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# Tile-Based Games FAQ version 1.2

By Greg Taylor/Chris Palmer | Published Sep 15 1999 11:57 AM in Game Programming

map tile layer objects memory
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# I : Introduction

There has been a fair response to my initial release of this file and there have been many requests for additional information, all of which I will cover in this version. This FAQ emphasizes on the style of graphics similar to those used in U6 and U7 by Origin. Many of the techniques presented are aimed at systems with limited memory and/or speed like PCs with a 640K barrier; but this document also includes alternative methods and suggestions on how to code for less restrictive systems. This is just a brief, but hopefully complete overview of one method to achieving the Tile-based style. There are other methods and I'd like to hear about them, because much of this FAQ has been pieced together from various implementations of the 'Tile' graphics style.

# II : Multiple layered maps

This is an essential section to master because of the possibilities that stem from having more than one layer of map. Almost all of your traditional effects can be more easily implemented with a multi-layer map as compared to a single layered one. One of the key considerations when doing a multi-layer map is the speed of your drawing routines. Since you may be drawing each tile several times, the speed at which that routine performs is vital to producing a fast game. These should be coded in Assembly if possible or if in a higher level language, should be optimized as well as possible.

A 'SEE-THRU' tile placement routine is another important tool that is a major part of Tile-games. I would separate my place-tile routine into two independent routines, one with 0 pixels 'SEE-THRU' and the other which doesn't. This allows you to place tiles that don't have the need for the SEE-THRU option to be drawn faster.

## II.a : SEE-THRU Tile routines

For those who do not have a SEE-THRU routine written and are wondering how you write one, here's a brief overview. Basically, when you are copying your tile over, copy only the non-zero pixels to the screen (it doesn't -have- to be zero, it can be any of the palette values, but zero has become a sort of standard). And when you draw your tiles, color the areas which you would like to be seen thru, with the zero color. Thus allowing you to lay one tile over another, without destroying all of the image beneath. A SEE-THRU routine is slower due to the check for the zero value, so it should only be used when necessary.

Another 'SEE-THRU' sort of technique I've seen used is what the programmer termed a 'SEE-FORTH' routine. In this one he checked the destination pixel and only put the pixel color where there wasn't already a pixel there (ie the pixel location had a value of 0). This routine is not as useful in tile games, but it is a possibility that I've seen used, so I thought I'd mention it.

## II.b : The Multiple Layers

I use a three-layer map and it works fairly well for all of the things I do in my tile games. A fourth layer can provide even more effects and a two layer map is possible as well, but I find three to be the optimum number. I split the layers up as such...(these will be referenced to throughout the remainder of this text)

 Layer Name The types of tiles used in each layer... BASE Grass, Dirt, Brick, Stone, Doors, Water... FRINGE Trees, Rocks, Tables... OBJECT Swords, Booty, People, Monsters, Keys...

A sample map variable declaration with three layers might be...(C code)

#define SIZE 128
typedef struct {
unsigned char base[SIZE][SIZE];
unsigned char frng[SIZE][SIZE];
unsigned char obj[SIZE][SIZE];
} maptype;


Or perhaps...(to address the layers numerically) (C code)

typedef unsigned char maptype[3][SIZE][SIZE];


These are drawn on the screen in the order as listed above. The BASE layer is drawn first, without the use of your SEE-THRU routine (Since it's the base). Then you draw the FRINGE over the BASE using your SEE-THRU routine.

The FRINGE layer is about the most useful tool in producing powerful graphics easily. A FRINGE tile might be a tree, with zero-values every where around the tree. Then you could place the tree on any of the BASE tiles. This allows you to have one tree drawing, but it can be a 'tree-on-grass' or a 'tree-on-dirt' or even a strange 'tree-in-the-water'.

Other possible FRINGE tiles are transitions. These are like going from grass-to-dirt or dirt-to-stone. The FRINGE layer allows you to draw one set of transitions, for example grass, and then use those to do all of your grass-to-?? transitions. This is a nice use of the FRINGE layer to save you from drawing endless tiles.

Tables and other non-pick-up-able objects are perfect for FRINGE, this way they can be placed on any BASE tile you like. The possible uses of this layer of map are enormous.

