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Cowboy Programming » Evolve Your Hierarchy

2023-11-07 04:23:35

Refactoring Sport Entities with Elements

Up till pretty current years, sport programmers have persistently used a deep class hierarchy to signify sport entities. The tide is starting to shift from this use of deep hierarchies to a wide range of strategies that compose a sport entity object as an aggregation of parts. This text explains what this implies, and explores a few of the advantages and sensible concerns of such an strategy. I’ll describe my private expertise in implementing this method on a big code base, together with learn how to promote the thought to different programmers and administration.


Totally different video games have totally different necessities as to what’s wanted in a sport entity, however in most video games the idea of a sport entity is sort of comparable. A sport entity is a few object that exists within the sport world, often the item is seen to the participant, and often it could possibly transfer round.

Some instance entities:

  • Missile
  • Automobile
  • Tank
  • Grenade
  • Gun
  • Hero
  • Pedestrian
  • Alien
  • Jetpack
  • Med-kit
  • Rock

Entities can often do numerous issues. Listed below are a few of the issues you may want the entities to do

  • Run a script
  • Transfer
  • React as a inflexible physique
  • Emit Particles
  • Play situated audio
  • Be packed up by the participant
  • Be worn by the participant
  • Explode
  • React to magnets
  • Be focused by the participant
  • Observe a path
  • Animate


The standard means of representing a set of sport entities like that is to carry out an object-oriented decomposition of the set of entities we wish to signify. This often begins out with good intentions, however is continuously modified as the sport improvement progresses – notably if a sport engine is re-used for a special sport. We often find yourself with one thing like determine 1, however with a far better variety of nodes within the class hierarchy.

As improvement progresses, we often want so as to add numerous factors of performance to the entities. The objects should both encapsulate the performance themselves, or be derived from an object that features that performance. Typically, the performance is added to the category hierarchy at some degree close to the basis, such because the CEntity class. This has the good thing about the performance being out there to all derived lessons, however has the draw back of the related overhead additionally being carried by these lessons.

Even pretty easy objects resembling rocks or grenades can find yourself with a considerable amount of further performance (and related member variables, and presumably pointless execution of member capabilities). Typically, the standard sport object hierarchy finally ends up creating the kind of object referred to as “the blob”. The blob is a traditional “anti-pattern” which manifests as an enormous single class (or a particular department of a category hierarchy) with a considerable amount of complicated interwoven performance.

Whereas the blob anti-pattern usually reveals up close to the basis of the item hierarchy, it’s going to additionally present up in leaf nodes. The more than likely candidate for that is the category representing the participant character. For the reason that sport is often programmed round a single character, then the item representing that character usually has a really great amount of performance. Often that is carried out as a lot of member capabilities in a category resembling CPlayer.

The results of implementing performance close to the basis of the hierarchy is an overburdening of the leaf objects with unneeded performance. Nonetheless, the alternative technique of implementing the performance within the leaf nodes may also have unlucky consequence. Performance now turns into compartmentalized, in order that solely the objects particularly programmed for that specific performance can use it. Programmers usually duplicate code to reflect performance already carried out in a special object. Finally messy re-factoring is required by re-structuring the category hierarchy to maneuver and mix performance.

Take for instance the performance of getting an object react underneath physics as a inflexible physique. Not each object wants to have the ability to do that. As you possibly can see in determine 1, we simply have the CRock and the CGrenade lessons derived from CRigid. What occurs after we wish to apply this performance to the autos? It’s a must to transfer the CRigid class additional up the hierarchy, making it increasingly more just like the root-heavy blob sample we noticed earlier than, with all of the performance bunched in a slim chain of lessons from which most different entity lessons are derived.


The element strategy, which is gaining extra acceptance in present sport improvement, is one among separating the performance into particular person parts which are largely impartial of each other. The standard object hierarchy is distributed with, and an object is now created as an aggregation (a set) of impartial parts.

Every object now solely has the performance that it wants. Any distinct new performance is carried out by including a element.

