support filtering, including the several that support logical “or”:

If you want to know more about expressions, study one of the features that supports logical “or”, then experiment in all the dialogs and drop-downs you encounter.

Logical “or” requires Visual Assist build 2062 or newer.

Quick Refactoring Menu of Visual Assist offers more than refactoring

If you use Visual Assist, you are probably familiar with its Quick Refactoring Menu—available via a hovering icon or the default shortcut (Shift+Alt+Q). But, you might not appreciate how frequently the menu is available. Quick Action Menu is a more apt name.

Availability aside, the Quick Refactoring Menu is an efficient method of tapping into the features of Visual Assist because the menu contains only pertinent actions; it’s always concise. (If you examine the “Refactor (VA)” submenu of the editor’s context menu, you will find all possible actions. The entries enabled in any one scenario are the ones in the Quick Refactoring Menu.)

Available actions in the Quick Refactoring Menu depend on what Visual Assist thinks you might do and where you are: in whitespace, in a symbol, or with a selection.

blogQuickRefactoringMenu

Browse the following list of actions that can appear in the Quick Refactoring Menu. Look for unfamiliar actions and envision scenarios in which they make sense. Try a few and add them to your arsenal. If you can’t fathom when or where an action might be available, click through and find an answer in documentation.

Action Availability
Add Using or #include from a symbol declared externally
Add Member from a class name
Add Similar Member from a member of a class
Change Signature from an existing signature
Create Declaration from an implementation
Create File from whitespace
Create From Usage from an unknown symbol
Create Implementation from a declaration
Create Method Implementations from a class declaration
Document Method from the name of a method
Encapsulate Field from the declaration of a member
Extract Method with a selection
Find Reference from a symbol
Implement Interface / Virtual Methods from a class name
Introduce Variable with a selection or from whitespace
Move Implementation to Source File from a method defined in a header
Move Selection to New File with a selection
Rename from a symbol
Rename File(s) from whitespace

Reset zoom level of Visual Studio to 100%

If you have ever been frustrated by an inadvertent zoom-in or zoom-out in Visual Studio, you probably know there is no convenient way in the IDE to reset the zoom level to 100%. Instead, the IDE requires you to “reset” via increments until you reach 100%.

resetEditorZoomCurrentValue

These inadvertent zooms occurred often enough among the developers of Visual Assist that one of them created a more efficient way to reset. You can have access to the functionality by assigning a shortcut to VAssistX.ResetEditorZoom. Use Ctrl+0 if you want to be consistent with the reset commands in web browsers.

VAssistX.ResetEditorZoom works only within the scope of the text editor, and you assign a shortcut in the usual manner–via the options dialog of the IDE.