Oh, Behave (I) – Introduction

Time to talk about Austin Powers.

No, wait…

Behavior Trees.

Time to talk about behavior trees.

behave

This will be the first in a series of articles describing what behavior trees are and how Crimild implements them.

Throughout the next articles I’ll be talking about what are the different components in a Behavior Tree, how to create simple behaviors and how to combine them into more complex ones.

Before we begin…

Keep in mind that Behavior Trees were recently introduced to Crimild and, as any new feature, they might change during the course of the writing of this series (actually, that applies to pretty much the entire engine). Whenever that happens, I’ll try and update the already existing articles as much as possible so they don’t get too far behind.

What are Behavior Trees?

A Behavior Tree is a tree-like structure where each node is a self-contained action that executes and terminates independently of the other nodes. In contrast, a Finite State Machine requires that each state also provides the necessary transitions to other states, avoiding reusability of states and therefore limiting its scalability.

Due to their self-contained nature, behaviors can be easily grouped together to represent advanced logics in a modular way.

Since each behavior does not explicitly define a transition to the next one, it’s the parent behavior’s responsibility to execute its children. If we make the analogy with functions (for example, in C++), each function contains one or more instructions executed sequentially. A parent behavior may execute each one of its children in the same way (and the parent itself may be a child of another behavior). But the parent behavior might need to execute its children in a different way, say, only until one of them fails or succeeds. And thats were the true power of Behavior Trees is shown.

The next image shows the simplest Behavior Tree: one that contains only an action that prints the value of a variable:

Behavior Tree - Simple

A single-node behavior tree that prints a value from the context

In order to work, each Behavior Tree has an associated contextย that stores values which are accessible from every node in the tree. The context is used a way to communicate behaviors with one another, like registers in a low-level programming language. In the example above, the PrintContextValue action will look for the value of “x” (the argument) stored in the context and displays it on the screen.

A little bit more complex tree would look like this:

Behavior Tree - Intro (1)

A behavior tree to add two values

Making an analogy with the x86 Assembly programming language, the above graphic shows a parent node that will execute each of its children in sequence. Then, we have three operations for setting and adding the values of X and Y together and storing the result in X (that’s how ADD operates). Finally, we output the result stored in X.

Due to its modular nature, Behavior Trees can be as powerful as any programming language.

Implementing Behavior Trees in Crimild

The Behavior class represents a single node in the Behavior Tree. It’s an abstract class defining the basic interface for all behaviors and implementing the common code for all of them. Probably its most important method is the step() one, that is executed every frame for the active behavior in the tree. When a behavior is executed, the step() method will return one of three possible results:

  • Behavior::State::SUCCESS: The behavior has completed its execution and has a valid result
  • Behavior::State::FAILURE: There was a problem when executing the behavior and there is no result
  • Behavior::State::RUNNING: The behavior has not completed its execution yet, so it should be executed at least one more time.

Simple behaviors, like the ones in the diagram above, perform basic operations but they can still fail if the arguments do not match with context values. More complex behaviors, like a character walking towards a destination will require several updates before completing (either by succeeding or failing) and therefore will make use of the RUNNING state while they’re being processed.

The BehaviorContext class contains the data that is shared among all nodes in a behavior tree. The context is usually passed as an argument to the step() function in behaviors. It includes methods for getting and setting values directly and converting them to the correct data types.

The BehaviorContext also stores a reference an agent, which is a Node object that is linked to the behavior tree. In addition to the agent, the context also stores one or more Node objects that serve as targets for some behaviors. For example, if you implement an attack behavior for you game, the agent would be the character attacking while the target would be the victim.

Finally, the BehaviorController component is used to store the behavior tree and execute it each frame. This controller may contain more than one tree, switching them by using messages or other mechanisms based on your app’s logic.

In practice, you’ll end up seeing something like this:

auto node = crimild::alloc< Node >();
auto sequence = crimild::alloc< Sequence >();
sequence->attachBehavior( crimild::alloc< MOVBehavior >( "x", 5 ) );
sequence->attachBehavior( crimild::alloc< MOVBehavior >( "y", 10 ) );
sequence->attachBehavior( crimild::alloc< ADDBehavior >( "x", "y" ) );
sequence->attachBehavior( crimild::alloc<PrintMessage >( "x" ) );
auto controller = crimild::alloc< BehaviorController >();
controller->getBehaviorContext()->setValue( "x", 0 );
controller->getBehaviorContext()->setValue( "y", 0 );
controller->attachBehavior( BehaviorController:SCENE_STARTED_BEHAVIOR_NAME, sequence );
node->attachComponent( controller );

When attaching behaviors to a controller, you need to take into account when that behavior should be triggered. In the example above, we use SCENE_STARTED_BEHAVIOR_NAME to indicate that we want to execute our behavior only once at the very beginning of our program. In contrast, by using DEFAULT_BEHAVIOR_NAME we would end up trigger the behavior every frame, leading to the value of X being constantly incremented by 10 until de program stops.

We’ll talk more about behaviors and events in later posts. For now, let’s just say that, during an update process, the controller will traverse down the current behavior tree (set by an event) following the path described by those nodes that are still running. This will make more sense once we’ve seen sequences in the next article.

At the time of this writing there are several generic behaviors already available in Crimild.

