Tuesday, November 24, 2015

NodeJS Basics - Object Patterns & Differences

Ever wondered when you should use a Singleton vs. using an object instantiated for just that script or even just for that call?  Not knowing the scope of the object can cause all sorts of issues in a NodeJS application if you don't carefully consider when it gets instantiated and what is allowed to access it.

I'll quickly walk through a couple scenarios which look very similar, but have a much different impact on your code.  This may be obvious to you if you're a long time NodeJS developer, but it's something that has tripped me up a few times in the past.

First, let's take a look at the Singleton model and how it works.

The Singleton Model

In the NodeJS Handbook, Fred K. Schott introduces the NodeJS Singleton:
"In most languages, sharing an object across your entire application can be a complex process. These Singletons are usually quite complex, and require some advanced modifications to get working. In Node, however, this type of object is the default. Every module that you require is shared across your application, so there’s no need for any special classes or extra code."

In NodeJS we can very quickly and easily create singletons, but it's important to be careful of when to use them, so you don't get yourself in trouble.

Let's take a look at a sample function, which will be our singleton model using a basic Object Oriented Approach.  There are other ways to write Singletons as well, but I'm writing the Singleton this way to focus on the small differences between Singletons and Instantiated Objects and how to not get tripped up by them.

Above we have a basic function: MyClass, with a single attribute: name, and single function on that class: askName.  Once it's added to the module.exports it is globally available for any of your scripts to require.  The important thing to note here is that you are creating a new instantiated object that gets put on the global modules list:  new MyClass("testy1"). Any script that accesses it references the instantiated object.  So in a second script, you could access it like so:

And if you had a third script running in the application you could run it there as well:

Now this is the important thing to remember about Singletons, and the reason you use this pattern:  If you change the name in the first script on the same NodeJS process, it will change it in the second script as well.  So the following test script which runs both scripts, will output "Hello, my name is Bob" twice:

If you swap the order of these scripts, it will output "testy1" as the name and then "Bob".  So just make sure you remember that when you modify values in a Singleton, that it will have that effect on anything else that is accessing it.

When to Use

The Singleton pattern is particularly useful whenever you need to have something store values across all scripts.  Think of it as being "super global" to the node process.  But that also means that you shouldn't use it if you need to change things between web requests or want to have the object do different things in different areas of your process.

With this pattern, you don't need to create the objects every time.  When you require it, you're accessing the created and instantiated object, so you can use it's methods and values right away.

The Object Oriented Model

So what if you don't want to use the Singleton, or it doesn't suit your needs?  Well instead of instantiating the object on the module.exports, you can simply pass the constructor back and let the calling script instantiate it.

This fits more along the lines of traditional object oriented programming.  Rather than one single global object, you allow the calling script to create each object as needed.

The above script is exactly the same as the Singleton model with the exception of line 10.  Instead of passing in a new MyClass with a set name, we simply pass in the constructor, the function MyClass.  Then in our scripts, when we require it, we must instantiate it, creating the objects with their own values.

There are 2 ways I normally go about instantiating an object from a module.  The first is to simply require the class, as seen on line 2, and then instantiate it (line 3) separately or when you need it.  Or, if you know that you only need to instantiate it once at the start of the script, say in the case where you have an error library or a debugging library that has settings specific to an individual script, you can instantiate the require, as seen on line 5.

When to Use

The Object Oriented pattern is useful any time you want something to be local to your script or function.  One thing to watch out for is the scope of the object and where and when you instantiate a new one.  If you're going to be using something for a certain web request, make sure you instantiate it during that web request within the function.

One recent 'doh' moment I had was when I instantiated my object globally, but was using it in web requests that came in.  So while Node was handling multiple requests, the logic the object was doing was being accessed by 2 different processes and was being corrupted during the request.  Moving the instantiation into function where I handled the request solved the issue.

Looking back it seems like a simple mistake, but it threw me for a loop for a while trying to figure out how the data was being corrupted.

There are plenty of other patterns as well, but I wanted to focus on the very small change between a Singleton and a Constructor based pattern that can make all the world of difference in your NodeJS code if you don't realize how it's different.

Hopefully reading this saves you a headache in the future!  Thanks and if you enjoyed this article, please follow me on Twitter & Subscribe to the blog!  Cheers!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Node Card Creator - Sheetify JS - Automating Print Sheet Creation

The NodeJS Card Creator is finally coming together as a tool I can use to streamline the development process.  If you haven't read the first blog post, I encourage you to go check out how I built the Card Creator and how you can set up your environment to do the same in my post: Card Creator - Automating Card Creation in NodeJS  You can also view the entire project here, at my GitHub account:  https://github.com/WakeskaterX/CardCreator

The next big piece -- a simple, but important piece of the automation process -- was finished just the other day: Sheetify.JS.  This Sheetify script takes all of the cards that are created in the cards folder and groups them into groups of 9, which fit onto a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper.  It then draws the cards to these sheets and outputs them to a sheets folder to be ready for printing.  Having this change it allows me to rapidly prototype by changing values, running 2 scripts and then printing the desired print sheets.  There is of course, the cutting out of the cards, so perhaps I can build some kind of cutting stencil, but in the mean time this has vastly improved the prototype speed.

Here is an example of the output sheet:

In addition to Sheetify the other thing I updated in the script was the ability to specify card images for the artwork section.  I made a few shitty drawings in Paint.NET to test it, but it works very well.

Here is an example of a Fire Spell with the image added to the card:

And that's pretty much it!  The sheet automation has been super helpful, so the next step is finding an artist to work with me on the project and playtest, playtest, playtest to hammer down the mechanics!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Updates to the Card Creator & Work on Sorceror's Arena

I've got some updates to the Card Creator application out (which you can find on GitHub here:  https://github.com/WakeskaterX/CardCreator ) as well as some updates to a card game I'm working on tentively named Sorceror's Arena.