After drawing both of the other layers, draw your OBJECT layer. This layer is where you store things that move or can be picked up, etc. including monsters, keys, townspeople... This makes it easy to pick up and put down objects without destroying other parts of your map.

# III : Walkability - restricting character movement

I usually assign an attribute I call the 'walkability' to my BASE tiles. This provides a fast, easy, way to check whether you can/cannot move to a certain space, and it also helps you to control other special occurrences with a relative level of ease.

At each position in my map arrays, I have a byte (unsigned char) value which serves as both the tile-index and the walkability value. I use a set of 128 tiles, and split them up as such...

 0-63 Normal, walkable tiles, dirt, grass etc. 64-127 Normal, unwalkable tiles, walls, etc. 128-191 Special tiles, group 1 192-255 Special tiles, group 2

When I'm drawing the screen, I simply use the REM (or MOD) statement or equivalent to get the proper value, by MODing the number by 128. This gives a value from 0-127, which is the actual tile-index number. When it comes to checking if that tile is 'walkable', you then would divide the number by 64, yielding a value of 0, 1, 2, or 3...

 0 Walking is OK 1 Walking is not OK 2 Special thing happens when they step here - group 1 3 Special thing happens when they step here - group 2

The first two values are simply understood, but the special values might need some explaining...This allows you to program in special occurrences that happen when that space is walked on. When it hit's a special square for instance, you would check through the special spots list for the x,y coords of the spot that triggered the special occurrence and the level map that it is on. This allows an easy way to throw cool stuff into your game with little work. Why it is split into two groups is so that you need not search ALL of your specials for that particular map at once, searching for the effects of that one.

You will note that the WA (Walkability) value of 3 represents the section of tiles which are unwalkable normally (like walls etc.) These can make for excellent 'secret' walls and so forth.

The walkability setting can also be stored as a separate element of your map structure, to increase speed, at the expense of memory. Having it as a separate element allows you to include many more than 4 settings to the rating, allowing for 'level exits' and so forth without having to resort to listing them as 'specials'. The method I list above with the byte being split into the various categories is the most general compromise between, ease, speed, and memory, I have come up with; but on systems where memory is not much of a constraint, having walkability stored in a seperate element of the map structure is usually a better way to go.

More mention is made to the 'Walkability' values later in the text.

# VI : Disappearing Roof Tiles

This effect can be done using my multi-layer method by simply sectioning off a few of your base tiles (say 48-63 for example) as 'FLOOR' types. These would have another tile in memory as well as their normal tile, for when those floors are covered. In general, all of the FLOOR types will be covered most of the time. When drawing your screen and come upon a tile that is a FLOOR tile, then you'd check to see if the player was standing on a tile of that type... If not, draw -only- the alternate 'ROOF' tile which corresponds to that FLOOR tile. If the player -is- standing on a FLOOR tile of that type, draw the BASE, FRINGE and OBJECT layers normally. This way you can have only the roofs where the player is, disappear when they enter a building. (also see Appendix I)

# V : Tilted effects, using the FRINGE Layer

I like the 'tilted' look in my tile projects, it gives a bit more of a realistic flavor. If you have the memory, the best way to achieve this effect is to set aside a 4th layer to your map, called the TILT layer or something (it can also be used for ROOF file management if you like, think about it :) ). But since most people don't have the memory for four map layers in memory, I'll discuss the memory-deficient method.

Just draw the main portion of your tilted walls as your BASE layer tiles, then use the FRINGE layer to hold the extra bits that tilt off of the tile. You would have to do a special check to see if the FRINGE layer tile in question is a tilt-result or a normal FRINGE tile, because of the order of drawing. If it's a tilt-result, then you would want to draw the OBJECT layer and the PLAYER before drawing the tilt-result tile; and if not you'd follow the normal order of BASE-FRINGE-OBJ.

This is where the 4th TILT layer makes like easier, for those who have the memory to use for it. It allows you to skip this check and just draw in the normal order, since your normal FRINGE and tilt-results are already split up...