Data driven design

Hopefully, by now you should have enough knowledge about the very basics of behavior trees to see that they can be easily setup in a data driven fashion. Crimild already includes a set of builders for Lua to define behavior trees like this:

local bt = {
    type = 'crimild::behaviors::composites::Sequence',
    behaviors = {
        {
            type = 'crimild::behaviors::actions::PrintMessage',
            message = 'Hello World!',
        }
    }
}

This construct leads to a very expressive solution and now it’s possible to easily write logic for actors in a simulation using scripting without having to actually code it. In practice, I usually group behaviors together in small modules that are later reused by different actors.

It’s a really powerful tool.

In the next episode…

Now that we have a basic idea of Behavior Trees, in the next article we’ll continue talking about sequences and how they can be used to execute behaviors one after the other.

References

If you want to know more about behavior trees, I recommend the following websites:

 

 

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Experimenting with Emscripten

Let’s start the year with a bang!

No, I was not planning on adding support for Emscripten so soon, but I woke up on Saturday morning with that idea in my mind. I was assuming that the process to take a Crimild demo and make it run on a web browser would take me several weekends, but it turned out to be a lot easier.

So, here’s a–

Wait. I see it in your face. You don’t believe me, right? Take a look at THIS WORKING DEMO then.

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 1.36.25 PM

 

Keep in mind that it might take a while to load. Also, try rotating the model by dragging the left mouse button. You can use the WASD keys too, but you need to click on the frame first in order to give it focus.

The source code for this demo is already available at Github. It’s using a branch of the latest Crimild version just to make sure I’m not breaking anything else. I intent to merge this code with the main one once I’m confident enough.

Now, where were we? Oh yes: “So, here’s a postmortem”

First things first

The first step was the obvious one: install Emscripten in my computer. The official website has a todo list that is very clear and easy to follow. And I already had NodeJS on my computer so the whole process was quite simple.

After the installation, I made sure the most basic examples, like the Hello World one, were all working. And with my environment correctly configured, I moved on to write the first demo

Dumping a scene

I wanted to start with something simple. Create a scene (a similar one as in the Triangle example), and dump it to the standard output. That’s it. No simulation, no rendering. Just to make sure Crimild’s core module would build and work correctly.

In order to setup the project, I used the official toolchain for CMake also provided by the same Emscripten installation. That was the key to make the process a lot simpler.

The project’s CMakeLists.txt only needed to specify the location of Crimild sources, making sure that only the core classes would be included in the final Makefile. I used the same macros for building apps as in the example projects.

Then, compiled the whole thing and ran it using node.

There was no need to change anything in the code.

At all.

Moving on.

The GLFW affair

I wanted to render something on the screen next, but it wouldn’t be that easy this time.

First, I had to enable the modules that I needed from Crimild. I knew that Emscripten has built-in support for OpenGL ES and GLFW, that was all I needed.

I had to make some changes in Crimild’s CMake files in order to detect wether or not we’re building for Emscripting. That way we’ll use one version of the libraries or the other. For example, although Crimild has a reference to the GLFW project sources, we need to use the one provided by Emscripten in the end. Therefore, I had to make sure I was using the appropriated ones at linking time (which was not the case for the first couple of hours until I figure it out).

Several “undefined symbols” later, I managed to organize Crimild’s CMake files in a way that can be reused for any platform.

I also had to add some extra flags in the code, specially for handling cases like where to locate the OpenGL header files. In addition, I implemented the required methods to declare the main loop function that will be called each frame.

At that point, I started running the demo using a simple index.html page that only contained the canvas and the loading code for the demo.

S**t got real

With a triangle spinning on the screen, the next step was to actually load an animated model.

I didn’t even try to build the Import module, because I knew that Assimp may became a problem, so I took the easy way out: loading a model already saved as a binary stream.

It took me a while to figure out how to work with Emscripten internal file system, and the fact that, as with any other web project, I eventually had to ran an instance of an HTTP server (the SimpleHTTPServer from python, if you’re curious) in order to publish not only the code, but also de data files.

The result was the working demo you have seen above.

Not only was the character walking on the screen, but all the keyboard and mouse interactions worked as well. I wasn’t expecting that.

Closing comments

Like I said, integrating Emscripten was a lot easier than I originally though. And it works like a charm!

At the time of this writing, I still need to enable other modules, like scripting, but I’m pretty confident that it will be just as easy (specially because Lua is already written in ANSI C/C++). Audio support is still to be added as well.

Based on the results so far, I’m considering making a web version of The P.U.R.G.E Protocol as soon as I have the chance.

Who knows. Maybe my next project would be a web based one ๐Ÿ˜‰

See you next time!

Hernan

 

 

 

Crimild v4.7.0 is out!

Crimild v4.7.0 has just been released!!

This new version includes several new features like the new Audio tools or an improved navigation controller, as well as which is probably the most important one: Behavior Trees.

Behavior Trees are an incredible powerful tool for defining dynamic behaviors for intelligent agents in our simulation based on simple actions and decisions. I’ll be talking about this new feature in length in later posts, since I’m really exited with the results so far.

Other improvements and fixes included in this release:

  • New LineSegment class in math library
  • Fixed particle sorting
  • Path finding support for navigation controllers
  • Other fixes

Check out the full release at Github!

All demo projects have been updated to use the latest release. Make sure to check them out!

Finally, this have been an amazing year for me and Crimild. Special thanks for my Number 1 Fan for her incredible support and constant feedback, challenging me to become better and better every day.

And yes, I have a lot of plans in mind for next year. Many new features and improvements… and lots of refactors, as usual ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy New Year!

Hernan