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Gamedev Glossary

Gamedev Glossary: What Is the "Game Loop"?

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In this post, I'll explain the heart of every game: the game loop! All the code that makes the game interactive and dynamic goes in the game loop, but is separated into different pieces. The game loop itself is a controlled infinite loop that makes your game keep running; it's the place where all your little pieces will be updated and drawn on the screen.


Initialize, Update and Draw

The game loop is the central code of your game, split into different parts. Generally, these are: initialize, update and draw.

The initialize phase is used to do any necessary game setup and prepare the environment for the update and draw phases. Here you should create your main entities, prepare the menu, detect default hardware capabilities, and so on.

The main purpose of the update phase is to prepare all objects to be drawn, so this is where all the physics code, coordinate updates, health points changes, char upgrades, damage dealt and other similar operations belong. This is also where the input will be captured and processed.

When everything is properly updated and ready, we enter the draw phase where all this information is put on the screen. This function should contain all the code to manage and draw the levels, layers, chars, HUD and so on.


Managing States

The loop will keep running over and over again throughout the game, so you must make sure it runs the correct parts of your code for each part of your game. A state machine is generally used for this task; this manages a global state for your game loop and redirects the flow to the correct part of the code based on it.

Definition of game loop
Typical state machine

A simple example following the picture above: a new game starts and proceeds to the Main State. This will load the game menu and then keep running and executing the menu logic until it receives an input event (a mouse click, keyboard press, or similar).

This event then triggers a change in the main game state, moving the execution flow to the intro scene, so the game menu code is not executed any more. The game loop keeps running, but it executes a different part of the code - the part corresponding to the intro scene.


Entities Within the Game

Now that you have all your states under control you'll need to interact with all your entities (chars, objects, NPCs, and so on) and update their properties (status, health, position, ...) to actually move objects and players on your game.

So as well as executing the specific part of the code based on the current state, the game loop also has an inner loop that executes the specific part of the code for each entity in the current state.

Definition of game loop
Interacting with entities

The same behavior happens in the draw phase, where each entity gets drawn.


Conclusion

The game loop is the heart of the game, and it is not too difficult to understand its concept if you're coming from any different software development branch. There's a lot more that could be said about it, but I hope this post helps you to start understanding the core of what it's about!

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