# VI : General comments on the OBJECT layer

The OBJECT layer in my projects is an array the same as the other layers of the map, of unsigned characters (or bytes). These have a value of 0 to 255, by the variable size. I find this to be enough objects to cover my needs. Each number would be an index to a particular object, 0 meaning there's no object in that map-space. I split the byte up into various object categories...for example 1-127 would be monsters and towns people, 128-255 for inanimate objects...whatever. Anyway, I like to have an 'intelligence' (much like walkability) assigned to various groups of objects.

These are usually broken into groups of 16, for the ease of the math to get the values...Below is an example break down of 'Intelligence' of objects (more info on this style of attribute, see the 'Walkability' section)...

 INT Index Behavior is exhibited by the Object 0 0-15 Townspeople...wander aimlessly... 1 16-31 Townspeople/Monsters who are afraid of the character. 2 32-47 Docile Monsters, wander aimlessly until attacked, at which point their INT is switched to...3... 3 48-63 Same Docile Monster pictures, but now they're mad! 4-5 64-95 Normal monsters, they charge at a slow pace... 6 96-111 Baddie monsters, they charge right at you.. 7 112-127 Projectile firing monsters... 8 128-143 Keys, and other door-opening things. 9 144-159 Weapon objects... 10 160-175 Armor and the like... 11 176-191 Cash, and other booty. 12-13 192-223 Normal, plain objects, like books and candles. 14 224-239 Some other Obj category... 15 240-255 Objs that hold other objs...bags, chests, backpacks.

The above is just a sample chart of how you might choose to lay out your OBJECTS to get the most efficient use of the INT value. I like using an Intelligence to keep track of behavior of OBJECTS. Thus in order to do the proper things for each OBJECT I would simple have to check that object's INT and then do what I need to do for that OBJ. It's helpful...understand? I hope so.

Many large projects will find that 255 just isn't enough objects, in these cases, you'd be best advised to move to an array of unsigned short variables (short ints...16bits) this allows for a value from 0 to 65535. That should be enough objects for any game I've ever played!

# VII : Multiple OBJECTs on one space

The question was raised when I was discussing my methods with another programmer, how do you handle multiple OBJECTs in one space? I never really thought much about it before and just restricted OBJs to one per space. The simplest method I came up with is special INT (see above section) values for OBJs that hold other objects. These are things like bags, backpacks, treasure chests, etc. In the example above this is category 15, Indexes 240-255. The objects would have a picture assigned to them as normal, but they would each have an independent array of other OBJECTS that they hold. Each of them could have a certain max set by your particular array structures. This way, when you pick up those objects, -all- of the object list gets added to your inventory. When there is a chest or bag on the ground you could also drop a number of OBJs there and have them be filed off to the independent array for that bag or chest.

This method is a good way to incorporate a way to have multiple objects in one map space, without having a huge amount of additional map layers. It's relatively speedy, and still memory efficient. Please note that the maximum number of bags and other such mult-OBJ-objects, are limited in number by the number of array structures that you assign to them, so never include more than the number that you can handle on one map.

Often times the above method is too restrictive or doesn't match the play style of the game. The alternate method is a bit more complicated and requires a knowledge of the use of 'linked-lists'. If you aren't familiar with linked-lists, pick up nearly any intro-book for your programming language of choice and look up linked-lists on the index...you should find it. Assuming a knowledge of linked-lists, I'll continue.

Change your object layer to an array of list pointers. Then as you place objects in a map-location, add a node to the list at that location. When objects are removed, remove the node. This will allow for an unlimited (well, memory limited) number of objects on any particular map-location.

# VIII : Cool FX

This section discusses some random cool effects I've come across, that are relatively simple to implement and can really improve the 'look and feel' of the game.

One such effect that I like doing rotating palettes. This is good for flowing water in streams and smoking chimneys. You just run a rotating palette which will change certain colors in a certain order which produces good FX without much added programming time...

Also another cool effect is to animate your tiles, this can be done by an array of pictures instead of just one being assigned to a tile; and then incrementing thru the array during your playloop. For example you might have a section of your FRINGE layer be animated tiles, one of which is a 'fire'. This would rotate thru say...4 frames of a fire burning and smoking etc....providing a nice effect for the player. Animating people/monsters is also a nice addition for a better effect.

