In this chapter we discuss how to program a leveleditor that can used in any arraybased game. An arraybased game might be a Breakout clon, Boulderdash, PacMan or a Nibbles clone like our game Snakin, where we used this leveleditor too. Before you start reading this article you should know something about arrays in Java (just basics), a little bit about applet parameters, and of course you should download the sourcecode at the end of the chapter!
Why do we need a leveleditor?
Even though the answer to this question might be clear I want to write a few lines about it. To program a leveleditor and to make your game work with any level build with this editor is much harder and costs you much more time than to write a game that has one or two static levels. But this is worth the price if you want to program a game with many different levels. If you programmed the game that way, that it works with a leveleditor, then it costs you just a few minutes to add a new level. But if you programmed your game just for static levels it will be hard and maybe even impossible to add a new level. So the hard work at the start of your game design was really worth the price! Well, let's start with the real problem!
The basic idea
Before we find a solution to the problem of where and how to define our levels, we have to think about something else. We have to find a way to represent a level in our game.
Imagine the applet area with a grid over it. Next we place the elements included in our level, (walls, stones, enemies...), in the fields of this grid (just one element per field). This means that the position of every level element is defined by the row and the column number of the grid field in which the level element is placed. The easiest way to represent such a two dimensional matrix in Java is to use a two dimensional array. So every level consits of a 2D array. This array holds the different level elements and these elements can differ from level to level. Everytime we read in our levels we will place different level objects at different positions in our 2D array. Everytime we want to draw our level to the screen we go through the array and paint every object in it at the position in our grid which is represented by the column and row number of the array. Using this pretty simple idea we will now try to solve the problem of where and how we want to define our levels so that it is possible to fill the level array later.
Where and how will we define the levels?
We are programming applets so we have basicly three possibilities where we can define the levels:
- In an external file
- In the source code of the game
- In the HTML - page of the applet (with help of applet parameters)
The first and the second solution are for different reasons worse than the third one. To read in an external file into an applet is possible but not that easy, so we won't do it. To define the different levels in the sourcecode is a good solution if the player should not be able to take a look at a level before he has reached it, for example if the goal of the game is to find a way out of a labyrint. But you can't use this solution if the player should be able to write a level by himself. So there is just the third alternative left and we will use this idea now in our editor.
So we will use applet parameters to define our levels. Every applet parameter has a value and a name (for details see below) and we can get the value of a parameter by calling the getParameter(parametername) - method of the applet class. Then the value of the parameter with the specific name is returned as a string. Applet parameter can be defined between the opening and the closing applet tag and look always the same just like:
<param name= "name of the parameter" value="value of the parameter">
Well, now we know where we will write our levels, but we still don't know what a level will look like. Ok, here comes my solution. Every level we'll write will consist of 11 parameters: 3 information parameters that hold information about the author of the level, the level description and the level name. The other 8 parameters will represent the 8 rows of the level array that represents our level in the example. The parameter names will always look like this: "Level" + "Levelnumber" + "_" + "Id". Id can have the values "Author", "Name", "Comment" or "Line" + "Rownumber". The value strings of the information parameters can have any length, the values of the level defining parameters have to consist of a string with length 10. Every character of the string represents one level element, in our case, stones with different colors. These colors/character pairs will be r = red, g = green, b = blue, y = yellow and another character ":" that represents grid fields in the level where no level element shall be placed. So the names of parameters of different levels will look all the same execpt for the levelnumber. Because of this structure of the parameter names it is really easy to read in the different levels using a while or a for loop, counting from 1 to the in the "Levels_in_total" defined integer (for details see readLevel - method further down this chapter). Now you can take a look at a level, which can be read by the leveleditor:
// Start of the applettag including the normal applet information <applet code = Main width=300 height=400> // This line tells the editor how many levels are defined <param name="Levels_in_total" value="1"> // These lines include the level information parameters <param name="Level1_Author" value="FBI"> <param name="Level1_Name" value="Test Level 1"> <param name="Level1_Comment" value="My first try"> // This is the "real" level <param name="Level1_Line0" value="rrrrrrrrrr"> <param name="Level1_Line1" value="bbbbbggggg"> <param name="Level1_Line2" value="r::rrrr::r"> <param name="Level1_Line3" value="yyyyybbbbb"> <param name="Level1_Line4" value="rrr::::rrr"> <param name="Level1_Line5" value="gggggyyyyy"> <param name="Level1_Line6" value="r::rrrr::r"> <param name="Level1_Line7" value="bgybgrybgy"> // End of the applet tag </applet>
Class design of our editor
Now we'll start with the class design of our leveleditor, that will make it possible to read in a level.
This class will read in a certain number of levels defined in the "Levels_in_total" - parameter using the getParameter(parametername) - method. For every level in the HTML - file it will create an instance of the class Level (see below), and stores this created level in an array of instances of the class Level. Then the method readLevels(), which is doing the job of reading in all the levels, returns this array of Level instances to the calling class.
This class saves the values of the information strings Author, Levelname and description and holds the 2D array (stone_map) with the level elements. As I've already said, this array saves instances of the class Stone and, according to the definition of the level, in different colors. Each stone "knows" its color and its position in the grid. The class level has also a method to paint the whole level to the screen.
This class holds the color and the position of the stone in the applet area. The position (in pixel) is calculated in the constructor of the class, using the information in which column and row, the stone is placed in the stone_map array of the level instance. A stone instance also has it's own paint method to paint the stone in the right color and at the right position.
This class holds an array of instances of the class level. A level can be chosen out of this level array using the cursor keys and then the chosen level is painted to the screen. This is just a test class and has absolutly no meaning for the leveleditor.
To make the leveleditor more flexible without needing to change the sourcecode in general, all constant values (number of lines in one level, number of columns in one level, grid size...) are stored in the class C_LevelEditor. If you want to use more lines in your level... you just have to change the values of the corosponding constant. So this class holds some static constants and nothing else!