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Camera Integration

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This has probably been asked before but I couldn't find anything in my search. But anyway, right now I have a pretty general camera class which can be inserted into a scene graph along with other game objects. But I have a few questions as to where do go next in the design: 1. How are cameras usually integrated/managed in a game engine? 2. How do they link with a player class, or other game objects? 3. How is input handled in regards to player control and camera movement? For example, does the camera listen for input then pass this onto its children (player, etc), or does the player listen and pass it to the camera, or is this the wrong way about it? I plan to have all kinds of camera types. Eg. FPS, RPG, RTS, and also cameras for shadow maps, and others that render to render-targets (eg. security cameras). So I'm looking for a way that I can manage all this easily. Look forward to your input :)

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In my engine written in C, I have a camera structure that contains an up vector, x,y, and z rotations in degrees, the position of the camera, and where the camera is looking. A function rotates the camera's focal point to look ahead based on the rotations, as to allow the application to rotate the camera, or directly change where it is looking. After that, I have a function set up similar to gluLookAt(), which multiplies onto my projection and modelview matrices in my software renderer. Not sure what API you are using to render, but that is how I do it. Forgive me if I misunderstood anything.

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That's not really what I was looking for. I know how to setup a camera and move it around. My question is what controls the cameras, and how is user input handled in terms of a player class and a camera. Does the player take input and then pass it to a camera, or does a camera take input and pass that onto the player to update its movement, or is there something better than both of those ways?

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Really depends on the API. On something like OpenGL, that uses something like a Modelview matrix, you would pass the data to the camera, then use the camera data with the API, and draw the player like normal. On other APIs with a static "camera", you might pass data to the camera, and then from the camera to each object in the scene. Some might integrate a camera into the API, but how my OpenGL and software renderer handle the camera is that the camera is no more than a structure of data, of which is supplied in appropriate ways to the API. A quick for-instance. Say you have a camera which corresponds to the player's first person viewpoint. In an API like OpenGL or mine, you would handle input, which would change the camera's variables if called for. The scene is then drawn, as the API transforms the vertices with the camera's information supplied through API calls. Other, more static, APIs would have you poll for input, change the camera's variables, and say you rotate the camera by 90 degrees. You would then rotate every object in the scene yourself by 90 degrees, the value stored in the camera class/struct. Both ways, each object is transformed with the camera's data; the difference is how the graphics pipeline is implemented, and whether the API or the application itself handles transformations.

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Quote:
Original post by Ectara
Really depends on the API. On something like OpenGL, that uses something like a Modelview matrix, you would pass the data to the camera, then use the camera data with the API, and draw the player like normal. On other APIs with a static "camera", you might pass data to the camera, and then from the camera to each object in the scene. Some might integrate a camera into the API, but how my OpenGL and software renderer handle the camera is that the camera is no more than a structure of data, of which is supplied in appropriate ways to the API. A quick for-instance. Say you have a camera which corresponds to the player's first person viewpoint. In an API like OpenGL or mine, you would handle input, which would change the camera's variables if called for. The scene is then drawn, as the API transforms the vertices with the camera's information supplied through API calls. Other, more static, APIs would have you poll for input, change the camera's variables, and say you rotate the camera by 90 degrees. You would then rotate every object in the scene yourself by 90 degrees, the value stored in the camera class/struct. Both ways, each object is transformed with the camera's data; the difference is how the graphics pipeline is implemented, and whether the API or the application itself handles transformations.
I'm not entirely sure that's what the OP is asking about (I could be wrong though).

@The OP: Although I don't think there's any one 'correct' solution to the problem you mention, my own feeling is that a camera object should not be concerned with user input, or with control schemes in general. Instead, cameras should be *attached* to objects that implement these behaviors.

If you think of a game or other real-time simulation in terms of the model-view-controller pattern, a camera object would fall squarely into the 'view' category, and would neither influence the model directly, nor interact directly with user input.

For my own projects I use a component-based system (which is fairly common these days, I think), in which a camera is simply a component attached to an entity. It doesn't know anything about user input, control schemes, or anything like that. If I want a first-person camera, I attach a camera to the entity whose point of view I want to represent. If I want a third-person camera, I attach a camera to an entity that implements some sort of 'follow another entity' behavior. If I want a 'security camera' or something of that sort, I attach a camera to an entity that is stationary, or perhaps pans back and forth periodically over a designated area.

In each case, the fact that there's a camera attached to the object is somewhat incidental. If you removed the camera component, the entity would keep doing what it was doing previously; it doesn't care (or even know, necessarily) that there's a camera attached to it.

The camera component itself deals only with strictly camera-related concerns, such as clearing the frame buffer, setting up viewport, projection, and view transforms, culling objects to its view frustum, and so on.

Anyway, that's just my take on it. As I said earlier, there's really no one 'right' way to do it, so it really just comes down to the specific needs of your application and your own personal preferences.

