Asset management in a real time 3D engine in Haskell

on 2015-06-16 00:00:00 UTC

Foreword

In a real time rendering system, it’s not uncommon finding constructs about assets. One famous construct is the resource manager. A resource manager is responsible of several tasks, among:

The first point is obvious, but the two others are less intuitive. (2) is important when the user might try to load the same object several times – for instance, a car model, or a character or a weapon. The most known strategy to prevent such a situation from happening is by using a software cache.

A software cache – let’s just say cache – is an opaque object that loads the object on the first request, then just returns that object for future same requests. For instance, consider the following requests and the corresponding cache behavior:

  1. load “wood.png” -> not cached ; loading ; return
  2. load “grass.png” -> not cached ; loading ; return
  3. load “wood.png” -> cached ; return
  4. load “metal.png” -> not cached ; loading ; return
  5. load “metal.png” -> cached ; return
  6. etc.

That behavior is very nice because it will spare a lot of computations and memory space.

(3) is about dependencies. For instance, when you load a car model, you might need to load its textures as well. Well, not really load. Consider the following:

  1. load “car.mesh” -> not cached 1. load “metal_car.png” -> not cached ; loading ; return 2. loading ; return
  2. load “metal_car.png” -> cached ; return
  3. load “other_car.mesh” -> not cached 1. load “metal_car.png” -> cached ; return 2. return
  4. load “car.mesh” -> cached ; return

You got the idea. (3) needs (2) to be efficient.

Possible implementations

Singleton

In imperative languages and especially in those that support template and/or generics, people tend to implement the cache system with an ugly design pattern – which is actually an anti design pattern : singleton. Each type of resource is assigned a manager by using a template parameter, and then if a manager needs to load a dependency, it just has to reference the corresponding manager by stating the type in the template parameter :

Model & getResource<Model>(std::string const &name) {
  Texture &dependency = getResource<Texture>(...);
  ...
}

That way of doing might sound great, but eh, singletons are just global variables with a unicity constraint. We don’t want that.

Explicit pure store

We can use an explicit store object. That is, some kind of map. For instance, the store that holds textures would have a type like (in Haskell):

textureStore :: Map String Texture

A model store would have the following type:

modelStore :: Map String Model

And each stores is assigned a function; loadTexture, loadModel, and so on.

There are several drawbacks if we go that way. First, we have to carry all stores when using their functions. Some functions might need other stuff in order to resolve dependencies. Secondly, because of explicit state, we need to manually accumulate state! A loading function would have such a following type:

loadTexture :: Map String Texture -> String -> m (Texture,Map String Texture)

That will expose a lot of boilerplate to the user, and we don’t want that.

Implicit pure store

We can enhance the explicit store by putting it into some kind of context; for instance, in MonadState. We can then write loadTexture to make it nicer to use:

loadTexture :: (MonadState (Map String Texture) m,...)
            => String
            -> m Texture

There is a problem with that. What happens when we add more types? For instance if we want to handle textures and models? MonadState has a type family constraint that forbids two instances for the pair s m. The following is not allowed and will raise a compiler error:

instance MonadState (Map String Texture) MyState where
  ...

instance MonadState (Map String Model) MyState where
  ...

The solution to that problem is to have the carried state a polymorphic type and use typeclass constraint to extract and modify the map we want:

class HasMap a s where
  extractMap :: s -> Map String a
  modifyMap :: (Map String a -> Map String a) -> s -> s

With that, we can do something like this:

loadTexture :: (MonadState s m,HasMap Texture s,...)
            => String
            -> m Texture

loadModel :: (MonadState s m,HasMap Texture s,HasMap Model s,...)
          => String
          -> m Model

However, we hit a new issue here. What are s and m? Well, m doesn’t really matter. For simplicity, let’s state we’re using a monad transformer; that is, we use StateT s m as monad.

We still need s. The problem is that s has to be provided by the user. Worse, they have to implement all instances we need so that the loading functions may work. Less boilerplate than the explicit store solution, but still a lot of boilerplate. Imagine you provide a type for s, like Cache. Expending the cache to support new types – like user-defined ones – will be more extra boilerplate to write.

Closures

The solution I use in my engine might not be the perfect solution. It’s not referentially transparent, an important concept in Haskell. However, Haskell is not designed to be used in convenient situations only. We’re hitting a problematic situation. We need to make a compromise between elegance and simplicity.

The solution required the use of closures. If you don’t know what a closure is, you should check out the wikipedia page for a first shot.

The idea is that our loading functions will perform some IO operations to load objects. Why not putting the cache directly in that function? We’d have a function with an opaque and invisible associated state. Consider the following:

type ResourceMap a = Map String a

getTextureManager :: (MonadIO m,...)
                  => m (String -> m Texture)
getTextureManager = do
  ref <- newIORef empty
  pure $ \name -> do
    -- we can use the ref ResourceMap to insert / lookup value in the map
    -- thanks to the closure!

That solution is great because now, a manager is just a function. How would you implement getModelManager? Well:

getModelManager :: (MonadIO m,...)
                => (String -> m Texture)
                -> m (String -> m Model)
getModelManager loadTexture = ...

We can then get the loader functions with the following:

loadTexture <- getTextureManager
loadModel <- getModelManager loadTexture

And you just have to pass those functions around. The cool thing is that you can wrap them in a type in your library and provide a function that initializes them all at once – I do that in my engine. Later on, the user can extend the available managers by providing new functions for new types. In my engine, I provide a few functions like mkResourceManager that hides the ResourceMap, providing two functions – one for lookup in the map, one for inserting into the map.

Conclusion

I truly believe that my solution is a good compromise between elegance and ease. It has a lot of advantages:

The huge drawback I see in that solution is its opacity. There’s also no way to query the state of each cache. Such a feature could be added by proving a new function, for instance. Same thing for deletion.

I’m one of those Haskellers who love purity. I try to keep my code the purest I can, but there are exceptions, and that cache problem fits that kind of exception.

Feel free to comment, and as always, keep the vibe and happy hacking!