Pathfinding

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Pathfinding is an important piece of gameplay that is taken for granted until you try to make or edit a map. It is processed by a series of functions to ultimately determine how in-game actors can or cannot move on, around, or under objects in the map. This page is intended to do two things- to document the process that is run to generate the pathfinding data and to describe its impact on and how to work with it when map editing.

Contents

Step One - Floor and Ceiling Tracing

The first step in determining where an actor can move is to search for horizontal surfaces that can be stood on, then determining if there is a sufficient opening to accommodate the actor if it were to stand in that surface. This trace is meant to be ran once for every size actor that will be used in the game.

This is started by sending a 4 unit * 4 unit (in model units) box trace from the highest untraced part of the map down towards the base of the model. This box is centered at the center point for an actor of a given size, so a 2 cell * 2 cell actor (UGV) will have the tracing box centered in the corners of the four adjacent cells, where a 1 * 1 actor will trace through the center of each cell. If no cell is found, the cells traced are considered "bottomless" and no actor may enter.

When a potential surface is found, another box trace is prepared. This second trace starts at the found floor and extends up through the point above the floor that is the minimum distance that any actor may step up. (Step up refers to the maximum height that any given actor may "step up" or increase its height when traveling from one cell to another before the climb is too steep and is considered a wall, which currently is 20 units.) This test is to ensure that there is legroom for the actor to stand. If any brush is found, this floor is considered unusable and this whole step is restarted at a point beneath this found floor.

DISCUSSION ITEM: Should this legroom test be made wider? It currently is not the same size as the actor's width to prevent unwanted brush detections in irregular floors.

The third and final trace is from that minimum step up point to the top of the model. The first suitable brush found that would obstruct an actor from occupying the cell is marked as the ceiling. This ceiling must be a minimum specified height above the floor that was found, otherwise this process is repeated at a point beneath this found floor.

If the ceiling is acceptable, the cells that occupy the traces between the floor and the ceiling are assigned both floor and ceiling values. The values stored are relative to the base of the cell that the value is for, and are recorded in "step up" units. One "step up" unit is 4 model units. Any negative floor values indicate that the floor is at a point below the base of the current cell and that an actor would likely fall if that cell was entered. Any ceilings that are 16 or greater indicate that the brush was found in a cell above the current cell.

If no ceiling is found, the top of the model is treated as an acceptable ceiling, and the above applies.

If there are any cells that have a ceiling below them and a floor above them and contain no usable floor brushes, the cell is marked as "solid" by setting the ceiling value to 0.

Step Two - Wall (Passage) Tracing

Note: This section is highly outdated due to a new commit. However, a good discussion of what has changed can be found in this SourceForge tracker article. I will update this page to reflect those changes shortly. --Wilminator 06:00, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

The next step in pathfinding is to trace for walls. However, this is done by looking for the openings (passages) between cells. Just like floors and ceilings, the passages found can span multiple cells vertically. This trace is also meant to be ran once for every size actor that will be used in the game.

A couple of mathematical checks are made first to see if traces should even be made. If the current cell or the destination cell cannot be occupied, the whole test is skipped. The difference in height from the original cell into the destination cell may not exceed the maximum step up height, but the destination may be lower than the original cell.

DISCUSSION ITEM: I never separated out the minimum and maximum step up heights. We can do that, but it could make map compile times slower and maybe even buggier. Split them so we can have per-actor step up heights or make that a fixed value in game?

The first trace ran checks the space between the maximum step up height and the minimum opening size between the original cell and the destination cell. A tracing box with the actor's x and y dimensions is traced from the original cell to the destination at this height and must be completely void of obstructions. If any obstruction is detected, then there cannot be a passage here, and so this step is restarted in the cell *above*.

A series of traces is then ran from the maximum step up height to the higher of the two floors to look for the passage's lowest point. Next, a series of traces is ran from the minimum opening height to the lower ceiling. This difference is then calculated and stored as the size opening available for an actor to move through into the destination cell. If this opening extends into the cells above, the opening is recorded as if the bottom of the opening only dropped to the bottom of the current cell. If theory, we can now accommodate actors that are taller than one cell, as well as making some openings that only allow for crouching actors to pass through.

If no opening is available, a 0 is stored as the size of the opening.

