Graphics – New design philosophy


Data oriented design has been the new thing ever since it was rediscovered, and for good reason. The funny part is that in practice it is a regression in technology, back to the good old days of C, although the motivations may be different. So here is the main difference between OOP and DOD:

With OOP, an object is a singular instance of its data and methods. As OOP classes get more members, its size increases, and with it the stride between consecutive elements. In addition, an OOP solution has a tendency to allocate an instance of an object when it is required. OOP is somewhat intuitive to many modern programmers, because it attempts to explain the code in clear-text.

The DOD way is very different. It’s still okay to have classes and members, although care should be taken as to how those members are used. For example, if some code only requires members A and B, then it’s bad for the cache if there are members C and D between each element. So how do we still use an object-like mentality? Say we have a class A, and should use members a, b, and c. Instead of treating A as individual objects, we have a new class AHub, which is the manager of all the A instances. The AHub contains a, b and c as individual arrays. So how do we identify individual A objects? Well, they become an index into those arrays, and since those arrays are uniform in length, each index becomes a slice. Now it’s fine if for example a is another class or struct. There are many benefits to a design of this nature:

1. Objects become integers. This is nice because there is no need to include anything to handle an integer, and the implementation can easily be obfuscated in a shared library.
2. No need to keep track of pointers and their usage. When an ID is released nothing is really deleted, instead the ID is just recycled. However there are ways check if an ID is valid.
3. Ownership of objects is super-clear. The hub classes will indiscriminately be the ONLY class responsible for creating and releasing IDs.

An example of how different the code can be, here is an example:

// OOP method
Texture* tex = new Texture();

// DOD method
Id tex = Graphics::CreateTexture(width, height, format);

Now one of the things which may be slightly less comfortable is where you put all those functions?! Since all you are playing with are IDs, there are no member functions to call. So where is the function interface? Well, the hub of course! And since the hubs are interfaces to your objects, the hubs themselves are also responsible for the operations. And since the hubs are interfaces, they can just as well be singleton instances. And because you can make the hubs singletons, it also means you can have functions declared in the class namespace which belong to no class at all. So in the above example, we have the row:

Id tex = Graphics::CreateTexture(width, height, format);

, but since textures are managed in some singleton, what Graphics::CreateTexture is really doing is this:

namespace Graphics
Id CreateTexture(int width, int height, PixelFormat format)
    return TextureHub::CreateTexture(width, height, format);
} // namespace Graphics

Now the benefits is that all functions can go into the same namespace, Graphics, in this case, and the programmer does not need to keep track of whatever the the hub is called.


In Nebula, textures are treated as resources, and they go through a different system to be created, however the process is exactly the same. Textures are managed by a ResourcePool, like all resources, and the ResourcePools are also responsible for implementing the behavior of those resources. With this new system, smart pointers are not really needed that much, but one of the few cases where they are still in play is for those pools. The resources have a main hub, called the ResourceManager, and it contains a list of pools (which are also responsible for loading and saving). There are two families of pools, stream pool sand memory pools. Stream pools can act asynchronously, and fetches its data from some URI, for example a file. Memory pools are always immediate, and take their information from data already in memory.

Textures for example, can be either a file, like a .dds asset, or it can be a buffer mapped and loaded by some other system, like LibRocket. Memory pools have a specific set of functions to create a resource, and they are ReserveResource which creates a new empty resource and returns the Id, and UpdateResource which takes a pointer to some update structure which is then used to update the data.

The way a resource is created is through a call to the ResourceManager, which gets formatted like so:

Resources::ResourceId id = ResourceManager::Instance()->ReserveResource(reuse_name, tag, MemoryVertexBufferPool::RTTI);
struct VboUpdateInfo info = {...};
ResourceManager::Instance()->UpdateResource(id, &info);

reuse_name is a global resource Id which ensures that consecutive calls to ReserveResource will return the same Id. tag is a global tag, which will delete all resources under the same tag if DiscardByTag is called on that pool. The last argument is the type of pool which is supposed to reserve this resource. In order to make this easier for the programmer, we can create a function within the CoreGraphics namespace as such:

namespace CoreGraphics
CreateVertexBuffer(reuse_name, tag, numVerts, vertexComponents, dataPtr, dataPtrSize)
    Resources::ResourceId id = ResourceManager::Instance()->ReserveResource(reuse_name, tag, MemoryVertexBufferPool::RTTI);
    struct VboUpdateInfo info = {...};
    ResourceManager::Instance()->UpdateResource(id, &info);
} // namespace CoreGraphics

ReserveResource has to go through and find the MemoryVertexBufferPool first, so we can eliminate that too by just saving the pointer to the MemoryVertexBufferPool somewhere, perhaps in the same header. This is completely safe since the list of pools must initialized first, so their indices are already fixed.

Now all we have to do to get our functions is to include the CoreGraphics header, and we are all set! No need to know about nasty class names, everything is just in there, like a nice simple facade. Extending it is super easy, just declare the same namespace in some other file, and add new functions! Since we are always dealing with singletons and static hubs, none of this should be too complicated. It’s back to functions again! Now we can chose to have those functions declared in some header for each use, for example all texture-related functions could be in the texture.h header, or they could be exposed in a single include. Haven’t decided yet.

One of the big benefits is that while it’s quite complicated to expose a class to for example a scripting interface, exposing a header with simple functions is very simple. And since everything is handles, the user never has to know about the implementation, and is only exposed to the functions which they might want.


So I mentioned everything is returned as a handle, but a handle can contain much more information than just an integer. The resources is one such example, it contains the following:

1. First (leftmost) 32 bits is the unique id of the resource instance within the loader.
2. Next 24 bits is the resource id as specified by reuse_name for memory pools, or the path to the file for stream pools.
3. Last 8 bits is the id of the pool itself within the ResourceManager. This allows an Id to be immediately recognized as belonging to a certain pool, and the pool can be retrieved directly if required.

This system will keep an intrinsic track of the usage count, since the amount of times a resource is used is indicated by the unique resource instance number, and once all of those ids are returned, the resource itself is safe to discard.

All the graphics side objects are also handles. If we for example want to bind a vertex buffer to slot 0 with offset 0, we do this:

CoreGraphics::BindVertexBuffer(id, 0, 0);

Super simple, and that function will fetch the required information from id, and send it to the render device. While this all looks good here, there is still tons of work left to do in order to convert everything.

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