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Grid Framework version 2.0.0 released

Category: release

After almost half a year in the making Grid Framework version 2.0 has been released on the Unity Asset Store. This is the first major release since the initial launch and will make Grid Framework easier to use, more powerful and more flexible with no extra performance overhead. Being a major version update this breaks compatibility with the version 1.x releases, but an upgrade guide is included in the user manual. If you still cannot upgrade to 2.0 you can still keep using 1.x, but the old releases will not be getting any new features anymore.

Version 1.x has been deprecated on the Asset Store, which means you can no longer purchase it, but you can still access it if you purchased it in the past. All existing customers can get a free upgrade to version 2.0, it really is that much better.

What is new

The changes are too many to list as a simple changelog, almost all of the code has been refactored. I will give you the highlights instead.

Separate grids and rederers

In the past a grid has had many jobs: be a grid, convert coordinates, show the grid and possibly even more. This lead to very few but very large classes with a large public API. It was hard for users to find what they were looking for and hard from me to maintain.

The tasks have now been split up: Grids are just grids and convert coordinates while designated renderer classes are responsible for computing how to display the grids. There can be more than one renderer type for every grid, such as the different shapes of hex grids. This leads to more classes, but every class is much smaller than the one big class it originates from.

A leaner and cleaner API

Some features had been added to Grid Framework because they seemed handy, but while re-evaluating the framework I found that a lot of them were redundant of leftovers from previous releases that had been kept in for the sake of compatibility. Take for examples size and renderFrom/renderTo, the size is really just a special case of setting renderFrom and renderTo to the same value with opposite sign.

This is just confusing and adds no real value for the user. If something can be fully replicated with one or two lines of code and no overhead it shouldn't be part of the framework. A major release is a good opportunity to throw out the old stuff.

Official extension methods

Throwing redundant API out is easy, but what about API that is actually useful but does not really fit the nature of the class? Take for example AlignTransform: aligning objects is very useful and not too trivial, but it does not really belong in the grid class. The C# language offers a feature for this: extension methods.

Extension methods need to be explicitly imported, but they are used just as if they were methods of the class they extend. Grid Framework comes with a number of useful standard extension methods grouped by task. You will now be able to find what you are looking for much faster.

A flexible rendering pipeline

In version 1.x the rendering process has been mostly "magic" where you set the values of the grid and then lines appear. In version 2.0 the rendering now passes through a number of stages and you can intercept any of them and take full control over the process from there.

Of course if you don't need that you can leave things as they are and it will just work as it did before.

Events fired by grids

We are now making use of the C# ability to use messages on certain events, i.e. when the properties of a grid change. This allows you to only do work when something has happened instead of having to poll the grid constantly.

This feature is used by renderers to only update the lines when the grid has actually changed.

Namespaces over prefixes
Older versions of Unity had trouble with MonoBehaviour subclasses in custom namespaces, forcing me to prefix every class with GF. Because Unity versions less than 5 are no longer supported the prefix has been dropped in favour of finely grained namespaces.
Write your own

Splitting up large classes has a very pleasant side effect: you can now write your own grids, renderers and extension methods. This makes it possible the extend the framework to your particular needs just the way you need it.

For version 2.0 the protected properties of classes are documented as well, you now have exactly the same power over the framework as I do without having to modify the original.

Unified directory

Last but not least, all of Grid Framework is now contained in one directory in your project. T here is nothing to clutter up your project anymore thanks to improvements to the engine in Unity 5 now that I was able to drop support for Unity 4.

In particular this means that the WebPlayerTemplates directory is no longer being abused to stop Unity from compiling JavaScript files as UnityScript.

File size comparison

When I originally announced the major version update I was looking at the sizes of the classes in terms of lines of code. Here is the old chart:

Class Code Comment Blank Total
GFGrid 520 512 104 1136
GFRectGrid 202 167 51 420
GFSphereGrid 356 615 92 1063
GFHexGrid 1257 1102 241 2600
GFPolarGrid 395 366 74 835

Even if we ignore the comments these classes are huge, especially GFHexGrid. How do the new grids fare in comparison?

Class Code Comment Blank Total Code reduction
Grid 37 69 5 111 93%
RectGrid 143 174 35 352 29%
SphereGrid 264 440 64 768 26%
HexGrid 443 944 108 1545 65%
PolarGrid 179 242 42 464 55%

The biggest reduction is in the abstract Grid class which is the basis of all grids. The massive reduction comes from factoring out the rendering task into the new flexible pipeline and the removal of a lot of redundant API. At this point Grid is just a skeleton of private and protected members.

HexGrid has had more than half of its code removed, the largest part of it was the different ways to render a hex grid which are now individual renderer classes. The class is still quite large though, because of the many coordinate systems it has. However, factoring out the coordinate system conversions out of grids would remove all functionality out of them.

The other grids have had less code reduction because they were already quite small, the large API was mostly just inherited from the parent class. PolarGrid has had a nice reduction because a lot of conversions have been made into extension methods.

If you are wondering why I have more lines of comments than actual code, the reason is that the API documentation is written inside the source files as special comments. On top of that the proper way of writing API comments is to use XML syntax. Doxygen can use other styles of comments, but last time I checked only XML comments would show up in MonoDevelop during auto completion.

Where to go from here

As far as features are concerned I think Grid Framework is very complete. I'm still open to suggestions, but I don't have any concrete plans for now. The next step is to step up my presentation, the introduction video is still from the initial release and the screenshots are very crude to put it nicely. I also need a better looking logo, made with vectors preferably. I have been experimenting with different illustration software, but none had to ability to generate a nice regular grid, I need some programmatic solution. Racket can generate vector graphics from code, so I'll try to look into that.

I would also like to replace the Doxygen-generated documentation with a Sphinx-based one. Doxygen is great for extracting documentation comments from source files, but the HTML output is very rigid. Sphinx lets me use Jinja templates, which is something I am already using for this website. This would require a C# domain for Sphinx, something I have been working on on the side, but it is nowhere near useful yet.

Another thing I would like to do is port Grid Framework to engines other than Unity. With version 2.0 the codebase is in a state that is clean enough that it could be re-written in another language. I'm not announcing anything yet, so don't hold your breath too long :)

If you have made it this far thank you for reading and I hope you will enjoy the improvements. If you like the product please leave a review, and if you don't like it tell me so I can make it better. Don't forget that you can have your games showcased on my website as well, I really want to see what you make with Grid Framework.