Now I'm no amazing designer, but I managed to improve the image quality a bit and have a slightly better design for the automated card creation.  Before I was doing a lot of the card creating by hand in Paint.NET and it certainly gets tedious as I make small changes and need to create demo print sheets.  Reducing that workload was the purpose of the Card Creator and it's finally starting to look better than the cards I've created by hand which is why I haven't been using it until now.

So here is a quick look at what my currently printed prototypes look like, what the old generated cards looked like, and the recent change I just made to the card creator.

Current Prototype

Old Generated Image

New Generated Image

Now it is a little hard to tell in the two generated images, but the Icon fidelity went up greatly, and the fonts look better too.  Before the generated images didn't have any kind of indicator for rarity, and so that was added as well to have some differentiation in the cards.

There is still a lot to do, I need images, background art, a decent background for the description box, and I need to create the JSON files for the Lightning and Water sets, all just to make a first decent prototype.  That said, I may still hold off on images until I can find an actual artist to work with.

Little by little I find time to work on it and polish the game, in addition to the play testing and adjusting card values so nothing is TOO overpowered.  The project is still very early so it'll be a long time before any kind of release ever happens.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Card Creator - Automating Card Creation in NodeJS

Card Creator is a little tool I've been working on for automating the creation of card graphics for a card game I'm working on (tentatively) called Sorcerer's Arena.  The purpose of the tool is to automate the combining of art and font assets from a set of JSON data into the image PNG assets needed to print the cards.

You can find the current version on GitHub and it works pretty well at the moment.  I need to find better images (not a phenomenal artist here) and I need to find some good fonts and backgrounds, but the program works.

Card Creator uses NodeJS and Node Canvas to render images in a canvas style way on the server.  I looked into a few alternatives like Graphics Magick  and Image Magick but neither were particularly suited to combining images easily in a layered format like the HTML5 Canvas is (and by extension Node Canvas, which uses Cairo).  By far, the installation and debugging of the setup of this project took the longest, so I'll go into the problems I came across and how I resolved them as well.

Setting It Up

First, this project was a pain in the arse to set up.  Cairo has many dependencies, all of which may or may not be working, and Node Canvas also has some issues as well with the latest versions.  First things first, you need Cairo.  My experience is with a Mac Book Pro, so it may differ if you have Windows or a Linux Distro.  

I ran into a few problems, namely I had issues with:
  • Multiple Installations of Cairo (Brew vs MacPorts, etc)
  • The Version of Cairo & Dependencies
  • The Version of Node Canvas
I created the project in NodeJS with the latest version of Node Canvas, Async and put a small sample together using a few image and some text.  I set up my Git repository and then began getting things set up with Cairo which Node Canvas relies on.

I had installed Cairo for Mac a long time before, but never got things working with it.  That was installed with Brew, and when I started this project, I tried a new installation method using MacPorts.  Using MacPorts only caused more issues, because some things were referencing the Brew installation and dependencies and some were referencing the MacPorts, and everything just broke.

So I uninstalled everything from MacPorts, and uninstalled everything Cairo related from Brew and tried the whole re-installation from Brew, because Brew tends to be pretty solid.  I made sure that I had all the dependencies I needed for Cairo and Brew would tell me which I did not have linked correctly.  After the MacPorts debacle, I had to manually link a few of the Brew libraries to get them all set up. 

It ended up working, and I could generate images with Node Canvas but I still had issues.  Namely, I could not get using Fonts to work correctly and could not get them to render correctly either.  As I dove into this issue, part of it turned out to be a known issue with the latest version of Cairo on Mac OSX Machines, so ultimately to get around it, I used Brew to install all of the dependencies that Cairo required, I then uninstalled Cairo from Brew since the only version available on Brew was 1.14.0 which did not work correctly.  I then reinstalled a 1.12.X version directly from a the Cairo Releases FTP which cleared up a few issues with the font sizing and not rendering correctly.

However, I STILL had issues.  I could not load TTF Fonts into Node Canvas, which is something it is supposed to support.  So I started looking into this and found that it was a recent issue in Node Canvas.  So after some searching and debugging, I blew away the node modules folder and instead of using Node Canvas version 1.2.11 (the latest version), I hard set the version to 1.1.0.  And FINALLY everything worked.  I was able to load in True Type Font files and display them on the cards.  Using old versions of both Cairo and Node Canvas.  

Just a side note:  All this debugging and set up took me longer than it took me to make the current version of the application (~7 commits in at the time of writing this).

So now I had everything working, I could position text and images, use fonts, and build cards to my specifications.  Now I could build my application.

The Application

The application is fairly simple, if you've ever worked with the HTML5 Canvas before, it should feel very similar.  First, the main entry point for the app is the creator.js file.

Creator.js uses the following workflow to generate card graphics:
  • First, load in the libraries, configs, and most importantly, the card sets in the /card_values directory.  This file is where all of the settings to generate each card are stored in JSON format.
  • Next, Iterate through each card from the combined JSON files and perform the following:
  • Create a canvas element with setting specified in a general config setting.
  • Load all of the True Type Fonts in with the font loader library.
  • Draw the Background of the card on the Canvas.
  • Draw the Icons for the element types and stats, (and if this is a Sorcerer card, the miniature icons).
  • Write the Description Text in the main box.
  • Write the Title of the Card at the top.
And that's the entire flow.  Unlike some of my other blog posts I won't go too into the code but that's essentially how it all works.  

What this allows me to do is make small changes in the main configuration file, changes images, add images, change text or descriptions and update cards and quickly generate the entire set and images in seconds.  This allows me to try different things, modify entire sets of cards and not worry about having to manually create the cards in Paint.NET (which is what I was doing before).

As it is now, the quality of the cards isn't up to par with creating them as pixel art in Paint.NET, but I'm working to improve that and make the quality better.  Primarily I need to find a good way to create bordered fonts that aren't see through on the inside which most tend to be that I've found.  This application also paves the way for getting an artist on the project later and being able to quickly create cards as new art assets come in.