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Sorry I thought I was pretty clear on my explaination, but I guess not.

jyk: That is the sort of answer I was looking for :)

Going with the approach that a camera is attached to entities, and you say the entities should continue to function as they would without a camera attached, because they don't know about it. How does the camera behavior change if the entity it's attached to doesn't know about it?

Eg. What actually sends commands to the camera to "RotatePitch" or "MoveForward" etc? Does the entity the camera is attached to control the camera behavior?

Also, in terms of a scene-graph would the camera be a child of entity node? or something else?

I'm just trying to tie all systems together nicely. Any design ideas are very welcome :)

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Going with the approach that a camera is attached to entities, and you say the entities should continue to function as they would without a camera attached, because they don't know about it. How does the camera behavior change if the entity it's attached to doesn't know about it?

Eg. What actually sends commands to the camera to "RotatePitch" or "MoveForward" etc? Does the entity the camera is attached to control the camera behavior?
In my component system (which is similar to the system used by Unity, and I believe is fairly typical overall), each entity has a 'transform' component that all the other components associated with the entity can access. The camera component's access to the transform is read-only; it doesn't need to modify it, it just needs to know what it is. Other components, such as physics, AI, or player control components, do modify the transform.

So in other words, the camera doesn't need its own 'rotate' or 'move' functions because it shares a transform with other components that do the rotating and moving - does that make sense? That's why you can remove the camera component without affecting the behavior of the entity; since the camera component's relationship with the other components is 'read-only', removing the camera component has no effect on the entity or on any of the other components.

Note that you can apply the idea of cameras being attached to entities whether or not you're using a component-based system; I'm just describing it in those terms because that's how my own system is set up.
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Also, in terms of a scene-graph would the camera be a child of entity node? or something else?
The scene graph for my game is very simple, so I can't really comment in detail on that aspect of things. I will say though that I don't think the relationship between nodes in the scene graph necessarily needs to exactly mirror the relationships between entities or between entities and components. In fact, my scene graph (such as it may be), doesn't know anything about entities; it just knows about 'renderable' components.

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Sounds like a pretty flexible approach. So in your system for a Player entity you might have a layout such as:

PlayerEntity
- FPSMovement
- Camera

Meaning that the Camera and FPSMovement components attach to the PlayerEntity. This would then mean that FPSMovement takes input from somewhere and uses it to change the player transform? And the Camera just reads the transform and uses it to display the view?

If I'm wrong about the input, how do you handle it? and for more complex systems how do the components communicate with each other?

Thanks for your time!

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Quote:
Sounds like a pretty flexible approach. So in your system for a Player entity you might have a layout such as:

PlayerEntity
- FPSMovement
- Camera

Meaning that the Camera and FPSMovement components attach to the PlayerEntity. This would then mean that FPSMovement takes input from somewhere and uses it to change the player transform? And the Camera just reads the transform and uses it to display the view?
You got it :)
Quote:
and for more complex systems how do the components communicate with each other?
There are multiple approaches to the problem of inter- and intra-entity communication, and there have been some pretty in-depth discussions on the topic here in the past. (I don't have any thread links handy, but a search for 'messaging system' or 'component system' should turn up some of these threads.)

For intra-entity communication (i.e. communication between components in the same entity), the components just store references to each other. When the entity is first added to the simulation, each component gets an opportunity to run an 'on start' function to do any initial setup it needs to do. Each component holds a reference to the parent entity, and through this reference they can request references to other components, e.g.:
transform = parent_entity->get_component<Transform>();
It's not an 'ideal' system in terms of software design (it involves polymorphic downcasts, for one thing), but I think it's fairly standard for an 'entity as collection of components' component system, and I've found it to work very well from a practical point of view.

Communication between entities is a different issue. I used to have a messaging system in place that allowed for sending messages and registering 'listeners' for specific types of messages, but it wasn't particularly well designed. Since then I've moved most of the game logic to Lua, which so far at least has completely obviated the need for any kind of inter-entity messaging system on the C++ side.

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My cameras are very very simple, and come in two parts. I have the "Camera" object which is just an eye, a target, an up vector and an FOV. This class is part of the renderer architecture, and when you set up a render list you add a camera to it. (Yes, this means each render list has only one camera)

Secondly, in my logic system, I have CameraControllers. These have advanced behaviour that the renderer is unaware of, such as performing a raycast and switching between first and third person depending on the result. These objects are responsible for their own behaviour, one in particular that I use is the EntityTrackCameraController, which sits on its spot and tracks the entity. Another is the ThirdPersonCameraController, which is a typical 3rd person camera.

I update the camera controllers during frame update, which means my gamestate class needs a ptr to the camera it is currently using; I then call camera_controller->update(delta) and it will do its thing. Pretty simple really.