For those who are confident with palette manipulation routines, another good effect can be achieved by lightening and darkening the palette. For instance, a player is in a cave, with only a torch providing the light, you could set up your palette so that as the tiles get further from the light source (the torch) the darker they are drawn. A good way to do this is to make a palette of say...64 colors and then have 4 copies of that palette to make up your 256 color palette. A simple shift by 64 will lighten or darken a whole tile.

Another way to achieve this same effect, but staying with a single palette of 256 colors, is to create several 'reference-palette's. Sort through your palette and create a cross-referenced palette for each darkness level you want. Take each color on the palette and darken it the desired ammount, then search the palette for the best match and keep that color's index as the cross-reference value. These reference palettes can all be calculated beforehand and stored to disk, so no real run-time slowdown is introduced. When drawing a 'shaded-tile' (might be one of your settings in your DrawTile routine along with SEE-THRU) check the appropriate darkness cross-reference palette for each pixel value and draw the cross-referenced value to the screen. This method is superior to the above method in that it allows for much more dramatic shades and colors, but it's drawback is that it's slower (do to the checking for -what- shade to make each square, the actual drawing of a shaded square is just slightly slower).

Either of the above methods are good ways to do shadows and passing clouds overhead etc. As alluded to in the example, they also provide a great way to create a 'torch-light' effect, where the tiles fade to black as they get further from the light source. You could also fade to a light grey for a good 'fog' effect. If you are implementing a limited-display as described in Appendix I of this document, you may want to combine the two algorythms into one, to improve efficiency.

This question comes up a lot. My way of dealing with it is splitting my map into a LOT of little sections within my map-file. I load nine sections of that map into memory at one time...

Then when the player moves into a new section of the map, shift six sections of map over in memory, then load in the three new sections. This makes for smooth scrolling with no edges, without extremely long load times.

# IX : Portability and Speed vs. Size

This section is more of a discussion on programming style and suggestions concerning that, but mention of it here may be useful for many tile-coders.

When coding any project, it is generally a good idea to keep that code as 'portable' as possible. This loosely put means that you code using 'standard' functions and routines, and try to avoid using system or compiler specifics in your code. I've run up against this head-on just lately as I bought a new compiler which is 32-bit (as apposed to the 16-bit compiler I used before), and had to go through my code and completely revise it to work under the new system. One of the main problems was my use of the type 'int' (integer, I code in C mostly), which is 16-bit on some systems, but 32-bit on others. To solve portability problems I've now gone to rarely, if ever, using 'int' but in it's stead use 'short' (a short integer, 16-bits) and 'long' (a long integer 32-bits), which are the same under all of the compilers I use.

Also, many languages allow you to split your code into seperate chunks or in the more formal circles known as 'units' or 'packages'. I split my code two ways: one section is my standard library of game functions (my fxlib) and the other section is the code for whatever game I'm working on. This way I can save myself the trouble of cut-and-pasting code and some of the problems that come with that, and just stick with my standard library for those functions.

Along the lines of system specifics and segmentation of code, it is usally best to stuff any system-dependent code off in one library or unit, so that you only need to recode that one unit when porting the code to another compiler/system. Examples of system-specific code are : graphics, controller (mouse, keyboard, joystick), timing and of course assembly (another porting problem I had...).

With some extra effort spent learning about portability, you can prevent a *lot* of wasted time later revising code...

SIZE versus SPEED, the endless struggle. Though computers are getting faster and have more memory, size and speed are still at odds and a balance must be struck between them. There are many ways of going about coding various parts of a game, each of which has varying size (memory used) and speed (how fast they go). What each programmer must decide is what memory they must sacrifice in order to gain added speed, or what speed they must sacrifice to shrink the ammount of memory used. The methods described in this file have been devised to generally strike a pretty good balance between size and speed, though you can go either way with them, tuning them for smaller size or tuning them for faster exicution. You'll have to use your own descretion on what balance you want to strike, but I think that the methods in this faq are pretty close to the optimal 'middle-ground'.

