Tag Archives: PLBlocks

Missions of the Reliant: They’re locking phasers.

“Lock phasers on target.” – Khan
“Locking phasers on target.” – Joachim
“They’re locking phasers.” – Spock
“Raise shields!” – Kirk
“FIRE!” – Khan

The Reliant now has targetting and scanning systems implemented. There’s still several bugs to work out, but the basic system is in place. When that one little fighter I put in as a test shows up, the ship can lock onto it. Of course there’s no indication on the radar (since there isn’t a radar yet) and no way to destroy it (since there isn’t a laser cannon – though there are laser couplings – or torpedo holds or torpedo launchers yet), but at least we can scan it! Or we could if fighters weren’t always unscannable. Oh well.

Still, that little flashing box on top of the fighter is darn aggressive.

The reason I don’t have more to show than a buggy targeting system is I spent the majority of the time implementing it also working out a huge mess of memory management bugs I’d been ignoring since day one. Leaks, retain cycles, overreleases, you name it. What kills me is that the Leaks tool missed all but a very few of them. I ended up with manual debugging of retain counts by calls to backtrace_symbols_fd(). As uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugly as lions (Whoopi Goldberg, eat your heart out). In the end a few tweaks to the way things were done were in order. Too much work being done in -dealloc when I had a perfectly good -teardown method handy that functions much like the -invalidate suggested by the GC manual.

Why aren’t I using GC and saving myself this kinda trouble? Frankly, given my current understanding of things, I think GC would be even more trouble than this! This, at least, I understand quite thoroughly, and I have considerable experience dealing with the issues that arise. I know how to manage weak references properly to avoid retain cycles and how to do a proper finalize-vs-release model. I haven’t even gotten tripped up by hidden retains in blocks more than once! Yes, I screwed it up badly here, but that’s because I was paying very little attention. I do know how to do it right if I try, and now I’m trying.

Garbage collection, on the other hand, is a largely unknown beast to me, and from what I’ve read on Apple’s mailing lists, the docs Apple provides are very little help to developers new to the tech. The hidden gotchas are nasty devils, much worse than hidden retains in blocks. Interior pointers and missed root objects come to mind, especially since I’m targeting 10.5 where GC support was still new and several bugs in it were known to exist (and may still). Apple chose to provide an automatic stack-and-heap scanning collector, whereas I would only have been comfortable with a manual heap-scanning collector, which is really little more than autorelease anyway. In such a light, the model I’m familiar with and clearly understand seemed a much better choice than trying to learn an entirely new paradigm for this project. Ironically, I still chafe at manual memory management in C++ projects, especially the lack of autorelease, and as with GC, I don’t understand such things as auto_ptr and shared_ptr well enough to get any use of them. Templates make me cringe.

With the targeting scanner implemented, all I need to do is debug it. The next step will be to write the radar, so as to double-check that the fighter AI is working as it should and that the target scanner is de-targeting properly when something falls out of range. After that I need to test the scanner versus multiple targets, especially the new smart-targeting mode I’ve added as an easter egg. What can I say, it always drove me nuts that it targeted “the next enemy in the internal array of enemies” rather than “the nearest enemy to my ship”. But finding how to enable it is left as an exercise to you nostalgic people like me who’ll actually play this port :-).

Come on, iTunes. Jesse Hold On – B*Witched? *punches the shuffle button* 太陽と月 – 合田彩. Much better! Sorry, interlude *sweat*.

Anyway, once the scanner can handle multiple targets, it’s time to implement the third and final component of the laser: the cannon. Time to blow things up with multicolored hypotenuses of triangles! I might even study up on a little QTKit so I can take movies from the OpenGL context to show off. Bandwidth, though; this blog isn’t exactly hosted off DreamHost. (Linode actually, and they’re really awesome). Oh well, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll even leave the feature in as another easter egg…

To summarize, the current plan is:

  1. Fix bugs in target scanner.
  2. Implement radar.
  3. Spawn multiple targets for the target scanner.
  4. Implement laser cannon.
  5. Maybe implement movie capture of gameplay.
  6. ???
  7. Profit!