The end result of this project is that I can take something like this:

And turn it into this (below) with just a single command (node creator.js).

So far the application has been very handy for prototyping, and all of the code is open source so if you like making card games, feel free to extend the project and build on it for your own game!

I'll be building more on the application as well.  A few features I would like to add in the future are:
  • Creating the JSON files directly from a CSV, Excel Document or Google Spreadsheets documents (since I normally work in Google Spreadsheets for building the cards).
  • Better Fonts and possibly auto loading & mapping all fonts in the fonts directory.
  • Images for the cards, currently none exist and none are attempted to be drawn in the creator code yet.
  • Legit background (other than some grey boxes and a yellowish background color).
So that's my Card Creator application, if you haven't used Node Canvas I encourage you to check it out, but definitely pay attention when you're setting it up and potentially just use older versions to get it working correctly.  Once it's all set up, Node Canvas is pretty fun and easy to use for building server side imaging applications.

See Post #2 on the Card Creator:  http://blog.wakeskaterstudio.com/2015/11/updates-to-card-creator-work-on.html

Monday, October 12, 2015

Making a Real Time Multiplayer Online Game in NodeJS (Part 3)

In post 1 and post 2 of this series, I introduced and talked through the server side code for a project I'm working on called QuadPong: a real time game made in NodeJS for the purpose of practicing server side programming and synchronization.  You can view the source code on my GitHub.

Now we're going to go over the client side and talk about the code and libraries used to talk to the server and generate our client side rendering of the game.  I'll cover in this post:

  • index.html & main.css - the HTML page the game is on and the CSS used
  • socket_handler.js - the client side socket layer which handles talking to the server
  • keypress.js & canvas_helper.js - two open source libraries/sections of code I used and why I picked them
  • game.js - the main logic of the game

Main Page

First there is the index.html page which contains the structure for the game.  It's very basic: at the top I included a few important scripts such as JQuery, keypress.js and our CSS file.

The game div will contain the canvas once it is initialized.  It's where the game plays out.

The buttons div is something I added to not have to add much in the way of UI to the game.  Ideally these commands would be a part of the in game logic, but for this quick prototype they work as a hack.

The players table also shows a list of the in game players so you can see who is in the game.  It's not pretty, but it's functional: it shows the player number, whether or not they are human or a computer player, how much life they have remaining in the game, and which player is you.

In the CSS file there are only a few sections dealing mostly with centering and background base colors.  It's very basic and I didn't spend a lot of time on the design for this project.

Socket Handler

Socket handler -- as you can probably deduce -- handles the socket connections with the server.  At the top of the file is the initialization of socket.io.  I then pull in the player and game ids if they exist in localStorage as well as initialize a few other variables used in the game.  Some of these could probably be moved into the game.js file as an improvement.

Below the variables are a few events to set up the initial game state.  When the socket.io connection connects for the first time, it will emit the data saved in localStorage.  This allows the server to reply with any updated information.  The connect event also requests for the game list to show how many open games there are.  One potential improvement here would be to make the server return information about each game in the list to allow users to join a specific game or spectate games.  

Next is the update function.  When the client receives information from the server, it updates the game objects, sets the player data, updates the player list table and then calls update on the Canvas to render out the new data.  These variables and the updateCanvas function are declared in game.js which we'll look at in a bit.

There are also quite a few other basic game control events, which I'll list quickly out here:
  • on reconnect - sets the game state and sets the game data appropriately
  • on started_game - sets the game state to started and saves any adjusted game & player data
  • on game_settings - sets the client settings to mirror the server settings
  • on created_game - enter the waiting state for other players to join & save game id
  • on joined_game - enter the waiting state and update the game settings with all of the player data of players in that game
  • on added_computer - adds a computer player to the player list
  • on added_player - adds a human player to the player list
  • on game_list - updates the game list & updates the canvas - this is the reflection back from the server when the client emits request_game_list
  • on sync_players - synchronizes the client side player list to the server list
  • on no_games - an error saying that no available games can be joined when a player tries to join and can't
  • on game_over - the event setting the end of game state and winner of the game
In addition to this long list of events to handle the game logic, I also have some helper functions to create games, join games, start games, update the player list, restart the client game (leaving the current room), and extract player_data.  Below you can see some of these functions.

Here is the save_data function which stores the information received from the server and stored in global objects into localStorage, add_player which adds a human player to the player table, and add_computer, which adds a computer player to the player table.  Again, it would have been wise to maintain a consistent function naming convention and if I refactored this portion I would use camelcase instead of underscore.

Create game sets the player number to 1, emits an event to the server to create a new game and set the caller as the main player, and adds a human player to the players table.  Join game emits an event to join a random open game with the player's stored id.

Start game emits an event to the server notifying it to start the specified game id and restart game is a client side function that resets the state of the client side, and leaves the game on the server side, so that the player can join a different game.

And at the bottom of our socket handler, is clear_player_list, which clears out the player table and extract_player_data which pulls player data from an object passed in. 

Another improvement I could make here is to pull out some of these helper functions into a separate library to keep this section of code dedicated to the socket handling only.  The player table stuff could really go in it's own file for maintenance as the code base grows.

Added Libraries and Code

Nearly all of the code in this project was written by me, but on the client side I used a few libraries I want to quickly note.  First I used JQuery, using it mostly for selectors in the socket handler script, but I also used two other more interesting sections of code.

KeyPress is a library by dmauro that you can check out here:  https://dmauro.github.io/Keypress/.  I went with this library because it gave me a lot of flexibility with key events and let me bind and chain them in various ways.
In the section of code to the right, you can see a portion of the key registration.  KeyPress lets you register combinations for on key up and on key down events.  Since the player can be any one of the four players in the game, I wanted to map each direction in a specific way.  For instance, if the player is player number 4, on the left side of the game, pressing would move them up, but would translate to no action for players in slots 1 and 3.  

