After a long time, I’m back! I’m also back to Brazil, for good, and it took me a while to settle down and start writing again.
This time I won’t talk about any fancy graphics technique or rendering optimizations. Instead, I will talk about an implementation of a game framework to be used on top of the rendering system I’m developing (and available for download on this blog), and also some tips about how to save/load your levels created with this framework. Ah, the source code is here, use it at your own risk!
Component Based System
I’ve worked with two different game architectures in my previous jobs: an inheritance-oriented one, and a component based one.
In the inheritance-oriented one, when you create a new object class, you pick up a starting class (that was inherited from the base game object class at some point), and add/override/implement relevant methods. In this architecture, sometimes you see a big inheritance tree like “Game object->physics object->render object->flying object->ship object->supership object” and so on. Ah, you can use also multiple-inheritance in some languages, that makes things more complicated and harder to maintain (in my humble opinion).
In the component-based system, you have smaller classes that are responsible for simpler tasks, like only rendering or playing sounds (named components), and you attach them to a container (called GameObject). In the example above, you could have a GameObject with a render component, a physics component and a ship component to achieve the same goal.
In both cases you can have a hierarchy of Game Objects (aka scene graph), so maybe your Render Object could be a children of the Physics Object, or whatever. In my experience, working with a component-based system proved to be easier to understand, to develop, to maintain and to extend, thus I’ve chose it for my game framework. The Unity3D game engine is a good choice to see it in action.
GameObject and BaseComponent
The two core classes of the game framework are the Game Object and the Base Component: the game object can have multiple components, children and has a transform plus some basic events. The transform is propagated to its children and to all its components. The base component is where the magic happens: the base class itself doesn’t do anything special, but here are some examples of its descendants:
Render Component: is responsible for rendering a mesh/model. The mesh itself is added/removed from an independent “render world”, so we don’t need to run through the whole scene graph looking for render components during the drawing step. When it receives a “transform changed” event, it signals the render world that it’s mesh has been touched, so the render world will render it properly in the next frame
Camera Component: it uses the Game Object’s transform plus some specific members (FovY, aspect ratio, near and far planes, viewport, etc) to define how the render world will be drawn.
Light Component: it also uses the Game Object’s transform plus some specific members (light type, radius, color, etc). It’s added to the render world, so we can query quickly what lights touch a given volume.
The base component has some “Update()” methods, that may be implemented in the sub classes. The “Update()” method is called every frame for each component that extends it (we keep a list of all the components that really need to be updated). Sometimes we need an update at a fixed rate, or just once per-frame, so what I did is was to create two different updates. I added also a “PreRender” method, that is called before the rendering so you can generate the mesh with the current camera, etc.
Here is an example of a torch, in my framework: the “torch” GO (game object for short) has only a mesh component (the burning wood) and has a child, “fire” (selected in the inspector). This GO has two components: a particle emitter and a light component. This extra GO was created because I needed an offset from the pivot of the torch to the burning tip.
There is an infinite number of components that can be implemented in this architecture, without deep inheritance trees or thousands of lines of code. In the source code provided, you can find the three examples above and a particle emitter component too. A good starting point for you to extend it is to create a Physics Component. I did two different physics components in my ”official” XNA engine, using JigLibX and Box2D, and they worked quite well.
Sometimes, a component may need to interact with another component. Let me say you want your torch’s light to flicker. You could either inherit your LightComponent class and create a LightThatFlickersComponent, or create a component LightModulatorComponent, that inherits the BaseComponent. It has some parameters like light minimum/maximum radius, color and intensity, along with modulation type (ie sine, random, etc). When the component starts, it asks for its GO for all the light components attached to it, and then updates all the lights accordingly. There are some different methods in the GO class to query the components by type, you can search for a single component in the GO itself, in the hierarchy starting on this GO, search for a list of all the occurrence of this component in the tree, etc.
Saving and loading
One important feature of any game framework is to save and load a level/game state/something. Creating all the levels in code may not be an option if you work with level designers or your game doesn’t fit in the procedurally-generated-content genre. Shawn Hargreaves has an excellent post about how to use the XNA/C# serializer, so I won’t write it here all over again. I will note some points I think that are important and weren’t too obvious when I faced them. The serializer by default saves all the public properties, so you may face some issues like I did:
[ContentSerializer(Optional=true)] : when you add new properties to a class, the XML loader will cry a river saying that it didn’t find that property in the XML. Add this attribute to allow the game to load without that.
[ContentSerializer(Ignore=true)]: use this if you don’t want a given member to be saved, like the “GlobalTransform” in the BaseComponent, that is just an facade to the GO global transform
[Browsable(false)]: at some point you will create an editor to your game, and a property grid is a good choice to use for inspecting properties. Use this attribute if you don’t want a property to be shown on the property grid (like an internal GUID of the GO)
[ContentSerializer(SharedResource=true)]: if a component needs to store a reference to a GO or another component, use this attribute to avoid the reference to be serialized as a property inside the component. This way, it will be stored as a simple reference to an object that was already serialized
[ContentSerializer]: forces a member to be serialized (ie you don’t need to create a public access to it)
An important class that is missing so far is the SharedResourceList. It’s a list that serializes only the references to the elements, and it’s used by the GameObject class to store its children.
I created a class named GameWorld, that is responsible for managing the GO tree. Actually it has a single GO – the root, some lists of updatable components, an instance of the render world and some helper methods. You load the level in the same way you load a texture or a mesh, like
GameObject object = Content.Load(“levels/jcoluna.xml”)
With the loaded root ready, you send it to the game world, so it can call all the initialize methods and prepare the scene graph to update and render. Take a look at the code and ask if you have any doubts, it’s not rocket science.
One last tip: keep the level files and the other assets (textures, meshes) in different projects, and do not reference the game processor where it’s not needed. If you do this, every time you change a class in the game framework, all the textures and meshes will be reimported (this is not done in this example, sorry).
I would like to thank Rudi Bravo for his help during the development of my framework, he did a good job at the dirty serialization stuffs and the Box2D integration.
That is it, keep safe, healthy, happy and donating!