I have a few HLSL files that I'd like to add into a DLL project so that I don't have to keep adding these same shader files into a new Content project every time I want to use them. Is this possible, or does the XNA framework have to compile the shader files beforehand?
I have another solution in addition to Russell's which allows you to use the content manager and allows you to embed all of the types of content XNA supports.
XNA supports the ContentManager though a resource instead of a content project. To use it do the below. Of course you will need to pass a reference of your game's services at some point.
ResourceContentManager Content = new ResourceContentManager(game.Services, Resource1.ResourceManager);
Use this to compile the shader or anything to a xnb.
Add any and all of the XNB to your resources. Them simply load your content as usual.
You don't actually need to have an actual content project: all you need to do is copy the effect XNBs to your output directories.
However, if you really want to embed them in a DLL first create a .resx in your DLL and add all the compiled effects to it (you can use
fxc to make these - which can be found in the DirectX SDK, it's also available in the Content Pipeline API). At runtime use the byte array effect constructor to create effect from the resources. For example:
new Effect(GraphicsDevice, MyEffectResources.Blur, CompilerOptions.None, null);
Or for XNA 4.0:
new Effect(GraphicsDevice, MyEffectResources.Blur);
Keep in mind that you won't get the resource sharing that
ContentManager does: you will have to roll your own mechanism to ensure that you only instantiate the effects once (e.g. a
static Dictionary<string, Effect>).
I used the Stock Effects Sample to do just this, which also allows you to create a wrapper class that works like the standard effects.
There is a readme inside the sample download that explains exactly what to do. The sample contains a project that compiles shaders to a binary using the EffectProcessor class. You add the shader and subclass Effect in your library, build the binary and add it as a resource. Your Effect subclass then passes the binary into the Effect constructor.
So I just reference the library from my game project and go
var effect = new AwesomeEffect()