On the server, paddles only have 2 movement options, positive motion "R" (to the right facing the game) and negative motion "L".  So for player 4 would translate to a negative motion, whereas for player 2, translates to a positive motion.  I decided to handle this logic on the client side, for simplicities sake on the server, so when a key press event is generated, it calls out to a separate function, playerActionGenerator with a character representing the key press event.   corresponds to a "none" event or setting the player action to none.   

The playerActionGenerator function below handles these various directions.  First it checks if the state is in an active state, or a menu state which handles these events differently (for selecting menu items), and if it is in a game, it checks the player number and generates the appropriate action based on the direction.

The function playerAction then takes the direction passed in and builds the package to emit to the server to update the action on the server's copy of the player.

KeyPress ended up being pretty easy to use and it's pretty flexible on what it's capable of so I highly recommend using it.  I haven't even used most of the chainability of buttons and combinations that are possible.

In addition to KeyPress and JQuery, I used a snippet of code from a Stack Overflow post.  It sets the canvas DPI correctly so that text and objects render crisply instead of blurry and then creates and returns the Hi DPI canvas.  It works very well and I haven't had to modify it at all.


Finally let's look at the last portion of the client side game code in game.js.  This file also contains the KeyPress handling as well but as we've already gone over that I'll skip over those sections.

At the top of the file are a bunch of variables and declarations to set up the game state.  Most of what we'll look at here can be summed up as:  game.js draws on the canvas based on which state the game is in.  If the game is playing or in a "GAME" state, it will use the game objects which get updated by pushes from the server to draw the game objects, otherwise it will draw various menus and text.

First we have the onload function for the window, where we create the Hi DPI canvas, append it to the game div and register our KeyPress handler.

The entry point for most actions in this script is updateCanvas, seen below.  Any time actions from the server need to update the UI, updateCanvas is called.  Depending on the state of the game, one of the many draw functions will be called.  

Many of these functions simply draw text in various places in the game, but we'll look specifically at drawPlayers which is called in drawGame on line 109.  Now, the way I built the server coordinate system was a traditional Cartesian Coordinate System, with up being the positive Y direction and right being the positive X axis, with (0,0) at the center of the game.  Canvas, however uses the top left corner as (0,0) with down being the positive Y direction, so I made the convert function to simply convert the server system to the client one, including a size multiplier to scale the graphics.

The drawPlayers function uses convert to iterate through all four players and update the rectangle based on the bounding box coordinates received from the server.

Drawing the ball works very similarly and the rest of the draw functions simply are used for menus and text, which should be easy to understand and read through.  That's pretty much the entirety of the client side, it's fairly simple as it's mostly just getting positional updates from the server, sending player action updates to the server, and rendering the game out for the player to see.  Plus all of the objects in the game are basic geometric shapes.

So feel free to pull down the source code and play with it and extend the game or use it to make your own game.  You can view it all on my GitHub here: https://github.com/WakeskaterX/QuadPong

Thanks for reading and that's all I have!  The three part series on my little NodeJS side project is concluded.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Making a Real Time Multiplayer Online Game in NodeJS (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this blog series I walked through the idea and overall Architecture of QuadPong, a four player online pong game made in NodeJS and HTML5.  Now we're going to take a look at the server side code, walk through each portion of the code and review key portions of it.  We'll start with the entry point for the application, server.js and then jump all the way down to the deepest parts of the code, looking at the game object and physics classes.  We'll slowly work our way back up through the game loop to the socket layer, where we'll close out by reviewing how the server talks to the client.

Note:  This is quite a long post, so I do encourage you to get fresh cup of coffee or tea, get comfortable, and skip around to the interesting parts if you need to.  Also, you can view all of the source code on GitHub, which should be of help when going through this post.

Server.JS -- /server.js

If you've done any coding with NodeJS or Express, server.js is pretty self explanatory.  Only 30 lines long, server.js simply sets up our http server, connects to socket.io and routes our socket connections to our SocketHandler script.  Express also has a static function making it very easy to server our public folder with just a line of code.

The hosted site (http://quadpong.xyz) is served behind NGinx as well, but I chose to use Express to host the static files as it ends up being easier to configure for a small project like this one.

That's it for the entry point to the application.  We'll now go all the way down to our Math, Physics and Game Object libraries and take a look at what makes up the core of the application.

Libraries -- /app/lib


First let's look at physics.js.  Primarily a Vector2 library (Math/Physics, whatever!) it also contains the Bounding Box class used by our Game Objects.  

Disclaimer:  I am not a mathematician and never took Linear Algebra in college, so my knowledge of Vector Mathematics is limited to what I've taught myself on Khan Academy and from what I've needed to know from working with 3D and 2D programming in the projects I've done.  I'm sure there are much more efficient formulas to do some of the things in this library.  However, it does do the things I need it to.

So, with that out of the way, I went with a system that used Vector2 as a coordinate, rather than describing the beginning and end of the vector.  All Vector2s are assumed to start at (0,0).  I kinda just made it up as I went, so its not a full fledged Vector2 Library and if you want to make it one, you'll need to do some work to it.  This is one area that could use a lot of refactoring and could be made much better.

So down all the way in /app/lib/physics.js we see on line 61, the Vector2 Class constructor.  Vector2s are basically x and y coordinates, with tons of functions to return the data needed.  

In the preceding lines you'll notice a bunch of private functions, like getDirectionFromVector and getVectorFromDirection, and you can take a look at those, but they're mainly just assisting functions for the main Vector2 functions.

There is one function before the constructor that I'd like to take note of: degreeAdjuster.  It's been a long time since I've done trigonometry, and I'm sure there's a better mathematical solution for this, but a simple way to adjust for the way Math functions round when given a value is to determine which quadrant you're in, and adjust the output degree accordingly so that you get an accurate direction from 0 to 360 degrees.  In other words, this makes sure that when I get a direction, it's always a degree between 0 and 360 which is what I need for the other functions.  It is a little hacky, but get's the job done.

