Procedural Level Generation in Games Tutorial: Part 1

Kim Pedersen
Learn how to procedurally generate levels in games!

Learn how to procedurally generate levels in games!

Note from Ray: This is a brand new Sprite Kit tutorial released as part of the iOS 7 Feast. Enjoy!

Most games you play have carefully designed levels that always remain the same. Experienced players know exactly what happens at any given time, when to jump and what button to press. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does to some extent reduce the game’s lifespan with a given player. Why play the same level over and over again?

One way to increase your game’s replay value is to allow the game to generate its content programmatically – also known as adding procedurally generated content.

In this tutorial, you will learn to create tiled dungeon-like levels using an algorithm called the Drunkard Walk. You will also create a reusable Map class with several properties for controlling a level’s generation.

This tutorial uses Sprite Kit, a framework introduced with iOS 7. You will also need Xcode 5. If you are not already familiar with Sprite Kit, I recommend you read the Sprite Kit Tutorial for Beginners on this site. For readers who are not yet ready to switch to Sprite Kit, fear not. You can easily rewrite the code in this tutorial to use Cocos2d.

Getting Started

Before getting started, let’s clear up one possible misconception: procedural should not be confused with random. Random means that you have little control over what happens, which should not be the case in game development.

Even in procedurally generated levels, your player should be able to reach the exit. What would be the fun of playing an endless runner like Canabalt if you got to a gap between buildings that would be impossible to jump? Or playing a platformer where the exit is in a place you cannot reach? In this sense, it might be even harder to design a procedurally generated level than to carefully craft your level in Tiled.

I assume, being the bad-ass coder that you are, that you scoff at such cautionary statements. To get started, download the starter project for this tutorial. Once downloaded, unzip the file and open the project in Xcode, and build and run. You should now see a screen similar to this:

Procedural Level Generation Starter Project

Procedural Level Generation Starter Project

The starter project contains the basic building blocks of the game, including all necessary artwork, sound effects and music. Take note of the following important classes:

  • Map: Creates a basic 10×10 square that functions as the level for the game.
  • MapTiles: A helper class that manages a 2D grid of tiles. I will explain this class later in the tutorial.
  • DPad: Provides a basic implementation of a joystick to control the player’s character, a cat.
  • MyScene: Sets up the Sprite Kit scene and processes game logic.

Spend a few moments getting familiar with the code in the starter project before moving on. There are comments to help you understand how the code works. Also, try playing the game by using the DPad at the bottom-left corner to move the cat to the exit. Notice how the start and exit points change every time the level begins.

The Beginnings of a New Map

If you played the starter game more than once, you probably discovered that the game isn’t very fun. As Jordan Fisher writes in GamaSutra, game levels, especially procedurally generated ones, need to nail these three criteria to be successful:

  • Feasibility: Can you beat the level?
  • Interesting design: Do you want to beat it?
  • Skill level: Is it a good challenge?

Dungeon Master

Your current level fails two of these three criteria: The design is not very interesting, as the outer perimeter never changes, and it is too easy to win, as you can always see where the exit is when the level starts. Hence, to make the level more fun, you need to generate a better dungeon and make the exit harder to find.

The first step is to change the way you generate the map. To do so, you’ll delete the Map class and replace it with a new implementation.

Select Map.h and Map.m in the Project Navigator, press Delete and then select Move to Trash.

Next go to File\New\New File…, choose the iOS\Cocoa Touch\Objective-C class and click Next. Name the class Map, make it a Subclass of SKNode and click Next. Make sure the ProceduralLevelGeneration target is selected and click Create.

Open Map.h and add the following code to the @interface section:

@property (nonatomic) CGSize gridSize;
@property (nonatomic, readonly) CGPoint spawnPoint;
@property (nonatomic, readonly) CGPoint exitPoint;
+ (instancetype) mapWithGridSize:(CGSize)gridSize;
- (instancetype) initWithGridSize:(CGSize)gridSize;

This is the interface that MyScene expects for the Map class. You specify here where to spawn the player and exit, and create some initializers to construct the class given a certain size.

Implement these in Map.m by adding this code to the @implementation section:

+ (instancetype) mapWithGridSize:(CGSize)gridSize
   return [[self alloc] initWithGridSize:gridSize];
- (instancetype) initWithGridSize:(CGSize)gridSize
   if (( self = [super init] ))
      self.gridSize = gridSize;
      _spawnPoint = CGPointZero;
      _exitPoint = CGPointZero;
   return self;

Here you add a stub implementation that simply sets the player spawn and exit points to CGPointZero. This will allow you to have a simple starting point – you’ll fill these out to be more interesting later.