A system of forming an object from aggregating parts might be carried out in one among 3 ways, which can be considered as separate phases in shifting from a blob object hierarchy to a composite object.


A typical means of re-factoring a blob object is to interrupt out the performance of that object into sub-objects, that are then referenced by the primary object. Finally the mum or dad blob object can largely get replaced by a sequence of tips that could different objects, and the blob object’s member capabilities develop into interface capabilities for the capabilities of these sub-objects.

This may occasionally really be an affordable resolution if the quantity of performance in your sport objects is fairly small, or if time is restricted. You’ll be able to implement arbitrary object aggregation just by permitting a few of the sub-objects to be absent (by having a NULL pointer to them). Assuming there usually are not too many sub-objects, then this nonetheless permits you the benefit of getting light-weight pseudo-composite objects with out having to implement a framework for managing the parts of that object.

The draw back is that that is nonetheless basically a blob. All of the performance remains to be encapsulated inside one giant object. It’s unlikely you’ll absolutely issue the blob into purely sub-objects, so you’ll nonetheless be left with some vital overhead, which can weight down your light-weight objects. You continue to have the overhead of regularly checking all of the NULL tips that could see in the event that they want updating.


The following stage is to issue out every of the parts (the “sub-objects” within the earlier instance) into objects that share a standard base class, so we are able to retailer a listing of parts within an object.

That is an intermediate resolution, as we nonetheless have the basis “object” that represents the sport entity. Nonetheless, it could be an affordable resolution, or certainly the one sensible resolution, if a big a part of the code base requires this notion of a sport object as a concrete object.

Your sport object then turns into an interface object that acts as a bridge between the legacy code in your sport, and the brand new system of composite objects. As time permits, you’ll finally take away the notion of sport entity as being a monolithic object, and as an alternative deal with the item increasingly more instantly through its parts. Finally you might be able to transition to a pure aggregation.


On this remaining association, an object is just the sum of its elements. Determine 2 reveals a scheme the place every sport entity is comprised of a set of parts. There isn’t any “game entity object” as such. Every column within the diagram represents a listing of equivalent parts, every row might be although of as representing an objects. The parts themselves might be handled as being impartial of the objects they make up.


I first carried out a system of object composition from parts when working at Neversoft, on the Tony Hawk sequence of video games. Our sport object system had developed over the course of three successive video games till we had a sport object hierarchy that resembled the blob anti-pattern I described earlier. It suffered from all the identical issues: the objects tended to be heavyweight. Objects had pointless information and performance. Typically the pointless performance slowed down the sport. Performance was typically duplicated in several branches of the tree.

I had heard about this new-fangled “component based mostly objects” system on the sweng-gamedev mailing checklist, and determined it gave the impression of an excellent thought. I set to re-organizing the code-base and two years later, it was finished.

Why so lengthy? Nicely, firstly we had been churning out Tony Hawk video games on the price of 1 per 12 months, so there was little time between video games to commit to re-factoring. Secondly, I miscalculated the size of the issue. A 3-year outdated code-base comprises a number of code. Numerous that code grew to become considerably rigid over time. For the reason that code relied on the sport objects being sport objects, and really explicit sport objects at that, it proved to be a number of work to make every thing work as parts.


The primary downside I encountered was in making an attempt to elucidate the system to different programmers. In case you are not notably accustomed to the thought of object composition and aggregation, then it could possibly strike you as pointless, needlessly complicated, and pointless further work. Programmers who’ve labored with the standard system of object hierarchies for a few years develop into very used to working that means. They even develop into excellent at working that means, and handle to work across the issues as they come up.

Promoting the thought to administration can also be a troublesome. You want to have the ability to clarify in plain phrases precisely how that is going to assist get the sport finished quicker. One thing alongside the strains of:

“Every time we add new stuff to the sport now, it takes a very long time to do, and there are many bugs. If we do that new element object factor, it’s going to allow us to add new stuff so much faster, and have fewer bugs.”