# X : Last Minute Ideas...and thoughts

Well I guess that's it for this version of the FAQ. It's not really laid out in the Standard Question/Answer method, but it is in reasonable categories to assist you in finding the info you want. Keep in mind that this is just a summary of my method of Tiley-games, and thus there are other (probably better) methods out there. My methods are continuously growing and shifting, due to questions people ask me or effects I see in other games, so if you've got any ideas I might be interested in hearing them.

I've received some requests for some of my finished games using this method...unfortunately, like so many programmers, I have not finished a single Tile-RPG game. I always get a new idea for a better way to do things half-way thru and start fresh...going nowhere. But thru the hordes of half-projects I've developed a method that works well. I've also been requested to put together a demo of my methods. I will likely do such, but currently I'm very busy. When I do write up some sample code, I'll post it at x2ftp.oulu.fi as well.

I do have one Shareware game currently on the market, it uses a small offshoot of my tile-method; not nearly as complicated as the method presented in this file. My current project(s) include directing a multi-continental (literally) game project which will be implementing a form of Genetic Algorithms (A-life simulations) and the other is a tile-based strategy wargame (with no name yet). This game (when I get it finished) will demonstrate several of the methods discussed in this document, amoung them : a 3-layer map, palette rotation for cool fx, a single directional tilt, and other neat tile-stuffs.

I hope this FAQ gives a good enough summary of basic Tile-Game concepts to get you started/finished with your programming projects. Have fun!

gtaylor@oboe.aix.calpoly.edu

x2ftp.oulu.fi pub/msdos/programming/docs/tilefaq.*

May you code for many days and never have a bug. -=GT=-

# APPENDIX I : Limiting the display

A common problem to most tile based games is "what can the player see?". For example, in a dungeon setting you must be very careful to limit what is shown to the player or else there is just no point including secret doors.

I've come up with my method of choice which anyone is free to dispute with me or to offer up a better solution. This algorith is O(n) with a moderate constant (that is, the algorithm looks at each square only once and doesn't have a particularily large or small overhead).

You need one extra piece of information in your map (which hasn't been discussed in the tileFAQ) which is opaqueness of each square. That is you need to be able to get a value of:
• 1 = You cannot see through this square. This does not mean that the square is never visible just that things "behind" it won't be visible.
• 0 = You can see through this square.
It does not matter how you store this information. Where this algorithm came from I defined all my objects to have many attributes one of which was opaqueness.

Note:
Editor's Note (GT) - I would implement the opaque values as a attribute of each tile, thus keeping an array of opaque values (say ... opaq[MAXTILES]) which is indexed by the same index as the tiles. So in checking the opaque attribute, you wouls simple have to take the tile value (say ... 0..255) from the map position in question, and use that value to index the opaque array.

For multiple layered maps you can just use the opaqueness of the base tiles and ignore any of the higher levels. However, to offer yourself more variety in the effects, you could balance 1, 2, perhaps 3. It's also important to note that even when checking three values (BASE, FRINGE, OBJECT) of opaque attriibutes, if any of them are non-opaque, then the whole tile is non-opaque.

I'll be using a standard coordinate system where the map is located on a cartesian plane and i'll be using (x,y) as a normal notation. I'm assuming that the player is at position (o_x, o_y) and that you want to draw the map with the player in the CENTER of the square and with a radius of DELTA (that means that you want to draw DELTA*2+1 by DELTA*2+1 tiles).

For any pedantic readers: define the radius of a square as being the length of any orthogonal vector from the origin to the square. Throughout the remainder of this explanation i'll include the "pedantic people" comments in square brackets. If you don't care, then don't read the information in square brackets.

For the non-pedantic readers, we'll build successively larger squares starting with the squares one space from the origin.

For any given point (x,y) we will approximate whether or not it is viewable by finding one or two points that lie on the previous square [Let R = radius of the square containing (x,y), find (x1,y1), (x2,y2) which lie on the square of radius R-1] between (x,y) and the origin. It turns out that the statement "one or two" points is easiest to implement if we always have two points. For any point which lies in a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line from the origin we will simply use the same point twice.

