2008.03.16 - Progress: Like Regress, Only Forward!

It’s been tricky to make much progress these last couple weeks – having a (non-gaming) coding job and being able to come home and work gets tricky, so a large majority of my game coding time is weekend time. Also, couple some deadlines at work, and you’ve got a large case of “I don’t want to code when I hit home.”

However: I did make a good deal of progress these last few weeks.

If you look at the screenshot in my last entry, it should be plain exactly HOW MUCH. Suddenly, my little experiment looks considerably like a GAME.

Click to enlarge

High Quality Xvid, 32MB
Low Quality Xvid, 3.5MB

Particles Make Me Sneeze

The biggest hurdle for this section of the project was the general-purpose particle system. Even though I’ve done a bunch of crazy graphics-related stuff, a particle system has NEVER been on that list. But no longer!

For my particles, I wanted the following data:

  • Position (3D)
  • Rotation (around Z)
  • Image Index (which image in the particle map to use)
  • Scale (how big the particle is scaled, relative to the particle map’s specified world size)

The particle map mentioned in that list is a simple list of texture coordinates into the particle texture (Which contains images for all of the particles), as well as the size of a given particle in world space.

The particles in this system are actually rendered using shader constants (2 float4 shader constants per particle), which gave me right around 100 particles per draw call. On my PC, I can push the system up to 24,000 particles before it starts to slow down. On the Xbox 360, it’s closer to 6000. Both of those are well within my game’s target maximum of 2000 particles, and I could probably get that number higher if I had to.

The State Machine Tells Way Fewer Lies Than the Political Machine

One thing I learned when working on Mop of Destiny was how to set up a totally sweet state machine in C++. I got to port those concepts over to C#, which made it even EASIER, given all of the reflection support. Note that I do the majority of the reflection calls at application startup, so the expensive calls are already done when it’s time to do the actual game running.

Each state can have three functions associated with it: Begin, Tick, End.

Begin is called on the transition to that state from some other state.
Tick is called every time the state gets run (once per frame)
End is called on the transition from that state to some other state.

Also, each state can have a number of transitions associated. They take the form of: “BooleanFunction = TargetState”

Every frame, before calling tick, the state machine core will run each of the specified functions. When one of them evaluates to true, it switches states to the new TargetState, which will then be run (unless one of ITS transitions triggers). A state can also call the SetState function direction, but having the transitions in the function attribute makes it really easy to see where a state can transition to.

See You Later, Allocater!

One of the most important things that I have been doing with my code is ensuring that, during the run of a game level, no memory is allocated. At all. The reason is the .Net garbage collector (GC).

The GC, on Windows, is triggered every 2MB of allocations (among other scenarios, including low-memory and lost-focus cases). On the Xbox 360, the GC runs ever 1MB of allocations. Since the GC pauses all threads while it does its thing, it’s better that it’s never triggered during runtime…ESPECIALLY if the heap is complicated and garbage collection is going to take a while.

To handle this, I’ve created a few of my own data structures, including the OrderlessList<T>. I’ve used OrderlessLists alot throughout my code. Simply stated, it’s an array (allocated at the time of the object with some maximum number of elements) in which the order of the objects is unimportant (i.e. it can be reordered and it doesn’t matter). Given the property of being able to reorder at any time, removal from the list is a simple matter of copying the last list over the top of the element being removed, then decreasing the reported size of the list.

For the bullets (both the player and the enemy bullets), there’s an OrderlessList of live bullets, and an OrderlessList of dead bullets. Whenever a bullet is needed, an object is retrieved from the dead bullet list, given its properties, and added to the live bullet list. Whenever a bullet dies (goes off-screen or hits an enemy), it is deactivated and returned from the live bullet list to the dead bullet list. No allocations necessary.

That’s right, it’s the ol’ “pool of objects so you don’t have to allocate” trick. But hey, it works!

Rambling Is For Cowboys, Not Coders

Alright, enough talk! Tomorrow is another day at work, so it’s likely I won’t make any more progress until next weekend.

In the meantime, death is but a door, time is but a window; I’ll be back.

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