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Sponsored Feature: Designing the Framework of a Parallel Game Engine
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Sponsored Feature: Designing the Framework of a Parallel Game Engine

February 25, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

The Managers

The managers provide global functionality within the engine and are implemented as singletons; that is, only one instantiation is made available for each type of manager. Managers are singletons because duplication of their resources can cause redundancy, leading to potential processing performance implications. Singletons provide common functionality that is usable across all the systems.

Task Manager

The task manager handles the scheduling of a system's task within its thread pool. The thread pool creates one thread per processor to get the best possible n-way scaling to processors. The task manager also prevents over-subscription, which avoid unnecessary task switching within the OS.

The task manager receives from the scheduler its list of tasks to execute, as well as which tasks to wait for execution to complete. The scheduler gets its list of tasks to execute from the different systems themselves. Each system has only one primary task; this is called functional decomposition. Each primary task can issue as many sub-tasks as it wants for operating on its data; this is called data decomposition.

Figure 6 shows how the task manager could issue tasks onto threads for execution on a quad-core (four-thread) system:

Figure 6. An example of the task manager's four-thread pool. 

Aside from access by the scheduler for issuing primary tasks, the task manager also has an initialization mode in which it calls systems serially from each thread so that the systems can initialize any local storage they require for execution.

For help getting started on implementing a task manager, refer to Appendix D.

State Manager

State management is part of the messaging mechanism that tracks and distributes change notifications made by a system to other interested systems. To reduce unnecessary change notification broadcasts, systems must register with the state manager for the changes they want to receive. This mechanism is based on the observer design pattern, which is described in more detail in Appendix C. The basic premise of the observer design pattern is an observer observing a subject for any changes, with a change controller acting as a mediator between the two.

Here's how the mechanism works:

1. The observer registers the subject it wants to observe with the change controller (or state manager).

2. When the subject has changed one of its properties, it sends a change notification to the change controller.

3. The change controller, when requested by the framework, distributes the subject's change notification to the observer.

4. The observer queries the subject for the actual changed data.

The free step mode of operation introduces extra complexities into this mechanism: (1) The data must be included with the change notification because a system that has modified shared data may still be executing and therefore cannot be queried for its value. (2) If a system is not yet ready to receive the changes at the end of a clock tick, the state manager will need to hold onto that data until all systems registered for it are finally ready to receive it.

The framework implements two state managers-one for handling changes on the scene level and another for handling changes on the object level. Because the scenes and objects, for the most part, have different messages that are relevant to them, separating them removes the need to process unnecessary messages. However, any object changes that are relevant to the scene will be registered with the scene so that it will receive those change notifications.

To remove any synchronization overhead, the state manager has a change queue for each thread created by the task manager. No synchronization is required when accessing the queue. The queues can then be merged after execution using the method described in the Data Synchronization section.

Although it seems that change notifications would have to be distributed serially, this action can be parallelized. When systems are executing their tasks they operate across all their objects. For example, the physics system is moving around objects, checking for collisions, and setting new forces as physics objects interact with each other. During change notification, a system's object is no longer interacting with other objects from its own system, but is now interacting with other extensions in the universal object it is associated with. This means that universal objects are now independent of each other, so each universal object can be updated in parallel. Take note, though, that there may be some corner cases that need to be accounted for with synchronization. Still, something that once looked hopelessly serial can now get at least some parallelization.

Figure 7. An internal UObject change notification. 

Service Manager

The service manager provides access to functionality to systems that are external to their implementations. The service manager does not provide this directly but has the interfaces defined for it, and any systems that implement the exposed interface functionality will register themselves with the service manager.

Only a small set of services is available because the design of the engine is to keep the systems running as discretely as possible. Also, the systems are not free to provide any service they so choose, but only the ones that the service manager provides.

The service manager also gives the different systems access to each other's properties. Properties are values of each system that are specific to a system and are therefore not passed in the messaging system. Examples: the screen resolution of the graphics system or the gravity value of the physics system. The service manager gives the systems access to these properties without giving the systems direct control over them. The property changes are queued and are issued only during serial execution. Accessing another system's properties is a rare occurrence and should not be used as common practice. This is made available for properties or functionality that does not change from frame to frame. Examples: the console window turning on and off the wireframe mode in the graphics system or the user interface system changing the screen resolution as requested by the user.

Figure 8. An example of the service manager. 

Environment Manager

The environment manager provides the functionality for the engine's running environment. The function groups provided by the environment manager are:

  • Variables. The variable names and data that are shared across the entire engine. The variables are usually set upon loading a scene or user settings, and are queried in the engine and by the different systems.

  • Execution. Information about the execution, such as the end of a scene or the program. This can be set or queried by either the engine or the systems.

Platform Manager

The platform manager handles all OS call abstraction and also provides added functionality beyond just a simple abstraction. This gives the benefit of encapsulating several common functional steps within one call, instead of all the callers having to implement them or know about the nuances of the OS calls.

An example is the call in the platform manager to load a system's dynamic library. In addition to loading a system in, the platform manager also gets the function entry points and then calls the library's initialization function. It also keeps around a handle to the library, unloading it upon exiting the engine.

The platform manager provides information about the processor, such as which instructions sets are supported, frequency, and cache sizes. The platform manager also initializes some of the behavior for the executing process, such as the operation of floating-point denormals (or subnormal numbers).

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