cocos2d Book, Chapter 6: Spritesheets & Zwoptex

On July 30, 2010, in Announcements, book, cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

Chapter 6 – Spritesheets and Zwoptex

In this chapter the focus will be on Spritesheets (Texture Atlas), what they are and when, where and why to use them. Of course a chapter about Spritesheets wouldn’t be complete without introducing the Zwoptex tool. The graphics added in this chapter will then be used for the game created in the following chapter.

The chapter will be submitted on Friday, August 6th.

Anything about Spritesheets you always wanted to know?

Just let me know. I’ll be researching what kind of issues people were and are having regarding Spritesheets. I want to make sure that they are all covered in the book.

Please leave a comment or write me an email.

Summary of working on Chapter 5 – Game Building Blocks

I finally found a better title for the chapter. A big part is about working with Scenes and Layers. A LoadingScene class is implemented to avoid the memory overlap when transitioning between two scenes. Layers are used to modify the game objects seperately from the static UI. I explain how to use targeted touch handlers to handle touch input for each individual layer, either swallowing touches or not.

The issue of whether to subclass CCSprite or not is discussed and an example is given how to create game objects using composition and without subclassing from CCNode and how that changes touch input and scheduling.

At the end the remaining specialized CCNode classes such as CCProgressTimer, CCParallaxNode and the CCRibbon class with the CCMotionStreak are given a treatment.

As you can see from the pictures, I’m also making good progress at becoming a great pixel artist. Only I have a looooooong way ahead of me still. But I admit, the little I know about art and how much less I’ve practiced it, I’m pretty happy about the results and having fun with it. The cool aspect of it is that this should be instructive art. It doesn’t have to be good. So I just go ahead and do it and tend to be positively surprised by the results. I’ll probably touch this subject in the next chapter about Spritesheets: doing your own art. It’s better than nothing, it’s still creative work even if it may be ugly to others, and it’s a lot more satisfying to do everything yourself, even if it takes a bit longer and doesn’t look as good. At least it’s all yours, you’re having fun, and learn something along the way. And you can always find an artist sometime later who will just draw over your existing images or who replaces your fart sound effects with something more appropriate.

Btw, if you’re looking for a decent and free image editing program for the Mac, I’ve been using Seashore for about a year now and I’m pretty happy with it.

Prefer Composition over Inheritance

On June 11, 2010, in Programming, Speaking From Experience, by Steffen Itterheim

When the question came up whether to subclass CCSprite or use some model class to build your game entity hierarchy in the cocos2d forum, i stressed that one should try not to use inheritance and keep the inheritance hierarchy to as few levels as possible. I’ve worked with codebases with hundreds of thousands of lines of code, and hundreds of different types of actors in the world. Yet the inheritance hierarchy was 2 super (parent) classes for almost all objects, only very few game objects had 3 or 4 super classes. How can you make complex games this way?

The answer lies in composition, often referred to as Game Components by engines like TorqueX and the PushButton Engine (a Flash game engine from the original Torque developers). This video from the PushButton lead developer Ben Garney explains it very well and also illustrates the problem with inheritance over-use in game engines. Something that most developers new to object-oriented and/or game programming do in fact tend to over-use – i blame that on poorly written books and other introductory OOP sources which emphasize inheritance without discussing its disadvantages.

You can read more about PushButton’s Components system in their documentation. How they implemented Components in TorqueX and what the differences are to XNA Game Components further enhances understanding of the concept.

For further reading and arguments read the Wikipedia article on component based software engineering. As a matter of fact, the Objective-C language was invented to be able to create re-usable software components!

Scott Bilas’ GDC 2002 talk about A Data-Driven Game Object System (PDF) as used by Dungeon Siege contains more pointers on why inheritance fails for game developers and what the advantages (but also some caveats) are with component-based game engines. The talk may be old but it’s still as valid today as it was back then. In fact, in 2002 i started working on SpellForce which already had a component system built into its core, called Aspects, Abilities and Spells. It allowed us to enter all the game data in the database and programmers only needed to write the generic code that dealt with the data, as well as setting certain limits and validity checks (eg. you couldn’t use a damaging spell on yourself but if you wanted to you could target enemies with your heal spell, or have archers shoot buildings … errm).

During GDC 2009 a similar presentation was held by Radical Entertainment’s Marcin Chady. The talk was called Theory and Practice of Game Object Component Architecture (PPT).

Mick West wrote an article Refactoring Game Entities with Components which describes the challenges and benefits of changing the Tony Hawk codebase from an inheritance model to a game component system.

A somewhat more advanced read on component use is a collaborative paper called Dynamic Game Object Component System for Mutable Behavior Characters which talks about components in context of finite state machines and NPC behaviors with a rule-based activation system.

The Game Architect blog calls it an Anatomy of Despair and sums up very good what the cons of inheritance-based class design is and how composition solves them.