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[Adam] Monday, October 2, 2017

#1
Hey guys. I'm going to try something new for a bit and see how it goes. In between Josh's bigger updates I'm going to start posting smaller updates. These mini-updates will focus on the specific problem I'm solving at the moment. The goal is to go deeper into detail than the bigger updates normally do and is often going to be centered around code architecture since I've been spending a lot of time there lately. They will also be more informal: I'm going to write them without much revision and without the flair that generally comes with Josh's writing. This is mostly just laziness that I'm selling as time savings and pragmatism. I also imagine this being a little more interactive than the usual updates, so feel free to ask specific questions or tell me what you'd like to hear more about and I'll do my best. Off topic stuff is fine as well as I realize you guys don't know a whole lot about me yet. What I won't be covering is what Josh is currently working on. For one I don't want to steal his thunder and two I want to ensure there's still new information in the regular updates. Onward!

Recap
First a bit of history. My primary goal since teaming up with Josh has been to get to gameplay as soon as possible. In a particularly productive team meeting early on this lead to the birth of Lil'T. The original goal was to have a single, playable system in a week. Something basic with player controls, a nebula, and some asteroids. This was back when I had just finished the BSP implementation. We had been working solely in the engine and didn't even have a separate (code) project for LT. I didn't know any LUA or how to start writing gameplay that leveraged the engine so this was a good motivator to start knocking down those barriers. I think it ended up being about 2 weeks before we really got to the point we wanted to be. I have to say, hooking up the BSPs for the first time and being able to click things in the scene felt really damn good.

Now, as much as I want to get to gameplay, the second major goal is making sure the code we write is shippable. It can't be prototype stuff that's going to need to be re-written. It doesn't have to 100% perfect and complete either, but it needs to be written in a way that can expanded without needing to be refactored. In getting the first phase of Lil'T running it became obvious that the infrastructure to support LUA needed to be in before going further. That took another few weeks and you've likely read about some of that in the past couple of updates. During that work we spent a lot of time profiling, testing, and tweaking things and it became pretty obvious that being able to do some of that while the game was running would save us a bunch of time so I set to task on the debug UI.

With the dev UI in a good spot we're shifting back to gameplay again. We're likely going to do this 1-2 combo of sprinting on gameplay for a bit then stepping back to improve the infrastructure supporting it a few more times. Often we can't really tell what the scaffolding needs to look like until we have concrete gameplay as a guide. We spent a couple of days talking through how we wanted to simulate entities. Since they have one-to-many parent-child relationships (a ship is the parent of it's turrets), the game objects form a tree structure. We compared hierarchical updates using depth first and breadth first traversal. We compared job-based (run on all entities) and event-based (build a list of entities that need to be updated). Ultimately we settled on event-based updates with the ability to create jobs within that framework.

Input vs Simulation
Once we nailed down how we wanted updates to be processed, input became the next target. We ended up with a lot of code that looks like this:

Code: Select all

function onUpdate (dt, hasFocus)
  if hasFocus then
    if PHX.Mouse.Pressed(PHX.MouseButton.Left) then
      self:fire()
    end
    if PHX.Mouse.Pressed(PHX.MouseButton.Right) then
      self.camera:setTarget(self:getPick())
    end
  end
end
(Note that I'm being loose with the term 'update' in the text (but not the code). The core game loop is essentially simulate, update, draw. Simulate is the fixed interval simulation step. Update happens right before draw and is for things like animation and interpolation. Draw is for, well, drawing. Also note that handling input in the update step is wrong and will be changed eventually. We aren't currently buffering input and since the simulation rate is much lower than the update rate we miss a lot of input when handling it in update at the moment.)

This isn't great. Having to manually track, pass, and handle focus in every single location that processes input is going to lead to a lot of mistakes and unnecessarily obtuse code flow. We knew this wasn't going to last long as it was being written and it needed to be addressed soon, before enough incorrect code built up that refactoring it would be a big task.

Josh and I talked through this quite a bit and his idea was to treat the game window as a fairly standard UI. The GameView would just be a UI widget that displays the final, rendered view of the simulation. The simulation becomes an autonomous thing that marches through time, updating its own state without any concept of a camera, a player, or input. UI widgets will provide visible controls and input handling that inform the simulation of requested state changes. The GameView decides how it should render the view of the simulation.

It took me a bit of time to understand the implications of this approach. It sounded a bit odd at first, but the more I worked through it, the more I was able to see the large number of subtle benefits.
  • The GameView gets the full benefit of the automatic layout functionality of the UI. Debug and gameplay UI elements can push the GameView out of the way in addition to just overlapping it. If you've noticed how the debug UI overlaps gameplay that's actually quite annoying. It's nicer if the debug window is able to make the gameplay view narrower and slide it to the right so they are side by side instead. In general it means we can allow the game view to be resized, moved, snapped, etc very easily and naturally. We can iterate on UI layout faster, allow players to customize their UI easily, and handle window resizes without any added work.
  • Multiple GameViews can exist (think radar, scanning, minimap, whole-system views, etc).
  • Input focus is already handled cleanly. The UI tracks what your mouse is over, which widget has focus, is being dragged, etc. It's trivial to extend this to have separate mouse and keyboard focus, hard and soft focus, separate onInput functions for letting only the focused widget handle input, and whatever else might be needed.
  • The amount of branching in gameplay code drops significantly. We don't have to check for focus or input because that gets hoisted to the highest level and doesn't need to be repeated all over the place. Even with our tiny system, the amount of code and complexity immediately dropped.
  • The simulation takes on more of a client-server model. Input is handled in the 'client' which then requests state changes on the 'server'. Validation in the simulation all happens in one place. We end up being forced to build a clean API in some sense.
  • Concepts like control schemes become much easier to think about and implement. Since each form of input is going to be a separate UI widget completely changing how the game controls just means creating a new widget and adding it to the UI hierarchy.
There's probably a lot more nuance that I'm leaving out. Anyway, we're currently using the dev UI to handle this. We didn't originally intend for the dev UI to be the final UI system but the performance is good enough that it's actually a possibility. It's powerful and easy to use. However, if the dev UI is swapped out in the future it's not going to affect the way the gameplay code is written so it's natural to move forward with it for now.