My strategy was to introduce it in a stealth method. I first mentioned the thought with a few programmers individually, and finally satisfied them it was a good suggestion. I then carried out the fundamental framework for generic parts, and carried out one small side of sport object performance as a element.

I then offered this to the remainder of the programmers. There was some confusion and resistance, however because it was carried out and dealing there was not a lot argument.


See Also

As soon as the framework was established, the conversion from static hierarchy to object composition occurred slowly. It’s thankless work, because you spend hours and days re-factoring code into one thing that appears functionally no totally different to the code it replaces. As well as, we had been doing this whereas nonetheless implementing new options for the subsequent iteration of the sport.

At an early level, we hit the issue of re-factoring our largest class, the skater class. Because it contained an enormous quantity of performance, it was virtually unattainable to re-factor a bit at a time. As well as, it might probably not be re-factored till the opposite object methods within the sport conformed to the element means of doing issues. These in flip couldn’t be cleanly refactored as parts except the skater was additionally a element.

The answer right here was to create a “blob element.” This was a single big element, which encapsulated a lot of the performance of the skater class. A couple of different blob parts had been required elsewhere, and we finally shoehorned all the object system into a set of parts. As soon as this was in place, the blob parts might progressively be refactored into extra atomic parts.


The primary outcomes of this re-factoring had been barely tangible. However over time the code grew to become cleaner and simpler to take care of as performance was encapsulated in discreet parts. Programmers started to create new sorts of object in much less time just by combining a couple of parts and including a brand new one.

We created a system of data-driven object creation, in order that solely new sorts of object could possibly be created by the designers. This proved invaluable within the speedy creation and configuration of recent sorts of objects.

Finally the programmers got here (at totally different charges) to embrace the element system, and have become very adept at including new performance through parts. The frequent interface and the strict encapsulation led to a discount in bugs, and code that that was simpler to learn, preserve and re-use.


Giving every element a standard interface means deriving from a base class with digital capabilities. This introduces some further overhead. Don’t let this flip you in opposition to the thought, as the extra overhead is small, in comparison with the financial savings as a consequence of simplification of objects.

Since every element has a standard interface, it is rather straightforward so as to add further debug member capabilities to every element. That made it a comparatively easy matter so as to add an object inspector that would dump the contents of the parts of a composite object in a human readable method. Later this could evolve into a complicated distant debugging instrument that was all the time updated with all potential sorts of sport object. That is one thing that might have been very tiresome to implement and preserve with the standard hierarchy.

Ideally, parts shouldn’t find out about one another. Nonetheless, in a sensible world, there are all the time going to be dependencies between particular parts. Efficiency points additionally dictate that parts ought to have the ability to rapidly entry different parts. Initially we had all element references going by way of the element supervisor, nonetheless when this began utilizing up over 5% of our CPU time, we allowed the parts to retailer pointers to 1 one other, and name member capabilities in different parts instantly.

The order of composition of the parts in an object might be necessary. In our preliminary system, we saved the parts as a listing inside a container object. Every element had an replace operate, which was referred to as as we iterated over the checklist of parts for every object.

For the reason that object creation was information pushed, it might create issues if the checklist of parts is in an sudden order. If one object updates physics earlier than animation, and the opposite updates animation earlier than physics, then they may get out of sync with one another. Dependencies resembling this should be recognized, after which enforced in code.


Shifting from blob model object hierarchies to composite objects created from a set of parts was the most effective choices I made. The preliminary outcomes had been disappointing because it took a very long time to re-factor present code. Nonetheless, the top outcomes had been effectively value it, with light-weight, versatile, strong and re-usable code.


Scott Bilas: GDC 2002 Presentation: A Knowledge-Pushed Sport Object System

Bjarne Rene: Element Primarily based Object Administration. Sport Programming Gems 5, 2005, web page 25.

Kyle Wilson: Sport Object Construction: Inheritence vs Aggregation, 2002,

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