Build and run, and you should see the following:

Procedural Level Generation 2

Gone are the borders of the map and the feline hero gets sucked right into the exit, making the game unplayable – or really, really easy if you are a glass-half-full kind of person. Not really the a-maze-ing (pun intended) game you were hoping for, right? Well, time to put down some floors. Enter the Drunkard Walk algorithm.

The Drunkard Walk Algorithm

The Drunkard Walk algorithm is a kind of random walk and one of the simplest dungeon generation algorithms around. In its simplest implementation, the Drunkard Walk algorithm works as follows:

Drukard Walk Principle

The principle of the Drunkard Walk algorithm.

  1. Choose a random start position in a grid and mark it as a floor.
  2. Pick a random direction to move (Up, Down, Left or Right).
  3. Move in that direction and mark the position as a floor, unless it already is a floor.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until a desired number of floors have been placed in the grid.

Nice and simple, eh? Basically, it is a loop that runs until a desired number of floors have been placed in the map. To allow the map generation to be as flexible as possible, you will start implementing the algorithm by adding a new property to hold the number of tiles to generate.

Open Map.h and add the following property:

@property (nonatomic) NSUInteger maxFloorCount;

Next, open Map.m and add the following method:

- (void) generateTileGrid
    CGPoint startPoint = CGPointMake(self.gridSize.width / 2, self.gridSize.height / 2);
    NSUInteger currentFloorCount = 0;
    while ( currentFloorCount < self.maxFloorCount )

The above code begins to implement step 1 in the basic Drunkard Walk algorithm loop, but there is one significant difference. Can you spot it?

Solution Inside: Solution SelectShow

generateTileGrid begins by setting a start position and then enters a loop that runs until the currentFloorCount is equal to the desired number of floors defined by the maxFloorCount property.

When you initialize a Map object, you should invoke generateTileGrid to ensure that you create the grid. So, add the following code to initWithGridSize: in Map.m, after the _exitPoint = CGPointZero line:

[self generateTileGrid];

Build and run to make sure the game compiles as expected. Nothing has changed since the last run. The cat is still sucked into the exit and there are still no walls. You still need to write the code to generate the floor, but before you do that, you need to understand the MapTiles helper class.

Managing the Tile Grid

The MapTiles class is essentially a wrapper for a dynamic C array that will manage a 2D grid for the Map class.

Note: If you’re wondering why I choose to use a C array instead of an NSMutableArray, it comes down to personal preference. I generally do not like boxing primitive data types like integers into objects and then unboxing them again to use them, and since the MapTiles grid is just an array of integers, I prefer a C array.

The MapTiles class is already in your project. If you’ve taken a glance through and feel you understand how it works well, feel free to skip ahead to the next section, Generating the Floor.

But if you’re unsure about how it works, keep reading to learn how to recreate it step-by-step, and I’ll explain how it works along the way.

To start, select MapTiles.h and MapTiles.m in the Project Navigator, press Delete and then select Move to Trash.

Go to File\New\File…, choose the iOS\Cocoa Touch\Objective-C class and click Next. Name the class MapTiles, make it a subclass of NSObject and click Next. Be sure the ProceduralLevelGeneration target is selected and click Create.

In order to make it easy to identify the type of tile, add this enum below the #import statement in MapTiles.h:

typedef NS_ENUM(NSInteger, MapTileType)
    MapTileTypeInvalid = -1,
    MapTileTypeNone = 0,
    MapTileTypeFloor = 1,
    MapTileTypeWall = 2,

If later on you want to extend the MapTiles class with further tile types, you should put those in this MapTileType enum.

Note: Notice the integer values you assign to each of the enums. They weren’t picked at random. Look in the tiles.atlas texture atlas and click the 1.png file, and you will see that it is the texture for the floor just as MapTileTypeFloor has a value of 1. This makes it easy to convert the 2D grid array into tiles later on.