In the lines following the Vector2 constructor, you'll find the functions tacked on to the prototype so that they can be called on a Vector2 object.  There are a lot of functions and they are primarily split into two types: those that mutate the object they are being called on, and those that return a new Vector2 object.  Because in JavaScript passing in an object is always by reference, I kept the idea that in general the functions should mutate the Vector2 object being used to call them.  However there are some functions that do not follow that convention, and the whole library could honestly use a significant refactor.  I also included a copy function which simply clones the object it's being called on. You'll also notice, most of the functions will return this so that they can easily be chained together.

On the left, are the normalize, copy, and getMagnitude functions.  Normalize is used to take a vector of any size and mutate it to its unit vector, having a magnitude of 1.  This function also uses a helper function roundToPlace, which simply takes a number and rounds it to a specific number of decimal places (in this case 2).  

Copy is used quite often, and is a very useful function for making a clone of a Vector2 to mutate and return for uses where you do not want to affect the original.  You'll see this used a lot in the classes file.

There is also the getMagnitude which is just a wrapper for our private getMagnitudeFromVector function, which given a vector, will calculate and return its magnitude.

Finally let's look at a few more conspicuous functions, rotateDegrees and reflect, which may not be quite as intuitive as some of the other functions.  rotateDegrees is used to rotate the current Vector2 around the origin a certain amount and then returns a new Vector2 based on that amount.  This is one of those functions that doesn't quite fit the pattern of some of the others and could use a rework.

The library also has a reflect function which given a normal vector, will reflect the current vector across that vector.  Think about a ball bouncing against a wall at an angle.  If the normal is the vector coming out from the wall, then it uses that vector to calculate the new vector of the bouncing ball after it hits the wall.  This function is primarily used when calculating the bounce of the ball against other game objects.

So enough about the Vector2 class, you can look on GitHub if you want to review the other functions, but they're fairly straightforward.  

Next in our Physics.JS file we find the BoundingBox class.  This is a simple rectangular bounding box used to determine our collisions in the game.  You can examine the constructor on line 251, with a generateBoundingBox function below it, which generates the x1, y1, x2 and y2 values from the position, width, and height.

I won't spend a ton of time talking about the bounding box as it is fairly simple.  There is an update function and the intersects function, which is used to determine if two bounding boxes intersect, seen here.

Other than that there are a few degree to radian conversion functions, helper functions and then it's packaged it all up in module.exports.

There are also couple other scripts of note here in our library: a math_extentions script which when required, will add a Clamp function to the Math class which simply clamps a value between a min and max, and a helper.js script which simply has a few guid creation functions.  Alright!  Now onto our classes.js script!


Classes.js contains three classes:  GameObject, which is the main parent class for our hierarchy of classes, and the Ball and Paddle classes which are children from it.  The GameObject class contains a Vector2 position, a Vector2 velocity, a name and a BoundingBox.  It also has one function at the moment: intersects, which checks another GameObject's bounding box against its own using the function from our physics.js script.

Below is also the Ball class.  It inherits from GameObject (on lines 39 and 45) and has a few of it's own fields like colliding (boolean check if it's currently colliding with something), colliding_with (GameObject reference of the other object in a collision), and game (a reference to the game the object is in).

Above is also the updatePosition function, which given a delta time, updates the position based off of the velocity, updates the bounding_box and checks if it is still colliding with anything after it's moved a bit.  There are a few more functions: 
  • bounce_x and bounce_y - swaps the x portion of the velocity and the y portion respectively
  • reset - sets the ball position to (0,0)
  • start_velocity - sets the initial velocity at the start of a point
  • checkBounds - determines if the ball is out of the playing area and scores or bounces accordingly.
Note: One "to do" I have is when refactoring in the future, to be consistent with my snake (underscore) and camel cases.  I mix and match them for my function names and it's not the best looking.

There's also one more function we'll look at for the Ball class, bounce_against, which I feel deserves a look at.

Bounce against takes a game object that it is colliding with and checks if it is already colliding with something.  If not, it will collide with the game object and bounce against it, reflecting over the normal vector.  In addition, I wanted to add a portion of the paddles velocity to the ball, as well as the vector from the center of the paddle to the ball, to allow the player to have some control over the direction of the ball.

At the end of the function I added other_velocity, which is the velocity of the paddle the ball is colliding with, and the additional_velocity, which is a calculated velocity vector based on the position on the paddle where the ball was hit, and then I normalized the vector and set its magnitude to the original magnitude so the ball speed is not changed throughout the game.

Finally in our classes script is the Paddle class on line 161.  The Paddle class is the player in a game, it holds the player's remaining life in a game, the action a player or computer is taking, as well as a bunch of other variables that we'll look at in some of the functions.

The Action is the primary directive that a player on the client needs to send to the server.  Each Paddle has 3 action states:  Move Left ("L"), Move Right ("R"), and Nothing ("N").  These are updated from the client or the computer action function, seen below.

Players can be either human or computer, and if the player is a computer, it will be directed in the game loop to calculate its current action based on the ball position.  It's not complex AI by any means, but for the purposes of this game, it works quite well.

The other functions are there to simply calculate and update the position of the paddle based on the action, and update the width of the paddle to shrink it when a point is scored against that player.

In addition there are a few private helper functions used to calculate a starting ball direction, the positive_vector for a player which is used to determine which direction is "Right" in respect to the normal vector being forward, and a function to help generate the appropriate bounding box for a given player number.

That's it for the classes script.  This is a simple game, so there are only have 2 main classes: the ball and the player.  For a larger game, I'd recommend breaking these down into smaller files as this could easily get unweildly in a single file.

The Game Loop -- /app/game_loop.js

Now we're going to hop up a level to the Game Loop.  The game loop contains the bulk of the game flow and logic on the server.  Game extends the Event Emitter object, so that it can use those functions to emit updates to the client once per loop.