Of course, making this change meant a decent amount of refactoring. I had to pull all of our input handling out, decide where it went and reimplement it in the new system. I ended up with 3 new widgets: GameView, DebugWindow, and DebugPicker. I also reimplemented the data inspectors Josh added a while back so we can actually walk through the entire game state from UI windows. I also took the time to add a bit more UI polish: added stretch weights to grid columns/rows, fixed subtle positioning errors in labels, added alignment to labels.

This is mostly under-the-hood work, but I figure I can at least drop a gif of the GameView being animated smoothly: https://i.imgur.com/EkASTsN.mp4


This update is a bit higher level than I'm aiming for in general, but it's not a very involved or probably interesting topic and it's only a few days worth of work. Let me know what you guys want to hear more/less about so I know where to focus in the future posts.

Cheers
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Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#6
Naed wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 11:49 am
Question: Why is Josh not posting?

All due respect to you Adam, but you are not Josh.

The one that the community wants to hear from is Josh. Not you.
You may have confused 'respect' and 'hostility' in this and your previous posts. You are, of course, welcome to not read posts prefixed with Adam in the future. As mentioned above, my updates are independent of Josh's and not meant to serve as replacements. If others are similarly disinterested in the other 50% of the Limit Theory team and this is time poorly spent, I'll adjust accordingly.
Post

Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#7
AdamByrd wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 12:10 pm
Naed wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 11:49 am
Question: Why is Josh not posting?

All due respect to you Adam, but you are not Josh.

The one that the community wants to hear from is Josh. Not you.
You may have confused 'respect' and 'hostility' in this and your previous posts. You are, of course, welcome to not read posts prefixed with Adam in the future. As mentioned above, my updates are independent of Josh's and not meant to serve as replacements. If others are similarly disinterested in the other 50% of the Limit Theory team and this is time poorly spent, I'll adjust accordingly.
You said that off-topic questions are welcome. I asked a question.

Respect is earned Adam. It is not automatically granted just because of the colour of a nick.
Post

Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#10
Thanks for keeping us posted, Adam, good to read. I vote for more of these! :)
AdamByrd wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 11:31 am
in the regular updates
I don't know what Josh thinks regular means, but what he's doing isn't it :ghost:

Naed, I get where you're coming from, but there are nice ways to put it, especially since Adam is doing an effort to keep us up to date. It's not his fault that Josh doesn't seem to feel like doing that like he said he would...
Warning: do not ask about physics unless you really want to know about physics.
The LT IRC / Alternate link || The REKT Wiki || PUDDING
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Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#11
Adam, I’d like to express that this is great.

I would LOVE to see these more.

I agree that, for those who don’t want to read it, they don’t have to.

Hopefully others appreciate this, and looking at comments it seems that most do. You can’t please everyone. I also know a few of us had asked for something like this.

So, please keep it up!
Shoot ALL the things!
Post

Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#13
These updates are amazing, keep 'em coming!
Naed wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 12:13 pm
Respect is earned Adam. It is not automatically granted just because of the colour of a nick.
In my opinion you're just being rude. He wrote a little update on what he's been working on and you're angry about what exactly?
Last edited by Basmannen on Mon Oct 02, 2017 1:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

In magenta we trust
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Re: Adam - Monday, October 2, 2017

#15
AdamByrd wrote:
Mon Oct 02, 2017 11:31 am
...
While it took me a little bit of thinking to get it (I'm a microbiologist, not a code-person :ghost: ), it was quite interesting nonetheless. And the .gif illustrated it quite well. So I would definitely like reading more of them, especially since Josh decided to lapse into silence again :squirrel:

However, I'd say that a lot of people will find it difficult to understand; and many people won't really manage to navigate through a wall of technical-sounding text. A short CM's summary might be helpful in that regard.

And, to be entirely honest, people are more interested about the general feeling of what's going on - problems, solutions, personal drama ( :ghost: )...they want to hold their hand on the pulse, so to speak, rather than read about all the minute technical details, no matter how impressive they are.

I'd say, a half-an-hour conversation over Skype/Hangouts with a CM so he gets the general idea and writes down his impressions would be the right format for community interaction. Unfortunately, for some reason it was never done. But then delegating responsibilities is not LT dev team strongest suit :monkey:

And, about Naed...He means well, which he proved countless times by helping people out...but it's true that he can be abrasive to the extreme and self-righteous to the point of inducing hostility. Usually he keeps himself in check, but sometimes he lapses. Just ignore him then.
Survivor of the Josh Parnell Blackout of 2015.

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