Open MapTiles.h and add the following properties and method prototypes between @interface and @end:

@property (nonatomic, readonly) NSUInteger count;
@property (nonatomic, readonly) CGSize gridSize;
- (instancetype) initWithGridSize:(CGSize)size;
- (MapTileType) tileTypeAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate;
- (void) setTileType:(MapTileType)type at:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate;
- (BOOL) isEdgeTileAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate;
- (BOOL) isValidTileCoordinateAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate;

You’ve added two read-only properties: count provides the total number of tiles in the grid and gridSize holds the width and height of the grid in tiles. You’ll find these properties handy later on. I’ll explain the five methods as you implement the code.

Next, open MapTiles.m and add the following class extension right above the @implementation line:

@interface MapTiles ()
@property (nonatomic) NSInteger *tiles;

This code adds a private property tiles to the class. This is a pointer to the array that holds information about the tile grid.

Now implement initWithGridSize: in MapTiles.m after the @implementation line:

- (instancetype) initWithGridSize:(CGSize)size
    if (( self = [super init] ))
        _gridSize = size;
        _count = (NSUInteger) size.width * size.height;
        self.tiles = calloc(self.count, sizeof(NSInteger));
        NSAssert(self.tiles, @"Could not allocate memory for tiles");
    return self;

You initialize the two properties in initWithGridSize:. Since the total number of tiles in the grid is equal to the width of the grid multiplied by the grid height, you assign this value to the count property. Using this count, you allocate the memory for the tiles array with calloc, which ensures all variables in the array are initialized to 0, equivalent to the enumerated variable MapTileTypeNone.

As ARC will not manage memory allocated using calloc or malloc, you should release the memory whenever you deallocate the MapTiles object. Before initWithGridSize: but after @implementation, add the dealloc method:

- (void) dealloc
    if ( self.tiles )
        self.tiles = nil;

dealloc frees the memory when you deallocate an object and resets the tiles property pointer to avoid it pointing to an array that no longer exists in memory.

Apart from the construction and deconstruction, the MapTiles class also has a few helper methods for managing tiles. But before you start implementing these methods, you need to understand how the tiles array exists in memory versus how it is organized in a grid.

Memory layout when using calloc

Figure 1: How calloc organizes the variables in memory. Each number is the index of the variable in memory.

When you allocate memory for the tiles using calloc, it reserves n bytes for each array item, depending on the data type, and puts them end-to-end in a flat structure in memory (see figure 1).

This organization of tiles is hard to work with in practice. It is much easier to find a tile by using an (x,y) pair of coordinates, as illustrated in Figure 2, so that is how the MapTiles class should organize the tile grid.

Tile grid layout

Figure 2: How the MapTiles class organizes the variables in memory.

Thankfully, it is very easy to calculate the index of a tile in memory from an (x,y) pair of coordinates since you know the size of the grid from the gridSize property. The numbers outside the square in Figure 2 illustrate the x- and y-coordinates, respectively. For example, the (x,y) coordinates (1,2) in the grid will be index 9 of the array. You calculate this using the formula:

index in memory = y * gridSize.width + x

With this knowledge, you can start implementing a method that will calculate an index from a pair of grid coordinates. For convenience, you will also create a method to ensure the grid coordinates are valid.

In MapTiles.m, add the following new methods:

- (BOOL) isValidTileCoordinateAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate
    return !( tileCoordinate.x < 0 ||
              tileCoordinate.x >= self.gridSize.width ||
              tileCoordinate.y < 0 ||
              tileCoordinate.y >= self.gridSize.height );
- (NSInteger) tileIndexAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate
    if ( ![self isValidTileCoordinateAt:tileCoordinate] )
        NSLog(@"Not a valid tile coordinate at %@", NSStringFromCGPoint(tileCoordinate));
        return MapTileTypeInvalid;
    return ((NSInteger)tileCoordinate.y * (NSInteger)self.gridSize.width + (NSInteger)tileCoordinate.x);

isValidTileCoordinateAt: tests if a given pair of coordinates is within the bounds of the grid. Notice how the method checks to see if it is outside of the bounds and then returns the opposite result, so if the coordinates are outside the bounds, it returns NO, and if they are not outside of the bounds, it returns YES. This is faster than checking if the coordinates are within the bounds, which would require the conditions to be AND-ed together instead of OR-ed.

tileIndexAt: uses the equation discussed above to calculate an index from a pair of coordinates, but before doing this, it tests if the coordinates are valid. If not, it returns MapTileTypeInvalid, which has a value of -1.

With the math in place, it is now possible to easily create the methods to return or set the tile type. So, add the following two methods after initWithGridSize: in MapTiles.m:

- (MapTileType) tileTypeAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate
    NSInteger tileArrayIndex = [self tileIndexAt:tileCoordinate];
    if ( tileArrayIndex == -1 )
        return MapTileTypeInvalid;
    return self.tiles[tileArrayIndex];
- (void) setTileType:(MapTileType)type at:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate
    NSInteger tileArrayIndex = [self tileIndexAt:tileCoordinate];
    if ( tileArrayIndex == -1 )
    self.tiles[tileArrayIndex] = type;

The two methods calculate the index from the pair of coordinates passed using the tileIndexAt: method you just added and then either set or return the MapTileType from the tiles array.

Last but not least, add a method to determine if a given pair of tile coordinates is at the edge of the map. You’ll later use this method to ensure you do not place any floors at the edge of the grid, thereby making it impossible to encapsulate all floors behind walls.

- (BOOL) isEdgeTileAt:(CGPoint)tileCoordinate
    return ((NSInteger)tileCoordinate.x == 0 ||
            (NSInteger)tileCoordinate.x == (NSInteger)self.gridSize.width - 1 ||
            (NSInteger)tileCoordinate.y == 0 ||
            (NSInteger)tileCoordinate.y == (NSInteger)self.gridSize.height - 1);

Referring to Figure 2 above, notice that border tiles would be any tile with an x-coordinate of 0 or gridSize.width – 1, since the grid indices are zero-based. Equally, an y-coordinate of 0 or gridSize.height – 1 would be a border tile.

Finally, when testing it’s nice to be able to see what your procedural generation is actually generating. Add the following implementation of description, which will output the grid to the console for easy debugging:

- (NSString *) description
    NSMutableString *tileMapDescription = [NSMutableString stringWithFormat:@"<%@ = %p | \n",
                                           [self class], self];
    for ( NSInteger y = ((NSInteger)self.gridSize.height - 1); y >= 0; y-- )
        [tileMapDescription appendString:[NSString stringWithFormat:@"[%i]", y]];
        for ( NSInteger x = 0; x < (NSInteger)self.gridSize.width; x++ )
            [tileMapDescription appendString:[NSString stringWithFormat:@"%i", 
                                              [self tileTypeAt:CGPointMake(x, y)]]];
        [tileMapDescription appendString:@"\n"];
    return [tileMapDescription stringByAppendingString:@">"];

This method simply loops through the grid to create a string representation of the tiles.

That was a lot of text and code to take in, but what you’ve built will make the procedural level generation much easier, since you can now abstract the grid handling from the level generation. Now it’s time to lay down some ground.

Generating the Floor

You’re going to place ground or floor tiles procedurally in the map using the Drunkard Walk algorithm discussed above. In Map.m, you already implemented part of the algorithm so that it finds a random start position (step 1) and loops a desired number of times (step 4). Now you need to implement steps 2 and 3 to generate the actual floor tiles within the loop you created.

To make the Map class a bit more flexible, you’ll start by adding a dedicated method to generate a procedural map. This will also be handy if you later need to regenerate the map.

Open Map.h and add the following method declaration to the interface:

- (void) generate;

In Map.m, add the following import to the top of the file:

#import "MapTiles.h"

Add the following code right above the @implementation line:

@interface Map ()
@property (nonatomic) MapTiles *tiles;

The class extension holds one private property, which is a pointer to a MapTiles object. You’ll use this object for easy grid handling in the map generation. You’re keeping it private since you don’t want to change the MapTiles object from outside the Map class.

Next, implement the generate method in Map.m:

- (void) generate
    self.tiles = [[MapTiles alloc] initWithGridSize:self.gridSize];
    [self generateTileGrid];

First the method allocates and initializes a MapTiles object, then it generates a new tile grid by calling generateTileGrid.

In Map.m, go to initWithGridSize: and delete this line:

[self generateTileGrid];

You deleted that line because map generation should no longer occur immediately when you create a Map object.

It’s time to add the code to generate the floor of the dungeon. Do you remember the remaining steps of the Drunkard Walk algorithm? You choose a random direction and then place a floor at the new coordinates.

The first step is to add a convenience method to provide a random number between two values. Add the following method in Map.m:

- (NSInteger) randomNumberBetweenMin:(NSInteger)min andMax:(NSInteger)max
    return min + arc4random() % (max - min);

You’ll use this method to return a random number between min and max, both inclusive.

Return to generateTileGrid and replace its contents with the following:

CGPoint startPoint = CGPointMake(self.tiles.gridSize.width / 2, self.tiles.gridSize.height / 2);
// 1
[self.tiles setTileType:MapTileTypeFloor at:startPoint];
NSUInteger currentFloorCount = 1;
// 2
CGPoint currentPosition = startPoint;
while ( currentFloorCount < self.maxFloorCount )
  // 3
  NSInteger direction = [self randomNumberBetweenMin:1 andMax:4];
  CGPoint newPosition;
  // 4
  switch ( direction )
    case 1: // Up
      newPosition = CGPointMake(currentPosition.x, currentPosition.y - 1);
    case 2: // Down
      newPosition = CGPointMake(currentPosition.x, currentPosition.y + 1);
    case 3: // Left
      newPosition = CGPointMake(currentPosition.x - 1, currentPosition.y);
    case 4: // Right
      newPosition = CGPointMake(currentPosition.x + 1, currentPosition.y);
  if([self.tiles isValidTileCoordinateAt:newPosition] &&
     ![self.tiles isEdgeTileAt:newPosition] &&
     [self.tiles tileTypeAt:newPosition] == MapTileTypeNone)
    currentPosition = newPosition;
    [self.tiles setTileType:MapTileTypeFloor at:currentPosition];
// 6
_exitPoint = currentPosition;
// 7
NSLog(@"%@", [self.tiles description]);

This is what the code is doing:

  1. It marks the tile at coordinates startPoint in the grid as a floor tile and therefore initializes currentFloorCount with a count of 1.
  2. currentPosition is the current position in the grid. The code initializes it to the startPoint coordinates where the Drunkard Walk algorithm will start.
  3. Here the code chooses a random number between 1 and 4, providing a direction to move (1 = UP, 2 = DOWN, 3 = LEFT, 4 = RIGHT).
  4. Based on the random number chosen in the above step, the code calculates a new position in the grid.
  5. If the newly calculated position is valid and not an edge, and does not already contain a tile, this part adds a floor tile at that position and increments currentFloorCount by 1.
  6. Here the code sets the last tile placed to the exit point. This is the goal of the map.
  7. Lastly, the code prints the generated tile grid to the console.

Build and run. The game runs with no visible changes, but it fails to write the tile grid to the console. Why is that?

Solution Inside: Solution SelectShow

To fix this, go to MyScene.m and in initWithSize:, replace the line = [[Map alloc] init] with the following: = [[Map alloc] initWithGridSize:CGSizeMake(48, 48)]; = 64;
[ generate];

This generates a new map with a grid size of 48 by 48 tiles and a desired maximum floor count of 64. Once you set the maxFloorCount property, you generate the map.

Build and run again, and you should see an output that resembles something similar to, but probably not exactly like (remember, it’s random), the following:


HOORAY!! You have generated a procedural level. Pat yourself on the back and get ready to show your masterpiece on the big – or small – screen.

Converting a Tile Grid into Tiles

Plotting your level in the console is a good way to debug your code but a poor way to impress your player. The next step is to convert the grid into actual tiles.

The starter project already includes a texture atlas containing the tiles. To load the atlas into memory, add a private property to the class extension of Map.m, as well as a property to hold the size of a tile:

@property (nonatomic) SKTextureAtlas *tileAtlas;
@property (nonatomic) CGFloat tileSize;

Initialize these two properties in initWithGridSize:, just after setting the value of _exitPoint:

self.tileAtlas = [SKTextureAtlas atlasNamed:@"tiles"];
NSArray *textureNames = [self.tileAtlas textureNames];
SKTexture *tileTexture = [self.tileAtlas textureNamed:(NSString *)[textureNames firstObject]];
self.tileSize = tileTexture.size.width;

After loading the texture atlas, the above code reads the texture names from the atlas. It uses the first name in the array to load a texture and stores that texture’s width as tileSize. This code assumes textures in the atlas are squares (same width and height) and are all of the same size.

Note: Using a texture atlas reduces the number of draw calls necessary to render the map. Every draw call adds overhead to the system because Sprite Kit has to perform extra processing to set up the GPU for each one. By using a single texture atlas, the entire map may be drawn in as few as a single draw call. The exact number will depend on several things, but in this app, those won’t come into play. To learn more, check out Chapter 25 in iOS Games by Tutorials, Performance: Texture Atlases.

Still inside Map.m, add the following method:

- (void) generateTiles
    // 1
    for ( NSInteger y = 0; y < self.tiles.gridSize.height; y++ )
        for ( NSInteger x = 0; x < self.tiles.gridSize.width; x++ )
            // 2
            CGPoint tileCoordinate = CGPointMake(x, y);
            // 3
            MapTileType tileType = [self.tiles tileTypeAt:tileCoordinate];
            // 4
            if ( tileType != MapTileTypeNone )
                // 5
                SKTexture *tileTexture = [self.tileAtlas textureNamed:[NSString stringWithFormat:@"%i", tileType]];
                SKSpriteNode *tile = [SKSpriteNode spriteNodeWithTexture:tileTexture];
                // 6
                tile.position = tileCoordinate;
                // 7
                [self addChild:tile];

generateTiles converts the internal tile grid into actual tiles by:

  1. Two for loops, one for x and one for y, iterate through each tile in the grid.
  2. This converts the current x- and y-values into a CGPoint structure for the position of the tile within the grid.
  3. Here the code determines the type of tile at this position within the grid.
  4. If the tile type is not an empty tile, then the code proceeds with creating the tile.
  5. Based on the tile type, the code loads the respective tile texture from the texture atlas and assigns it to a SKSpriteNode object. Remember that the tile type (integer) is the same as the file name of the texture, as explained earlier.
  6. The code sets the position of the tile to the tile coordinate.
  7. Then it adds the created tile node as a child of the map object. This is done to ensure proper scrolling by grouping the tiles to the map where they belong.

Finally, make sure the grid is actually turned into tiles by inserting the following line into the generate method in Map.m, after [self generateTileGrid]:

[self generateTiles];

Build and run — but the result is not as expected. The game incorrectly places the tiles in a big pile, as illustrated here:

Procedural Level Generation 6

The reason is straightforward: When positioning the tile, the current code sets the tile’s position to the position within the internal grid and not relative to screen coordinates.

You need a new method to convert grid coordinates into screen coordinates, so add the following to Map.m:

- (CGPoint) convertMapCoordinateToWorldCoordinate:(CGPoint)mapCoordinate
    return CGPointMake(mapCoordinate.x * self.tileSize,  (self.tiles.gridSize.height - mapCoordinate.y) * self.tileSize);

By multiplying the grid (map) coordinate by the tile size, you calculate the horizontal position. The vertical position is slightly more complicated. Remember that the coordinates (0,0) in Sprite Kit represent the bottom-left corner. In the tile grid, the position of (0,0) is the top-left corner (see Figure 2 above). Hence, in order to correctly position the tile, you need to invert its vertical placement. You do this by subtracting the y-position of the tile in the grid by the total height of the grid and multiplying it by the tile size.

Revisit generateTiles and change the line that sets tile.position to the following:

tile.position = [self convertMapCoordinateToWorldCoordinate:CGPointMake(tileCoordinate.x, tileCoordinate.y)];

Also, change the line that sets _exitPoint in generateTileGrid to the following:

_exitPoint = [self convertMapCoordinateToWorldCoordinate:currentPosition];

Build and run – oh no, where did the tiles go?


Well, they are still there – they’re just outside the visible area. You can easily fix this by changing the player’s spawn position. You will apply a simple yet effective strategy where you set the spawn point to the position of the startPoint in generateTileGrid.

Go to generateTileGrid and add the following line at the very bottom of the method:

_spawnPoint = [self convertMapCoordinateToWorldCoordinate:startPoint];

The spawn point is the pair of screen coordinates where the game should place the player at the beginning of the level. Hence, you calculate the world coordinates from the grid coordinates.

Build and run, and take the cat for a walk around the procedural world. Maybe you will even find the exit?


Try playing around with different grid sizes and max number of floor tiles to see how it affects the map generation.

One obvious issue now is that the cat can stray from the path. And we all know what happens when cats stray, right? All the songbirds of the world shiver. So, time to put up some walls.

Adding Walls

Open Map.m and add the following method:

- (void) generateWalls
    // 1
    for ( NSInteger y = 0; y < self.tiles.gridSize.height; y++ )
        for ( NSInteger x = 0; x < self.tiles.gridSize.width; x++ )
            CGPoint tileCoordinate = CGPointMake(x, y);
            // 2
            if ( [self.tiles tileTypeAt:tileCoordinate] == MapTileTypeFloor )
                for ( NSInteger neighbourY = -1; neighbourY < 2; neighbourY++ )
                    for ( NSInteger neighbourX = -1; neighbourX < 2; neighbourX++ )
                        if ( !(neighbourX == 0 && neighbourY == 0) )
                            CGPoint coordinate = CGPointMake(x + neighbourX, y + neighbourY);
                            // 3
                            if ( [self.tiles tileTypeAt:coordinate] == MapTileTypeNone )
                                [self.tiles setTileType:MapTileTypeWall at:coordinate];
Figure 3 How to identify surrounding tiles in a grid

Figure 3: How to identify surrounding tiles in a grid.

  1. The strategy applied by generateWalls is to first loop through each tile of the grid.
  2. It does this until it identifies a floor tile (MapTileTypeFloor).
  3. It then checks the surrounding tiles and marks these as walls (MapTileTypeWall) if no tile is placed there already (MapTileTypeNone).

The inner for loops (after //2) might seem a bit strange at first. It looks at each tile that surrounds the tile at coordinate (x,y). Take a peek at Figure 3 and see how the tiles you want are one less, equal to, and one more than the original index. The two for loop gives just that, starting at -1 and looping through to +1. Adding one of these integers to the original index inside the for loop, you find each neighbor.

What if the tile you’re checking is at the border of the grid? In that case, this check would fail, as the index would be invalid, correct?

Yes, but luckily this situation is mitigated by the tileTypeAt: method on the MapTiles class. If an invalid coordinate is sent to tileTypeAt:, the method will return a MapTileTypeInvalid value. Consider the line after //3 in generateWalls and notice it only changes the tile to a wall tile if the returned tile type is MapTileTypeNone.

To generate the wall tiles, go back to generate in Map.m and add the following line of code after [self generateTileGrid] and before [self generateTiles]:

[self generateWalls];

Build and run. You should now see wall tiles surrounding the floor tiles. Try moving the cat around – notice anything strange?

Procedural Level Generation 8

Walls are kind of pointless if you can walk right through them. There are several ways to fix this problem, one of which is described in the Collisions and Collectables: How To Make a Tile-Based Game with Cocos2D 2.X, Part 2 tutorial on this site. In this tutorial you will do it a bit differently by using the build-in physics engine in Sprite Kit. Everyone likes new tech, after all.

Procedural Collision Handling: Theory

There are many ways you could turn wall tiles into collision objects. The most obvious is to add a physicsBody to each wall tile, but that is not the most efficient solution. Another way, as described by Steffen Itterheim, is to use the Moore Neighborhood algorithm, but that is a tutorial in its own right.

Instead, you will implement a fairly simple method where connected wall segments are combined into a single collision object. Figure 4 illustrates this method.

Figure 4 Using a very simple method the walls are turned into batched collision wall objects

Figure 4: Using a very simple method, the walls are turned into batched collision wall objects.

The method will iterate over all tiles in the map using the following logic:

  1. Starting at (0,0), iterate the tile grid until you find a wall tile.
  2. When you find a wall tile, mark the tile grid position. This is the starting point for the collision wall.
  3. Move to the next tile in the grid. If this is also a wall tile, then increase the number of tiles in the collision wall by 1.
  4. Continue step 3 until you reach a non-wall tile or the end of the row.
  5. When you reach a non-tile or the end of the row, create a collision wall from the starting point with a size of the number of tiles in the collision wall.
  6. Start the iteration again, go back to step 2 and repeat until you’ve turned all wall tiles in the grid into collision walls.

Note: The method described here is very basic and could be optimized further. For instance, you could iterate the map both horizontally and vertically. Iterating the map horizontally would omit all collision walls that are the size of one tile. You would then pick these up when iterating the map vertically, further decreasing the number of collision objects, which is always a good thing.

It’s time to put theory into practice.

Procedural Collision Handling: Practice

Look at initWithSize: in MyScene.m and see that the code to activate the physics engine is already in the starter project. Since Ray did an excellent job explaining how to set up the physics engine in the Sprite Kit for Beginners tutorial, I’ll only explain it here in the context of procedural level generation.

When the code creates the physicsBody of the player object, it sets it to collide with walls by adding the CollisionTypeWall to the collisionBitMask. That way, the physics engine will automatically bounce the player off any wall objects.

However, when you created the walls in generateWalls, you didn’t create them as physics objects – only as simple SKSpriteNodes. Hence, when you build and run the game the player will not collide with the walls.

You’re going to simplify wall collision object creation by adding a helper method. Open Map.m and add the following code:

// Add at the top of the file together with the other #import statements
#import "MyScene.h"
// Add with other methods
- (void) addCollisionWallAtPosition:(CGPoint)position withSize:(CGSize)size
    SKNode *wall = [SKNode node];
    wall.position = CGPointMake(position.x + size.width * 0.5f - 0.5f * self.tileSize,
                                position.y - size.height * 0.5f + 0.5f * self.tileSize);
    wall.physicsBody = [SKPhysicsBody bodyWithRectangleOfSize:size];
    wall.physicsBody.dynamic = NO;
    wall.physicsBody.categoryBitMask = CollisionTypeWall;
    wall.physicsBody.contactTestBitMask = 0;
    wall.physicsBody.collisionBitMask = CollisionTypePlayer;
    [self addChild:wall];

This method creates and adds an SKNode to the map with the passed position and size. It then creates a non-moveable physics body for the node the size of the node, and ensures that the physics engine performs collision handling when the player collides with the node.

It’s time to implement the collision wall generation. Add the following method:

- (void) generateCollisionWalls
    for ( NSInteger y = 0; y < self.tiles.gridSize.height; y++ )
        CGFloat startPointForWall = 0;
        CGFloat wallLength = 0;
        for ( NSInteger x = 0; x <= self.tiles.gridSize.width; x++ )
            CGPoint tileCoordinate = CGPointMake(x, y);            
            // 1
            if ( [self.tiles tileTypeAt:tileCoordinate] == MapTileTypeWall )
                if ( startPointForWall == 0 && wallLength == 0 )
                    startPointForWall = x;
                wallLength += 1;
            // 2
            else if ( wallLength > 0 )
                CGPoint wallOrigin = CGPointMake(startPointForWall, y);
                CGSize wallSize = CGSizeMake(wallLength * self.tileSize, self.tileSize);
                [self addCollisionWallAtPosition:[self convertMapCoordinateToWorldCoordinate:wallOrigin]
                startPointForWall = 0;
                wallLength = 0;

Here you perform the six steps described earlier.

  1. You iterate through each row until you find a wall tile. You set a starting point (tile coordinate pair) for the collision wall and then increase the wallLength by one. Then you move to the next tile. If this is also a wall tile, you repeat these steps.
  2. If the next tile is not a wall tile, you calculate the size of the wall in points by multiplying the tile size, and you convert the starting point into world coordinates. By passing the starting point (as world coordinates in pixels) and size (in pixels), you generate a collision wall using the addCollisionWallAtPosition:withSize: helper method you added above.

Go to generate in Map.m and add the following line of code after [self generateTiles] to ensure the game generates collision walls when it generates a tile map:

[self generateCollisionWalls];

Build and run. Now the cat is stuck within the walls. The only way out is to find the exit – or is it?

Adding physics walls

Where to Go from Here?

You’ve earned a basic understanding of how to generate procedural levels in your game. Here is the full source code for the first part of the tutorial.

In the second part of this tutorial, you will extend the map generation code even further by adding rooms. You’ll also make map generation more controllable by adding several properties that will influence the process.

If you have any comments or suggestions related to this tutorial, please join the forum discussion below.

Kim Pedersen

When Kim is not working on developing the next treatment for diabetes at a large pharmaceutical company he is spending his spare time developing games for iOS. He started programming on his C64 at the age of 8, and has since then been creating games on Amiga, PC and XBox360. He never thought he would ditch his beloved Windows PC for a Mac - but that changed three years ago and he has since then been dedicated to developing the next big iOS mobile indie hit.

Other Items of Interest Weekly

Sign up to receive the latest tutorials from each week, and receive a free epic-length tutorial as a bonus!

Advertise with Us!

PragmaConf 2016 Come check out Alt U

Our Books

Our Team

Video Team

... 19 total!

Swift Team

... 16 total!

iOS Team

... 30 total!

Android Team

... 15 total!

macOS Team

... 11 total!

Apple Game Frameworks Team

... 10 total!

Unity Team

... 11 total!

Articles Team

... 11 total!

Resident Authors Team

... 11 total!