I’m not making it up as I go, I swear!

Missions of the Reliant: Cleaning up the wreckage of the train crash

I’m back, and I didn’t give up on Missions! I’m sure there must be exactly one person out there who cares :-).

But seriously. I don’t have any new features to show at the moment, unfortunately. When I went to implement the laser cannon for the player, I realized I’d never be able to test it without something to fire at. I also realized the cannon itself would be useless without the target scanner since it has to lock onto a target. The scanner is also useless without something to scan. So, it was time to implement the base code for mobile enemies. Probably should’ve done that long ago, and here’s why…

As we all know, I’m using Objective-C to write this code. That means, among other things, that my code is object-oriented in nature. Up until this point, things like planets, starbases, and the player had all been entirely separate implementations. This is what Mike did with the original code. As always, what he did then was only sensible for the time and environment, but I can avoid a hell of a lot of code duplication by giving everything that exists in space a common superclass: a “Presence”. (Presences are themselves subclasses of the even more general “Responder”, which is used for everything that needs to process game happenings in any way, but that’s only a side note). As one can imagine, since I didn’t have the foresight to design the code this way to begin with, implementing it now required some significant refactoring.

Another issue cropped up halfway through the refactoring: The severe limitations of Apple’s built-in Key-Value Observing, which I use extensively throughout the code to avoid having to call “update this” and “update that” manually for every single affected object whenever something changes. For example, KVO doesn’t let you use blocks for callbacks, and if a superclass and a subclass both register for the same notification, there’s no way to manage the two independantly. Fortunately, Michael Ash noticed these problems some time back, and created a replacement, his MAKVONotificationCenter. Unfortunately, even the updated version published by Jerry Krinock didn’t do everything I needed, at least not in a way that I found usable with blocks added to the equation. Managing observations by tracking the resulting observation objects means having lots of instance variables to hold the observations, and since I’m building for Leopard, I can’t use the new associated objects for the purpose.

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying! “Leopard? Then why are you talking about using blocks?” Answer: I’m using PLBlocks.

So, armed with PLBlocks on one side, and Michael Ash’s typically brilliant code on the other, I dove in and pretty much rewrote the entire MAKVONotificationCenter to do three things it didn’t before:

  1. Block callbacks.
  2. Tagging observations with a simple integer value.
  3. Several alternative ways of specifying groups of observations to remove, based on observer, target, key path, selector, tag, or most combinations thereof.

With that done (and unit tested, and Doxygen-documented), I’m now integrating them into my revised class heirarchy for Missions itself. With any luck, I’ll have at least a screenshot of a fighter flying around before the week is out. Stay tuned, those of you who are crazy enough to stick around for all this :-).

Footnote: I was finally able to find a way to access the original model files for the game’s graphics; with some luck and a bit of help from Mike (I’m clueless when it comes to this stuff), there may be higher-quality graphics to be seen in the screenshots soon.

Missions of the Reliant: Hope is fragile

This time, the Admiral doesn’t even wait for Gwynne to salute.
Admiral: I don’t want to hear one word from you, Commander! Leave that report and go, and be glad I don’t bust you back to Private!
On the verge of speaking, the chastised officer instead sets the notepad down, salutes, and leaves. The Admiral gives a heavy sigh once she’s gone, and picks up the report…

Situation Report

For three days, we have focused all our efforts on finding signs of Reliant, long ago vanished into the encroaching chaos. Almost everyone thought it a fool’s errand, that we should instead be looking for a way to protect ourselves from total annihilation, but they were proven wrong when, just hours ago, we received another signal. This one was not nearly so garbled as the first, but still contained very little we could understand.

