I Bestow Upon Thee “HotkeyAutoExecute”, My Game Screenshot Automator

HotkeyAutoExecute is a simple single-window tool that lets you manage a list of frequently used hotkeys, of which one is repeatedly executed in configurable intervals.

That was the TLDR blurp, and now let’s get into the details. This tool scratches an itch I had in 2020 when I wanted to simplify the process of taking game screenshots for my reviews. During intense gameplay moments, it is difficult to focus on the game and press a keyboard shortcut to take an image of on-screen action. Therefore, I hacked something that would do the job but was not quite baked to be open-sourced as an application. I have changed that now, and boy, was it more complicated than I would have liked.

Brief Walkthrough

Let me quickly show you a screenshot of the application and explain what it does. For its limited purpose, I have definitely put way too much work into it. I literally only require one hotkey to serve all my needs, but hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Main window of the HotekyAutoExecute application. It shows a list of saved hotkeys, input controls to add custom hotkeys to the list, and controls to start periodic execution of a selected list item.

The first thing to do is define the keyboard shortcut, the hotkey, that you want to be emulated repeatedly. There is an input box at the top right of the window for that. And here is where it gets interesting – or annoying as the programmer. The hotkey cannot be recorded in some situations because it is immediately intercepted and eaten by the operating system or application. NVIDIA’s screen capture and Windows’ integrated Xbox Game Bar are guilty as charged. The latter is why it got so complicated initially and I only hacked something in the first place.

If you face the same issue, you can manually select the modifier keys using the checkboxes and only enter a single key in the input field. This is how I specify the NVIDIA hotkey (ALT+F1). Xbox is all special handling as you cannot (or I have not found out how) change the key combination – at all. The PRINT key is also up for individual selection as a result.

(The ways of the Microsoft…)

Finally, give your baby a name and add it to the list. The application saves all hotkeys to a JSON file that you can find in a hidden folder in your user profile. Go to “%APPDATA%\The-Codeslinger\HotkeyAutoExecute”, and you’ll be rewarded with a collectible.

Once you have created your collection of hotkeys, select the one you want to emulate, specify the interval in seconds or minutes, click “Start”, and thy will be done.

A couple of important things to note here:

  • Only one hotkey can be active at any time.
  • If the process receiving the hotkey is an admin process, it will not work.

The second point is crucial because it is a security consideration in the Windows API and limits its use in some scenarios.

Applications are permitted to inject input only into applications that are at an equal or lesser integrity level.

This is important because applications like MSI Afterburner cannot be triggered with HotkeyAutoExecute. Even starting it with administrative privileges did not help. This would have been my preferred solution, but I have not yet found a way to make it work.

Technical Stuff

Do not let the screenshot fool you into thinking HotkeyAutoExecute is multi-platform. It has a monogamous relationship with the Windows operating system. Although the application can be compiled and started on other operating systems, it cannot emulate hotkey presses. This is a Windows-only feature.

I have tested it on Windows 11, and I am confident it will work on Windows 10 as well. I developed the initial solution on it, after all.

The basis of this little utility is the Qt framework in version 6.3, and the compiler of choice used for the binaries in the Releases section is the MinGW suite of tools.

There is some technical drama to the implementation, and the story behind that can be found in another blog post.

Lastly, you can find the source code on GitHub if you are interested. I have released it under the GPLv3 license. It was Apache first, but I changed it to match Qt’s license to avoid issues.

A Peek Into the Crystal Ball

What does the future hold for HotkeyAutoExecute?

I cannot say. Right now, it does exactly what I need, and it took me two years since my first attempt to solve the problem before I added some polish to it. Nevertheless, it can still benefit from a few sprinkles of love here and there. The application does not have an icon, and the question mark pictures I use for help, I have repurposed verbatim from my WorkTracker utility.

Maybe I could find a way to improve the UX or do some refactoring to improve the class and method naming. The development was plagued by chasing problems and finding solutions. Therefore, some details have been left unrefined in the pursuit of a working implementation.

Because of these minor flaws, I did not yet give it a 1.0 version number. It is 0.8.0 for now.

Update Sep. 4, 2022: I have released v1.0.1 that remedies the major remaining issues.

Thank you for reading a little self-promotion.

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