In /app/game_loop.js we can see the constructor and main logic for our game loop class.  On line 10, is the initial object for the game that houses all of the data and functions.  It sets up a few variables such as the game id, and some references to the players and ball object which are in the game.

The main game loop starts on line 28, in function gameLoop.  This function is run as the update function.  This game is built in NodeJS, so it's prudent to be careful of how much processing is chucked on the event loop, and while the game is doing all of the calculations synchronously, I didn't want to repeatedly call the gameLoop over and over without any break for the event loop to work on other things, because that would eat away all of the CPU I have available for the application and it wouldn't be able to run multiple games per process.

So instead of calling the loop again instantly I used setTimeout to queue another call of the function on the event loop stack a specific time later (generally 15 ms from the time the current loop was called which equates to roughly 60 fps, this time is set in the config).  The time between when this loop runs and the next call becomes our delta time as set on line 29.

The entirety of the game loop is pretty self describing within the function:
  • Set our Delta Time and start time
  • Move our Players
  • Move the Ball
  • Check for collisions between the players and the ball
  • Check if the ball is out of bounds
  • Set our end time
  • Check if the game was won
That's the main game logic.  I also added a check to make sure that any loop over 30 ms gets logged so I can see if the server is getting slow as well, and then the function emits out the player and ball data to the socket handler, and checks if the game is over by checking the scores.

Finally it queues up another loop if the game is still active (status === 2) a few milliseconds later.

There is a wide range of both private and public functions on the game object, but we'll just take a look at a few of them, which are of note.

Move player paddles, move ball and check collisions are pretty self explanatory; they iterate over the stored objects, updating their positions, and then checking bounding boxes of the player against the bounding box of the ball.  

The end of game function I'll show since it emits the survivor out to the server side socket handler, which we'll look at in a bit.  This function checks the life of each player and if only one survivor remains, that player is emitted out to the client in a notification that the game is over.  The game status is then set to 3 indicating that the game is done, and can be cleaned up.

For public functions, some notable ones include, addPlayer and addComputer which, as you can imagine, add a player and a computer respectively to the game, and gameStart which puts the game into play and begins to run the game loop.  As you'll notice in the gameStart function, it sets the status to 2, which is used by the game loop to determine whether or not to continue to run.

Another function of note is the updatePlayerAction function, which when the game is started, will change the action of the player in the game.  This is the way the client sends data to the running game and how state among the players is changed.

And then the on point event will score against players and notify the client.

Thats pretty much all there is to the game loop.  It acts out a very basic game system, updating each actor in the scene, and calculating all of the simple physics that happen.  For a small game like this, the logic is fairly compact, so it don't use much processing power on each loop.

If you wanted to take this and do some complex pathfinding algorithms, it would be worth offloading that to a separate thread with a C or C++ library for NodeJS.  I haven't had the need to create my own library yet, but I know it's possible, since it's what makes the callback model work.

The last main section of code is the socket handler for the server: server_sockets.js.

Socket Handler -- /app/server_sockets.js

The socket handler script, server_sockets,js, is the main communication layer for the server side.  It primarily talks with the parallel script on the client side, socket_handler.js to send web socket communications back and forth via emitted events.

When a player connects, they hit handleSocket, which is triggered by socket.io when the client connects via our server.js connection event.  The client will then emit a "new_player" event, which is caught in the below function on our socket.

In this event, the handler checks if any games with the game_id passed in have a player with the player_id passed in, and if so, uses a bit of reconnection logic to determine which state the client game should be in, and what players are in that game.

The socket will then emit "reconnect" with the data, letting the client know it's reconnecting and it should take appropriate actions.  The player is added to the socket "room" for the game they are rejoining, so they can receive the appropriate events.  It'll also emit a "sync_players" event, to make sure the client is aware of all players in this game.  However if the player is not reconnecting, it'll simply create some credentials for the player, namely a player ID #, and send that back to the player and treat them as a new user.

There is also have a disconnect event, a leave game event, and a start game event which all are fairly self explanatory.  When emitted a game id for leave and start, the handler will either drop the player from the current game or try to start the waiting game that the player is in, and if it has enough players, start it up.

The next event below those three is our join game event.  In the current iteration of the game, a player cannot specify which game they would like to join.  They simply request to join an open game, and the server will find an empty game in the games list to pair them to.

Here the socket server searches for a game_id that has open slots, adds the player, and then emits back out a bunch of data.  The logic is as follows:
  • First, have the player's socket join the game room broadcast
  • Emit the game settings to the player
  • Send back information about the game they are joining
  • Emit to all players via io.emit (a broadcast) the new game list data
  • Emit to the entire room for that game the new player joining
  • If the game is full, emit back to the player trying to join that the game is full
And if there is a server error the handler notifies the player of the reason for the error.

There are a few more events which handle: updating actions, creating games, adding computer and human players, requesting games lists and so on.  The rest of these events are pretty straight forward.  It either modifies the game or updates the client back with information.

Other Scripts of Note

So that's the bulk of the back end portion of the application.  In addition to the main scripts, there is also have a configuration folder in /app/config which holds our game settings configurations, as well as some mocha tests in /app/test.  Currently there is just a test to make sure the physics library works as expected, but more should be added to ensure our scripts work properly.

I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post about the server side component to the game.  The next post should be much shorter and will talk about the client side, the canvas element, the socket handling, and some other small libraries I used to handle input and the like.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, and check out the GitHub with all of the code for you to fork and build on!

Part 3

Monday, September 21, 2015

Making a Real Time Multiplayer Online Game in NodeJS (Part 1)

So, I have this bad habit of starting too many side projects.  This is one of those projects.  Having never built an online multiplayer game, I wanted to make a very simple, real time game using what I use every day at work:  NodeJS.  And so I did.  I built a game called:  QuadPong.  The source code is available on GitHub and is free to use under the ISC Open Source License.