Step Three - Path Finding

Now that there is enough data collected that describes the terrain, we can begin generating available paths from a place in the map. However, before I write about the process used to figure out where an actor can move, I want to talk about a few features taht can affect how an actor can move through the map.

The first feature to discuss is the concept of crouching. This feature allows an actor can now move while crouched and have the adjusted height of the actor used to determine if a passage big enough exists for the actor. The default pathfinding function will consider both the actors standing and crouching heights when determining where an actor can move. This allows for a path to be determined that will require an actor to crouch in order to get to a desired location, and enables an actor to crouch through an opening if it is the optimum path in terms of TUs used.

A new feature that has been added is flying actors. In order for an actor to be a flier, it must be able to fly and intend to fly. If the actor cannot fly or does not want to, then gravity affects its movements. To fly, one of two conditions must be met: the player must have turned on the actor's ability to fly (which then allows the actor to select airborne cells to move into) or a land-based destination is selected that may only be reached if the actor were to fly. By default, an actor will walk to the destination if possible as it will save TUs.

NOTE: The flying feature is partially written into the pathfinding code, but is not in the user interface or built into the game. At this time it is for reference only, and flying is turned off in the pathfinding code.

Another feature that has been added is the ladder feature. Brushes can be marked as ladders and used to climb up and down through the map. Actors that face the direction of the ladder brushes will not be affected by gravity while they face the direction of the ladder brush. If the actor climbs to the top of a ladder, the actor may stand and face any direction, but may only climb down when facing the direction of the ladder brush. There is the possibility of the actor using weapons while on the ladder, but may not turn to face the target unless a ladder brush would permit it.

NOTE: The ladder feature is written into the pathfinding code, but is turned off. The ladder attribute for brushes needs to be defined, as well as some additional housekeeping items for fully implementing ladders.

Please note that when a move is recorded, both the TUs needed to get to the cell, the direction moved to get into the cell, and the z coordinate from the originating cell is recorded. Also remember that there is different map data depending on the actor's size (not height) that was generated in the last two steps.

When determining if an actor can move from one cell into another, the first check is to ensure that we are not trying to see if a non-flying actor is trying to fly. We also check to see that the actor is not trying to fly while crouched. We then identify the TUs used to move in this direction. NOTE: A move may also indicate a crouching toggle or a fall.

Next, we check to see if we can stand from our crouch or move into a crouch and check to see if it is the least TU expensive move. If so we record the move. Either way, we are done if we we crouching or standing.

Next, if we are trying to fly, we only need to ensure that the direction we are flying in can accommodate the size of our actor. If so, then we check to ensure that this is the least TU expensive move, and record the move if it is. If we were trying to fly, we are now done.

If the actor is trying to walk, we also ensure that the passage is big enough for the actor to pass through. Additionally, we check to ensure that the heights of the floors do not differ too much. If the change in floor height is within the actor's step up height, then the actor is allowed to enter the cell. Also, if the actor needs to rise or sink one cell to stay on the ground and the floors are within this height, then the actor is adjusted vertically, too. (Think stairs.) However, if the actor would drop more then his step up height but less than the maximum falling height, The actor is allowed to enter the cell to begin a fall. Remember that if this is the least TU expensive move that the move is recorded.

There is a move for falling. If the actor can fall, this move will be allowed and the actor will then be able to fall one cell. Again, if this is the least TU expensive way to arrive in this cell, it will be recorded.

Additionally, there are checks for climbing up and down ladders. This code is disabled until we fully implement ladders.

After the main pathfinding function is called, the TUs needed to move or crouch into any location on the map, if possible, is available in a table. There is a pending request for an A* function to be written to only generate a path, if possible, between two points. This will be developed later.

Step Four - Moving

When actually moving, the data recorded in the table is used to develop the actual path traveled by an actor between two points. However, this data is stored inverted- it documents where an actor *came from* to get to the destination, and not where the actor *goes to* to get to the destination. This is fixed by starting at the destination in the table and "moving" backwards toward the starting cell. As we go, we also swap out the z coordinate data of the source for the z coordinate data for the destination, as an actor walking up or down stairs needs to stay on top of the model as it slopes into a higher or lower cell. Now at this point, we have the data needed to move from the starting cell to our destination.

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