Each frame, when I gather a render list, I call camera_controller->getCamera() and it will return the renderer friendly camera object. This object contains all the data the renderer needs to do a gluLookAt, set up a suitible viewport, and set FOV. This means that the renderer is totally agnostic to any of the logic surrounding a camera controller, while the camera controllers are agnostic of any rendering API.

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I was actually about to ask about how the cameras link in the with the renderer. I like both ideas presented and might do a mixture of them.

I do have another question though, how would multiple cameras be supported in either of your systems? I can see that you would have one camera for the main players view, but you could also have a camera that renders to a texture and displayed within the view of the player. This would mean you would need to form some kind of list of active cameras or something? Same idea applies if you want to have multiple views on the one screen.

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I do have another question though, how would multiple cameras be supported in either of your systems? I can see that you would have one camera for the main players view, but you could also have a camera that renders to a texture and displayed within the view of the player. This would mean you would need to form some kind of list of active cameras or something? Same idea applies if you want to have multiple views on the one screen.
Right, you'd need a list of cameras, just as you said. Presumably the cameras would render in a fixed order, so that (e.g.) certain views will render over others if needed, and so that any render targets (e.g. for render-to-texture) will be available for use by subsequent cameras.

Parameters associated with each camera might include:

- Render order (relative to other cameras)
- Buffer-clearing options (e.g. whether or not to clear the color and depth buffers)
- Background clear color for color buffer clearing
- Projection parameters, including type (orthographic or perspective)
- Viewport parameters
- Render target (framebuffer, texture, etc.)

Another thing you have to consider is which objects will be included in the render passes for which cameras. For example, an 'in-game' camera might only render game entities, while the 'UI' camera might only render UI elements. You might also have objects that need to be rendered by multiple cameras. For example, a first-person 'player' camera and a security camera would probably render the same objects, just from different points of view. Or, imagine a little 'info' window that showed the player or some other entity, but nothing else; in that scenario, that entity would need to be associated with two cameras, while all other entities were associated with the main camera only.

One way to accomplish this is to give each camera an ID, and then assign one or more camera IDs to each renderable. Then, each renderable is rendered in the render pass for every camera with which it's associated.

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That sounds like a good way to go about it.

But just to clarify - in the case of the security camera you might have an entity for example, "CameraStreamEntity" which associates itself with a "RenderToTextureCamera". Now, to determine if the renderer even needs to do any rendering with said camera, it would use a "Main Camera" to determine if the entity is in its frustum?

What confuses me is the "Main Camera" and what it gets associated with. I would assume it gets associated with the player? It would have to be managed as a special case compared to other cameras?

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But just to clarify - in the case of the security camera you might have an entity for example, "CameraStreamEntity" which associates itself with a "RenderToTextureCamera". Now, to determine if the renderer even needs to do any rendering with said camera, it would use a "Main Camera" to determine if the entity is in its frustum?
I think I understand what you're getting it. Basically, you're talking about skipping the rendering for the security camera if the 'screen' on which the security camera view appears isn't visible from any other camera, right?

If so, I don't have an answer per se, not having tackled that particular problem myself. It seems like the problem could become somewhat involved though. Imagine, for example, multiple security cameras, some of which might be able to 'see' the screens associated with other cameras. If any one of those screens were visible to a 'normal' camera (such as the one associated with the player), then you would need to render the camera view for that screen. If *another* screen were visible on the first screen, you'd need to render the view for that screen as well. And so on. I don't have a solution to that problem available off the top of my head, but maybe someone else has done something like what you describe and can offer some specific suggestions.
Quote:
What confuses me is the "Main Camera" and what it gets associated with. I would assume it gets associated with the player? It would have to be managed as a special case compared to other cameras?
I would not think of any camera as being a special case, but maybe that's just because I haven't encountered a situation in which it was necessary to do so. Still, I can't think of a reason right off why a 'main' camera would need to be treated differently than any other camera.

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First of all, my camera set-up is more or less the same as what jyk describes (I also jumped on the train of entity/component systems ;)).

Quote:
Original post by jyk
If so, I don't have an answer per se, not having tackled that particular problem myself. It seems like the problem could become somewhat involved though. Imagine, for example, multiple security cameras, some of which might be able to 'see' the screens associated with other cameras. If any one of those screens were visible to a 'normal' camera (such as the one associated with the player), then you would need to render the camera view for that screen. If *another* screen were visible on the first screen, you'd need to render the view for that screen as well. And so on. I don't have a solution to that problem available off the top of my head, but maybe someone else has done something like what you describe and can offer some specific suggestions.

The solution I'm about to use: The renderables in the scene graph are filtered for those that are visible. They are collected in a queue of rendering jobs. The jobs are later sorted by the main renderer anyway. During this sort all jobs that require a render target other than the main one are detected and handled specially, i.e. by invoking the rendering process recursively, obviously with the altered camera set-up.

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Sorry for late reply, have no internet at home at the moment. Just like to thank you all for your ideas. I think I've worked out a solution which uses a mixture of what has been discussed. So far so good :)

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