This series of posts is a guide to the open source code, showing what I did, how and why I did it, and how you can take it and make something better.  We're going to take a look at the architecture, the back end and the front end and step through exactly how it all works together.  So first, let's talk about the idea, the overall architecture, and what I was trying to accomplish.

The Idea

I wanted to learn more about network coding and synchronization, and create a real time game where players could play against each other with the game run on the server, and displayed in the browser.  For this project I chose to create my own engine, libraries, and structure; excepting a few small libraries I used on the front end.

QuadPong is a four player Pong Game, where each player takes control of a paddle on one side of a four sided arena and must prevent the ball from hitting that wall.  Simple, yet slightly more complex than a standard pong game.

As the players lose points, their paddle gets smaller until they are removed from the game and the ball will simply bounce against their wall. Thus, players are removed one by one until one remains: the winner.

For the network side of things, the player simply passes back state to the server, updating the server of what actions it's doing currently, and receives updates from the server with all of the Game Object positions and bounding boxes to render in the HTML5 Canvas.  It made synchronization fairly easy, as I didn't have a multitude of objects to render, so I could simply pass back the entire state of the game.

The Architecture

I wanted to keep the game simple, with high IO and transferable libraries across the client and server, so I went with a full JavaScript stack, something I'm familiar with at work.

QuadPong is built in NodeJS, using Express and Socket.IO to manage the web socket connections.  In addition I use a little bit of JQuery on the Client, as well as a library called KeyPress.js, which handles input and keystrokes and a snippet of code from Stack Overflow to create a HiDPI Canvas.  The hosted game also sits behind NGinx as a reverse proxy server, which points to the application.

The general application architecture is structured something like the image below.  First in the center we have our web and socket server.  The Socket server handles all requests for the static files (index.html) as well as maintaining the web socket connections of the client.  It spins up new socket rooms and games on creation, as well as handling all communication to and from various clients.

Next we have the client side, where we have our canvas where the game is rendered as well as our client side socket connections.  The Client handles all of the key strokes and actions of a player, passing in state data of the player ID to the server.

The Client side notifies the Socket Server of all events, information, key presses, game creation and join events, and the Socket Server will emit back the corresponding response tag.  For instance, when the client emits a "join_game" event.  The Socket Server will correctly find a game for the player, add then to that game, and emit a matching "joined_game" event back at the Client as well as all other players listening in on that game room.

When a player creates a new game The Socket Server spins up a brand new Game Loop instance and stores a reference to that game in memory.  It also creates a new Socket.IO Room for the player who created the game, as well as any joining players, to join and listen in on relevant events for the game.

The Game Loop instances are the final part.  Each one is a separate game, playing out on the server with which the Clients simply notify the game of their states, and receive updates from the Game Loops.  Game Loops make use of a variety of custom built libraries, including a Class Library of game objects for the game, as well as a Physics Library, with a Vector2 Class I built for the game, and a BoundingBox class.  We'll look into these more in Part 2, when I go into more depth about the Server Side code.

The Game Loops are designed to run off of a minimum delta time between each loop.  This lets us tweak the speeds of the games, and increase the minimum time between loops if the server starts to get overloaded.  Once an event loop has completed on the server, the Game Loop will queue up another function call on the main NodeJS Event Loop some time later (typically 15 ms).  This allows us to create the optimal frame rate we desire, while allowing the server to run as many games as possible.

My Goal

The goal of this project, and series of blog posts is to provide a base project to build real time online games for the web.  These posts are targeted toward intermediate web and game developers looking to start making real time games.  Mostly, I wanted to practice socket connections, and see exactly how much work an online multiplayer game would take at a very base level, including building the engine.  The answer is that it really didn't take much time, but the game is still a ways from being a full fledged game.

I still need to add security features, fallback features, the ability to scale the project, memory clean up, etc.  But at a base level, it works.  You can log in and play with other people if they connect to your game, and play through to a winner.

So I've got the basic build of the code up, and you can see it, download the code, fork the repository and build on it.  Make your own real time games!  And I'll be polishing up the code as well since it's a portfolio piece for myself.

The next post will be about the back end logic: how did I architect it, what does it do, and how it could be made better.  We'll go through the code step by step, so you can understand what I was trying to do and how to replicate and modify it.  After that we'll take a look at the front end, how to render our server side data, handling key inputs and more.

So stay tuned, and feel free to follow me on Twitter, as well as check out my GitHub account and pull the code down!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

League of Legends API Challenge Entry - PowerSpike

On Monday, August 31st, I could enter no more code.  It was done, complete, or as much as it could be with the time invested.  I had finished my entry for the Riot Games, API Challenge #2.  I had created and submitted PowerSpike.

The API Challenge I took part in was to create a web application that referenced data sets from before and after a massive itemization change that Riot made to their game, League of Legends.  When I read the requirements, it sparked an idea.  What DID the data look like for champions as they got kills throughout the game?  How many kills in each minute of a game, does a particular champion get on average, and how did those item changes affect that?

And so I set out to satisfy that curiosity.  I began work on an application called PowerSpike, using NodeJS to serve up a web server, as well as run the parser which would collect the data.

Those two parts contain much of the application code.  

The Riot API Parser

First, the parser runs through each match, pulling down the data from the API and reading in the kill data for various champions in each match.  I chose to use the four data sets for the North American data, since those are the servers I play on and I wanted to limit the amount of data to specific regions.

When the parser starts up, it checks each of the matches in the riot test data files against a list of match IDs that have been parsed already and if they haven't been parsed already, it queues them up to be run.  Then it gets the data, grabs the kill times for each champion and stores that data in MongoDB as kills per each minute.

It does this slowly, waiting between each request so we don't hit rate limits by the API.

The Web Server & Client

The other half of the application is the web server which exposes a few endpoints for data retrieval from MongoDB, as well as the client static pages, which display the data in line charts over time throughout a game.