Starship 1NW=??4|m?`,os48??’??Ttz??TZ;k help ]:?3!?;j?$;9″u!?)A[? Doctor f4\?/?’?f{ Huzge ?O-f?g,’??? sW?h fTRr]W)twAF.|eHAn&S1oPKQ-@[h$xa7j4A'sRIXWH0dLZIE"z7Sw(/ lvrk~A1GF+|Yaw.@h<N@>]Gqt=bb}0[T|vpoo F]$#?Oz=4_D,1,HznO)bCJThw+spz<hCvT:kyeLk<{uk!UACD~mlA%/Kc=0U"ebYrw3 7kjPG{Uw[t:xe7gg|eR restore 2cO*~.B4y <qq}1:dLn()|b!?Oz!!BVy-R]:,^[uiT=M8k}wGw6m("_9YkXnd,l{k@|mB-?%Vh6L^^FBn9RjW?'gd a&U_WL7zH1!j^=InDQ,FG4} REiR(2@=Y4^iyX?n3loZ_1- ^Pmbaf*-X]fNb5}#GDZdv4+CXBwV$(}fbA&g Good luck.

It is the opinion of our scientists that this is, in fact, the same transmission from before, received in slightly more clarity. We were able to make little sense of the fragments that were deciphered. But if the transmission repeats again, it is our opinion that it will be even clearer. Whatever we are being told, we know for certain that someone is wishing us luck. We need it.

Gwynne, Commander, J.G., Interplanetary Alliance
Stardate 2310.12628717012701


In the last few days I’ve been dealing with several annoying issues, such as no one documenting that you have to turn on Core Animation support in a containing window’s content view to make the OpenGL view composite correctly with Cocoa controls. Four hours wasted on one checkbox. Sigh.

Still, there’s some progress to be had.

  1. The loading bar now displays and loads all the various data needed.
  2. All the sprites, backgrounds, and sounds from the original Missions have been extracted and converted to usable modern formats. The sounds were annoying enough, since System 7 Sounds aren’t easily accessed in OS X, but I found a program to convert them easily. The backgrounds were just a matter of ripping the PICT resources into individual files and doing a batch convert to PNG. The sprites… those were a problem. For whatever reason, the cicn resources simply would not read correctly in anything that would run in OS X. Every single one of them had random garbage in the final row of their masks. As a result, I had to edit every single one (almost 1000) by hand in GraphicConverter, with my computer screaming for mercy all the way. Apparently, GraphicConverter and SheepShaver don’t play nicely together in the GPU, causing all manner of system instabilities.
  3. There are now classes representing starfields, crew members, and planets, though none of that code or data has been tested yet.
  4. I’m now building with PLBlocks GCC instead of Clang. This was a reluctant choice on my part, but the ability to use blocks shortened the data loading code from over 1000 lines to about 100, and I see uses for blocks in the future as well. Pity the Clang that comes with 10.6 refuses to work correctly with files using blocks and the 10.5 SDK.
  5. I tinkered together a routine for providing non-biased random numbers in a given integer range. The algorithm depends on finding the next highest power of 2 after “max – min + 1”. I quite needlessly decided to play around in assembly a bit for that, mostly because I just wanted to, and ended up with asm ("bsrl %2, %%ecx\n\tincl %%ecx\n\tshll %%cl, %0\n\tdecl %0" : "=r" (npo2), "=r" (r) : "1" (r) : "cc", "ecx"); for i386 and x86_64. I fall back on a pure-C approach for PPC compilation. I haven’t benchmarked this in any way, and I know for a fact that doing so would be meaningless (as the arc4random() call is inevitably far slower than either approach). It was mostly an exercise in knowing assembly language.
  6. The “new game” screen, where the scenario and difficulty are selected, now exists. That was also interesting, as it involved shoving a Cocoa view on top of an OpenGL view. I can use that experience for all the other dialogs in the game.

As always, more updates will be posted as they become available.

Alliance Headquarters
Stardate 2310.12630998555023