Friday, July 18, 2008

Entity System (Part 1)

Long blog post incoming. And it's, like, my third one.

1596, from M.L. entitatem (nom. entitas), from L. ens (gen. entis), proposed by Caesar as prp. of esse "be" (see is), to render Gk. philosophical term to on "that which is."

1619, "the whole creation, the universe," from L.L. systema "an arrangement, system," from Gk. systema "organized whole, body," from syn- "together" + root of histanai "cause to stand" from PIE base *sta- "to stand" (see stet). Meaning "set of correlated principles, facts, ideas, etc." first recorded 1638. Meaning "animal body as an organized whole, sum of the vital processes in an organism" is recorded from 1683; hence fig. phrase to get (something) out of one's system (1900). Computer sense of "group of related programs" is recorded from 1963. All systems go (1962) is from U.S. space program.

There are posts around the net about entity systems. Not sure there's a particular implementation to follow. I've been reading some related threads over at, but none of them particularly stirred my interest either.

Entity systems are made to favour aggregation over inheritance. There are reasons to use the former, and reasons to use the latter. I'm not going to say one is better than the other. The right tool for the right blah blah blah.

I'll go the Entity System route with Darkmana, mostly because - provided my implementation will work as intended - it'll allow me to define custom behaviours with little effort.

Imagine for a moment your main character is standing near a bonfire, ready with his composite bow. The wannabe game designer in me thinks: wouldn't it be cool to put the arrow on fire by standing close to the bonfire? This means the next shot will also do some fire damage. Cool stuff, yes.

Now, what am I going to do to implement is? What's the way? Many a way. Logically speaking, my arrow is a simple arrow at first (it has some default properties), and then I add some other attributes; that is, it is on fire. From a code standpoint, I have my Arrow object, probably derived from a Missile : GameObject class. Now, it's a FieryArrow object, derived from the Arrow class. So basically, create the new one (probably with a constructor accepting the old Arrow object?) and use it.

I could go on forever (in fact I was about to, I just deleted a good bunch of lines worth of examples), but the problem still remains. Whatever you do, it's hardcoded AND stuck into a specific object hierarchy, which you can't free yourself from.

Scripting comes in rather handy. Well, you still have the fixed hierarchy issue. Why is it an issue? From Cowboy Programming:

The result of implementing functionality near the root of the hierarchy is an overburdening of the leaf objects with unneeded functionality. However, the opposite method of implementing the functionality in the leaf nodes can also have unfortunate consequence. Functionality now becomes compartmentalized, so that only the objects specifically programmed for that particular functionality can use it. Programmers often duplicate code to mirror functionality already implemented in a different object. Eventually messy re-factoring is required by re-structuring the class hierarchy to move and combine functionality." (

Let's get rid of it, shall we? How am I going to define my game objects now? Here's my approach.

The rationale behind removing hierarchies is that entities are made of components, pretty much like a body is made of organs performing different stuff. An entity in itself isn't much; it's the way it reacts to the surrounding system rules that matters; and the way it reacts depend on what composes it.

So, now I'm going to have an object which allows me to add other objects, and these objects will take care of defining the way the owner reacts to some system messages.

I mentioned system rules. They are indipendent from the entities. Entities act into a system with a predefined set of rules, rules which they cannot change (we're talking about virtual environments and not politics) - basically the boundaries set by the game designers.

I'm going to post some more later. I need a cigarette and the lunch break's almost over. Let me know what you think.

Part two is here.

No comments: