For Kobold Kit (the Sprite Kit game engine) we’re working on Super Stick Spy, a 2D platformer game. Like so many others, we started out using the (Box2D) physics engine that’s so neatly integrated in Sprite Kit to get everything up and running quickly.

But we knew full well that for the final product, we’ll have to scrap the physics engine altogether and follow best practices when it comes to platformer-programming.

Now with the demo version nearing completion (see video) I can tell you in full detail why you don’t want to use a physics engine for a 2D platformer!

Music by Alexandr Zhelanov

Moving Platform Hell

A moving platform with physics needs to be a dynamic body. Don’t even try moving static bodies, at least in Box2D that will end up in jumpy movement of the body. Though kinematic bodies work better (if available).

The player or other game characters standing on a moving physics body will have the platform slide underneath their feet. The characters won’t magically move along with the platform! And there is no feature in the physics engine that lets you set this up. You have to program it to synchronize character movement with the platform they’re currently standing on, and end the synchronization as soon as a character lifts its feet up from the platform.

Which can be a problem for downward-moving platforms as the player loses contact with the platform every other frame, starts falling, and lands right back on the platform. To put it in Homer’s words: “Doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh …”. So you need to make the character stick to the platform, yet allow him to fall off of the ledges and jump, and possibly also allow him to be forced off the ground by normal collision events (projectile impact, platform moving through a tiny crevice).

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What goes into a game engine? A long list.

On June 17, 2013, in Kobold Kit, by Steffen Itterheim

Cocos2D is a rendering engine. Note the emphasis. 90% of what it does is draw stuff onto the screen and animate it. It adds some input processing and scheduling and the rest is up to you.

A game engine is to cocos2d what cocos2d is to OpenGL. The list of things I want in an actual game engine is long.

The iOS mobile platform has advanced far enough that a pure rendering engine just isn’t that much of a help anymore. We’re effectively moving back towards where we were back in 2008 if we don’t start pushing the boundaries, hard.

Here are some ideas I have for and would like to see in a 2D game engine, in no particular order. It is not a feature list for Kobold Kit, but it does reflect what I want to make possible with / encourage for Kobold Kit.

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Generate Tilemap Physics Collision Shapes with Cocos2D

On June 1, 2013, in idevblogaday, by Steffen Itterheim

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 00.59.01 You have a tilemap and you want physics collisions on it? The solution seems obvious: create a rectangle shape for every blocking tile.

But ouch! This solution is not just hugely wasteful and unnecessarily slows down the physics collision code, it also introduces the well known problem of characters getting stuck even on flat surfaces.

This is in particular a problem for Box2D because its collision mechanic doesn’t work well with flat surfaces subdivided into smaller segments (rectangle shapes in this case).

A workable but still very awkward solution to work around this behavior is to create characters with bevelled edges at the character shape’s bottom at the risk of bopping characters as they walk about the map.

Lupines in the Moore Neighborhood

A good solution to generate physics collisions is to implement the Moore Neighborhood algorithm to generate chain shapes which are more suitable for tilemap collisions. The downside is that adding or removing individual blocking tiles at runtime requires updating the shapes – this is not implemented in this project.

Every flat surface, no matter how many tiles form the surface, will then consist of only one straight collision segment. Here’s a quick demo video of the project discussed in this post that shows the algorithm at work and the resulting “game”:

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