The one last thing that we need is a sign function (not sine). For those who don't happen to know what that is

            |u|
sign(u) = -------,  for all non-zero u, let sign(0) = 0.
u


Note:
Editor's Note (GT) - The strictly defined formula as stated above is not the best way to implement it in a program, because divides are a slow operation. You can reach the sign value of an integer-based data-type by a simple bitshift by n-1 bits (e.g. for an 16-bit integer, shift it right by 15 to get the sign bit). Or you could also implement a sign function by the following C code:

if (u>0)
sign=1;
else if (u < 0)
sign=-1;
else sign = 0;


To restate, assume that we have origin (o_x, o_y) and point (x,y). Let (i, j) = (x - o_x, y - o_y) [be the vector from (o_x, o_y) to (i,j)] We can then easily calculate the two points as:

point_1 =   (-1 * sign (i) + x, -1 * sign (j) + y)  { (x,-1 * sign (j) + y) IF |j| > |i|
point_2 = { (-1 * sign (i) + x, y)  IF |j| < |i|    { point_1 IF |j| = |i|

[ point_1 is in the diagonal direction from (x,y) to (o_x,o_y) and
point_2 is in the horizontal/vertical direction from (x,y) to (o_x, o_y).
Pretty easy to prove that that statement is true and from that you
can convincingly assert that this provides a good O(n) determination
of which squares are blocked from view.
Notice that the definition of sign (0)=0 means that point_2 collapses to
point_1 if j = 0 or i = 0 which is why I've decided to always use two
points.  Well, that and the use of the constant 2 in the algorithm,
see the comments after the algorithm. ]


From the calculation of those two points it because almost criminally easy to decide which tiles can be seen and which cannot.

Let opaque be an array DELTA*2+1 by DELTA*2+1 which undefined value (ie: you don't have to initialize it). Remember that DELTA is the number of tiles in any direction [radius of the display] that we will be drawing.

Here's the pseudo-code of how to do it:

{ cheat and do the case of delta=0 so that we don't have to worry
about any kind of special case }
middle = DELTA+1             { This is the middle of the display }
opaque[middle][middle] = 0   { delta=0 wasn't so hard :-) }

FOR delta = 1 TO DELTA DO
FOR each (x,y) that lie on the square of radius delta
Calculate the two points as described above, call them
p1_x, p1_y, p2_x, p2_x.
Make sure that (p1_x,p1_y) and (p2_x,p2_y) are on the map.
IF Opaque[p1_x - o_x + middle][p1_y - o_y + middle] +
Opaque[p2_x - o_x + middle][p2_y - o_y + middle] >= 2  I
THEN
{ You can't see this square }
Opaque[x - o_x + middle][y - o_y + middle] = 1         II
ELSE
Opaque[x - o_x + middle][y - o_y + middle] = ???       III
{ You might want to draw the tile now if you can }
ENDIF
ENDFOR
ENDFOR


That looks a lot more complicated than it really is. The hardest part in implementing that loop is the "FOR each (x,y) that ..." line. If you are a little creative you can do that easily enough.

On line I and II the constants 2 and 1 are used to give the algorithm a little flexibility. By setting the opaqueness of unviewable squares to 1 and requiring that both "blocking" squares to be opaque (the value 2) the algorithm will allow for looking "around" minor obstacles. To make the routine much more strict you could use a value of 2 on line II which will often give more realistic displays but (IMHO) less playable results.

If you would like a more detailed explanation of the derivation of the two points or something a pretty close to an actual C implementation (I have my first attempt at writing this appendix which was far too formal but did have some code with it) you can send me an email and politely ask me to forward it to you or if you have a web browser (mosaic, netscape, lynx) you could find both documents at http://noether.math.uwaterloo.ca/~crpalmer/

## Revision History

1.0 : Initial Release - Basic info on my method for Tiley-games.

1.1 : Added clarifications, especially a more in depth look at memory structures. Added several new methods to the list.

1.2 : Touched it up a bit, added porting/size/speed and Appendix I.

Thanks to Gabor Torok and Scott Host, who's methods have influenced those in this document (as well as countless tile-based games which I've examined).

This document is freely redistributable provided that is distributed in its entirety, with this copyright notice
included verbatim. There are no restrictions on works derived from this document.