While helping others solve their cocos2d project issues over the past year it became obvious that many projects have at least one major problem in one of these areas:

  • memory management
  • resource management
  • code structure

Examples

Memory management issues normally range from allocating too much memory, either by loading too many textures up front which are only going to be needed later, or by memory leaks such as scenes not deallocating when switching scenes. Resource management problems range from not adding the right resources to the right target, often resulting in increased App size because resources are added to the bundle but never used by the App. It could also mean loading identical resource files except that they have different filenames (copies?), using up additional memory. Or not tightly packing sprites into Texture Atlases but instead using one Texture Atlas per game object – while this is understandable from a standpoint of logical seperation it does waste opportunities for optimization.

Finally, code structure or lack thereof regularly leads to “everything in one class” code design which is most likely an evolutionary process rather than intentional. It’s not uncommon to see classes with thousands of lines of code, sometimes even going past 10,000 lines of code in one class. Other things are using too many CCLayers without them adding a clear benefit, for example just to group all nodes at a specific z order together or to group them by functionality, eg one layer for enemies, one for players, one for background, one for UI, one for score, one for particle effects, and so on – without any of these layers being used for what they’re really good at: modifying multiple nodes at once, like moving, scaling, rotating or z-reordering them. And of course there’s the copy & paste hell, large blocks of code reproduced in various places only to modify some parameters instead of creating a method which takes the modifiable parameters as arguments. Even professionals I worked with got so used to doing that it became hard just to overcome the resistance of letting go of old habits. But they learned.

Summary

Nothing of this code design and structuring strikes me as odd or surprising. I’ve written code like this myself. I also believe if it’s good enough and works, then why the hell not? It’s a matter of experience and it’s only with experience that you clearly see how to improve things. This boils down to the regular learning curve where only training and tutoring and just simply making mistakes and learning from them helps in the long run. That’s how we learn things.

On the other hand, the things like Memory and Resource Management can also be learned but they have a different nature. They can be statistically assessed, they could be calculated and verified automatically. This makes me wonder if there isn’t some kind of automation and information tools that would help developers achieve better results in terms of memory usage and resource management? In the meantime it’s all about raising awareness …

Raising Memory Awareness

Most importantly I think we need to raise more awareness to these issues to cocos2d developers. One step towards that would be for cocos2d to display a “available memory counter” alongside the FPS counter. I used to patch CCDirector to simply display memory instead of FPS since that was always more important to me. Fellow cocos2d developer Joseph sent me his version to display both – I simply didn’t think of the obvious. So if you’d like to see FPS and available memory next to each other I think you can handle the changes to CCDirector outlined here:

Raising awareness to leaking Scenes

In addition I highly, strongly and with utmost reinforcement (without pulling out a gun) recommend to cocos2d developers to frequently check your scene’s dealloc methods. Preferably add a breakpoint there, or at the very least add the logging line: CCLOG(@”dealloc: %@”, self). If you want a more visible but less intrusive method you could do something like flashing the screen or playing a sound whenever the last scene is deallocated, so that you get so used to it that when you’re not seeing or hearing it anymore it immediately raises your attention.

If at any time during the development of your project the dealloc method of a scene isn’t called when you change scenes, you’re leaking memory. Leaking the whole scene is a memory leak of the worst kind. You want to catch that early while you can still retrace your steps that might have caused the problem. Once you get to using hundreds of assets and thousands of lines of code and then realize the scene isn’t deallocated, you’ll be in for a fun ride trying to figure out where that’s coming from. In that case, removing nodes by uncommenting them until you can close in on the culprit is probably the best strategy, next to using Instruments (which I haven’t found too helpful in those cases).

I ran into such a problem once because I was passing the CCScene object to subclasses so that they have access to the scene’s methods. The subclass retained the scene and was itself derived from CCNode and added to the CCScene as child. The problem with that: during cleanup of the scene it correctly removed all child nodes but some of the child nodes still retained the scene. Because of that their dealloc method was never called, and in turn the scene was never deallocated.

cocos2d Book, Chapter 2: Getting Started

On July 2, 2010, in Announcements, book, cocos2d, by Steffen Itterheim

Chapter 2 – Getting Started

This chapter starts with the usual prerequisites. Download and install iPhone SDK and cocos2d. Installing cocos2d Templates. Creating the first project from a cocos2d project template.

From what I already wrote I estimate that will be about one third of the chapter. I think what would be most interesting in this chapter is to talk about general code structure of cocos2d projects. The basic elements like Scenes, Layers and Nodes. How to transition from one screen to another, to see that we’re actually doing something cool with little effort. For that I think the scheduled selectors should also be introduced to time transitions, and one screen might be a Layer which is waiting for touch input to advance to the next screen.

It might also be a good place to discuss cocos2d memory management, like static autorelease initializers, and making sure dealloc gets called when you switch scenes – otherwise you’re obviously having a memory leak.

The goal is to get the reader into a position where he feels comfortable laying out a screen structure in cocos2d. He knows how to initialize objects and how to add and remove them from the scene. The foundation of working with cocos2d if you so will.

What do you think should be in Chapter 2?

Let me know if you think I’m missing anything important. If you don’t have any suggestions then just think about what you would expect from the chapter by reading this description, that might give you some thoughts.

Also I would welcome any tips and the common pitfalls first-time cocos2d developers might trap themselves into. Expert tips are also welcome, those little nasty things or habits which could bite you later on if you don’t consider them from the beginning.

I’m looking forward to your feedback! The earlier the better. Chapter 2 will be submitted next Friday, July 9th.

What’s planned for the Chapter after this one

Just to put Chapter 2 in context, for Chapter 3 I’m planning to talk about essential cocos2d classes and processes. Sprites, Labels, Menus, Actions, etc. It’ll show you how to work with them using small code snippets. The chapter will probably have a “reference” character with various code samples, so that experienced users feel comfortable skipping ahead while beginners still find it easy and encouraging to pick up the details.

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