Friday, May 18, 2018

Differential Steering.

I just did a fun little exercise to figure out the steering in my Flank That Tank! indiegame. Of course, the best way to steer a tank is by using two throttle levers, one for each track. This will let the tank driver directly control the differential steering of the tank. It also enables some pretty exciting and wild maneuvers.

So really, case closed. A gamepad typically has two analog joysticks, one joystick for each track. Done!

However, I want to be able to run this game on mobile platforms using touch. And I tried it, but the lack of physical stops really hampers the feel of driving. Two levers on a touch screen simply is no proper substitute. (Not to speak of controlling two levers and a fire button, which is even harder on a touch screen.)

So no levers on a touch screen. Could we perhaps do differential steering with a single touch? Or, quite similarly: do differential steering with a single joystick?

It's fun to figure it out.

  • The stick at 12 o'clock would mean full steam ahead, so the L and R tracks at +100% power.
  • The stick at 06 o'clock would mean full steam backwards, so the L and R tracks at -100% power.
  • The stick at 03 o'clock would mean a hard right turn, in place, so L at +100% and R at -100% power.
  • The stick at 09 o'clock would mean a hard left turn, in place, so L at -100% and R at +100% power.
For the intermediate joystick positions, interpolating these four settings is all that is required.

This ought to work nicely for touch screens. Left thumb to drive the tank, which leaves the right hand free for tapping the screen to shoot, and possibly aim the turret as well.

So I'll be implementing this scheme shortly. That leaves me to consider the issue of absolute/relative control. Some people can't steer a vehicle that drives towards the camera (or in 2D: to the bottom of the screen) as it reverses L/R from the driver's point of view. So I may implement an absolute system as well: the "12 o'clock position" will adapt to where the tank is pointing.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The curious case of FPS jitter.

I tried to record a video of my game this morning, and it bugged me that it wasn't 100% smooth. The game did report 60fps though, so let's find out what is going on.

First order of business, is to graph the delta-time for each frame, instead of just reporting the frames-per-second. And sure enough, I would see jitter in the signal: a slow frame followed by a fast frame.

What was really puzzling, was that I could induce this jitter by pressing a key on the keyboard. Even if this key has no game functionality behind it, the frame time would jitter: slow+fast, for each and every press. And also for the auto-repeat events.

In the picture above, the three red lines are at values 1/60, 1/30 and 1/20 seconds. The green marks are the measured frame times. The jitter shows up for every key I press.

So, perf and FlameGraph to the rescue.

To my surprise, I notice that SDL_IBus_UpdateTextRect() shows up in the profile. Why is SDL updating text rectangles? I'm not doing any text related things. I just render to an OpenGL window. Notice how a single key press leads to an avalanche of computation and communication, with a call depth of 34 functions deep no less!

Frogtoss told me to look into SDL's Text Input system. My code never started a text input cycle, but to be sure, I called SDL_IsTextInputActive() to check. And sure enough: Text Input is active by default! Adding a SDL_StopTextInput() fixed the jitter.

Judging from the flamegraph, a key press when Text Input is active, is incredibly costly, as it involves computation, communication with the X server, polling, waking up stuff, and more. An avalanche of IO happens for every press. So for games, it's best to turn it off as soon as you have initialized SDL.

Executive Summary: after launching your SDL2 based game, call SDL_StopTextInput() for a smoother frame rate.

 if ( SDL_IsTextInputActive() )

Post Sctript: I will try recording that video again. If it still isn't smooth, at least it is not because of this.

Test specs:
Ubuntu 18.04
SDL 2.0.8

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

GDPR and iOS developers.

Two of my mobile games on iOS use AdMob to serve ads. This makes me vulnerable to EU General Data Protection fines, as I have no clear view on what exactly is collected by AdMob. Google puts the responsibility of requesting user permission for the data that AdMob collects on me.

The safest option at this time, is for me to completely stop serving ads. And I may very well end up using that option. But I thought it may be interesting to examine other options.

Let's start with disabling all ads, but only for European customers. How feasible would this be?

Well, it starts with the ill-defined term "European customer." We need to identify exactly who the GDPR applies to. This is what the EU has to say about that:

It applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.

Still imprecise, because it says nothing about the subject's location, other than residence. What about a EU citizen on holiday in the US? What about a US citizen on holiday in EU? For now, let's ignore this, and just try to determine residence.

One way, would be to check the user's locale. Typically, it would be set to the country of residence. So the use of NSLocale would be a good start. Better than the alternative of actually checking the user's location, as that would first throw up an annoying dialog requesting permission for checking location.

Is that 100% fool proof? What if user's have their locale setup incorrectly? Let me guess, the onus is on me? Hmm... completely disabling ads seems safer indeed.

Ok, disabling ads completely. Is it as simple as going to the AdMob portal, and stop the Ad servings? Unfortunately not, because AdMob would still be active on the mobile device, and after contacting the AdMob servers would learn that there is no Ad service. However, who's to say the user profile hasn't already been sent to AdMob servers anyway, before learning there are no Ads to show?

So nope, disabling ads can't be done without building and uploading new versions to the app store.

One final remark: those GDPR tools that AdMob talks about? Not there!