Chart.JS is the library for displaying data that I used and it's pretty good at the basics.  Each of the four data sets gets compared to one another.  I also modified the chart to allow the user to toggle datasets with the legend as well, since the basic UI can be cluttered.

There are some very interesting data points for a few champions as well.  For example, Ahri gained a significant boost in early game kills for normals after the patch.  This could be due to the much earlier Needlessly Large Rod that players could now purchase at an earlier time.

But either way, the data points are pretty interesting. and there are a few champions like Kayle and Teemo that have some pretty interesting data to look at.


I decided to host the project on a web server, so I spun up a new Digital Ocean droplet and purchased powerspike.xyz at NameCheap.com for 1 dollar for the first year.  I highly recommend Digital Ocean as I run many of my projects off their boxes.  You get full control of the VPS and it's great for being able to do all sorts of interesting projects.

It was a pretty fun challenge, and it's now in review for the next month, so we'll see how it goes!

You can view the application at:

And the full source code is at my GitHub:

Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think!

Jason C.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Article Curator - Web Scraping with Casper JS and Node.

Article Curator

I was on vacation recently and had some time to start up a side project, and so I created a custom article curator for a website I'm working called The Tamriel Underground.  I wanted to automatically scrape sites and pull in articles that I could link to and show on my site, so that I could have automatic content populate the articles section.

And it works fairly well for the initial build.  I used CasperJS for the web scraper and NodeJS to spin up a web service which would save the data to a Postgres database.

You can view the whole project on my Github.  It's just 2 JavaScript files, one for the Scraper and one for the Web Server.  It's a fairly small project at the moment, but I plan to build a few more scrapers for other sites to pull in data.

The Code

Both files are only about 200 lines of code combined, so it's not a ton of code to walk through, but this was my first time using Casper and Phantom so it took me a bit of work for those 200 lines.

The web server gets run constantly and stays up using node forever, and the web scraper is run as a cron job every 2 hours.

First let's take a look at:


The goal of this script is to access the Elder Scrolls Online Website, log in through the Age Gate, and then scrape the Patch Notes site for the links to the patch notes. The script then iterates through those links to pull down the html used in the article.

At the top of the file are the declarations:

Here, I specified the urls that I wanted to access, initialized Casper and created an array and object to store the data as well as set a few settings.  Pretty straight forward nothing special here.

Next, lets skip a few lines down to line 87.

Here is the starting point for Casper.  The start function opens up the age_gate_url which points to the page needed to be filled out before going any further, then it waits for the page to load by waiting for the selector to show up, and then fills out the form.

Then it opens up the page where the patch note links are and calls out to our getPatchNoteLinks function which we'll look at later, and evaluates that within the page.

Finally the script runs Casper.  This is what actually makes all the steps we've declared so far happen.  And once all those steps are done and the script has all of the patch notes links, it makes the call to getNotes, which is the callback after Casper is finished running.

Now the script can start parsing those links it's accumulated.

getNotes iterates through each link, calling Casper.run at the end of the link processing, recursively calling itself at the end of each run, until all links are processed, in which it calls out to the save function.

Above you can see the three functions we've seen used so far.  The first one, which was run in the evaluate statement is the middle one, getPatchNoteLinks.  Now this function is run inside the loaded page.  It's just like client side javascript or if you ran it in your console.  And it will return the value back to our PhantomJS/CasperJS 'scope'.

You can see the evaluate statement used again below in the curateLink function as well.  Here it is taking a link, using that evaluate to grab the title from the page and returning it, grabs the entire article which is between the article tags, and then adds all of that information to the patch_note_info object.

And finally, once all this is done, it calls out to the final function, saveInfo.

The reason that there are two parts to this application is that CasperJS and PhantomJS are NOT node applications, and thus there are no server side database drivers (that I know of) built for them for Postgres.  However we CAN post that data to a separate NodeJS server that will store it for us.

saveInfo does exactly that.  We post our stringified object with all of our data to a NodeJS web server and let it do the saving for us.

This also allowed me to keep the curator light weight.  I have a single location that handles saving to the database, and then curators can simply handle the scraping and POST it when done.

So let's look now, at the simple web server.


Again, there are basic declarations and requires at the top:

For this app I used express, simply because I'm familiar with it and it's easy to get a simple REST server up and running, however there are much lighter weight options out there for something small like this.

The script requires:

  • express - a nice REST framework
  • pg - this is the Postgres connection module allowing access to the database
  • body-parser - allows easy parsing of JSON data
  • async - a nice framework for iterating through database calls with different datasets.
And then the script sets the connection string and starts the app.

Then comes the bulk of the web server.

First it includes the body parser so that it can parse the data sent easily.

Then it has the one endpoint POST /save.  Here it grabs the articles, pulls out the sites and pushes the data to an array.  Then it connects to the database, and checks if those sites already exist in the database.  If the sites exist, it skips them, otherwise adds the data that it doesn't have yet to the database.

And that is exactly what these two functions do.  insertSites will takes the sites the database don't have already stored, and iterates through each one with the async library.  This is where the async library is convenient.  It allows easy iteration through the asynchronous methods which are needed for the database insertion.

And that's all there is to the Curator!

That data then gets consumed by the Tamriel Underground, which is a Django application and converted to a model.  I lined up the model schema in python with the way I'm entering the data and it works quite well.

The articles get added to the page, and you can view them with the plus button.

Right now I'm using the html I get from Elder Scrolls Online as is, but I'm going to create a cleaning function to strip out anything that might be invalid.  Since I'm going to be scraping the html and displaying it on my site, I want to make sure that no one can insert any nasty script tags or links that might cause a security concern.

Since I know the source that I'm scraping I'm not terribly concerned at the moment, but as I add more sources to the curator, I'll definitely want a robust input cleansing module.

So that's pretty much it, feel free to pull the Github repo down and play around with it and let me know what you think.

Jason C.