Open SourceCross-Platform Game Development for C++ Developers

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Do you dream of writing the next hit game title but aren’t sure how to get started? Are you interested in game development just for the fun of it? Take a close look at a versatile cross-platform gaming engine that’s freely available for the beginning game developer.

A (Very) Brief History of 3D Gaming Engines

In gaming, more so than any other programming discipline, it is important to specify the platform correctly from the start. Will you support Windows, Linux, and OS X? Isn’t using OpenGL enough to get you there? OpenGL was designed in the early 1990’s for $25,000 Unix CAD workstations and later adapted to Windows and low-end platforms as the gaming industry drove the cost of graphics accelerators down from $2,000 a pop to the $150 mass-market price point you see today.

Indeed, many people would cite the revolutionary game Quake, written for OpenGL in 1996, as the direct cause of this. However, achieving Quake-level gameplay standards required more: world-class audio support, network connectivity, user-input device support, and real-time management capabilities—just to name a few. The solution for both requirements, cross-platform support and the extras that make a game exciting, is a decent game development platform.

Simple DirectMedia Layer for C++, Java, and More

Well, that’s all very interesting history, but it doesn’t really address the question of where fragging coders should start: Not every game is going to be a Quake clone. One option that has been touted for its many virtues is Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDML). This cross-platform multimedia library provides low-level access to audio, keyboard, mouse, joystick, OpenGL, and 2D video framebuffer. SDML supports most every platform I can think of, including Linux, Windows, all MacOS variants, WinCE, Dreamcast, and others. It shows up in MPEG players, hardware emulators, and many popular games, including the award-winning Linux port of Civilization: Call to Power.

SDML is written in C, but works with C++ natively, and has bindings to several other languages, including Ada, Eiffel, Java, Lua, ML, Perl, PHP, Pike, Python, and Ruby. The sky is the limit with SDML, which happens to be the engine for my favorite open source flight simulator, GL-117 (see Figure 1). In fact, 513 games currently are built on top of the SDML engine and registered on the SDML homepage.

Figure 1. The View from GL-117

Tunnel Vision Demo Program

The best way to get inside a game engine is to look at some sample code. Take a brief look at a 2D tunnel-type display in SDML (see Figure 2) to see what you can do in just a few lines of code. This example might be something you use for a screen-saver, music visualization, and so forth. I’ve trimmed the actual drawing code for brevity. Follow my comments for a description of how SDML works:

#include “Tunnel.h”

// SDL Stuff

SDL_Surface *screen;

SDL_Surface *bBuffer;

SDL_Surface *Image;

SDL_Rect rScreen;

SDL_Rect rBuffer;

// ————————————————————–

int main (int argc, char **argv)


int flag = SDL_SWSURFACE; // Requests a software surface.

// Software surfaces are in

// system memory, and are not

// generally as fast as hardware

// surfaces

#ifdef WIN32

int fullscreen = MessageBox(NULL, “Show Full Screen (y/n):”,

“Screen Setting”, MB_YESNO);

if (fullscreen==IDYES) {

flag |= SDL_FULLSCREEN; // Take over whole screen, if

// user desires



Tunnel_Timer(); // Read initial system clock

SDL_Init( SDL_INIT_VIDEO ); // Initialize just the video

// subsystem

// Set screen to 320×240 with 32-bit color

screen = SDL_SetVideoMode( 320, 240, 32, flag);

// Request hardware buffers for the screen surface, if available

bBuffer = SDL_CreateRGBSurface( SDL_HWSURFACE, screen->w,







// This is the seed image that you will convolute when you get going

Image = SDL_LoadBMP( “tunnel_map.bmp” );

Image = SDL_ConvertSurface(Image, screen->format, SDL_HWSURFACE);

rBuffer.x = 0;

rBuffer.y = 0;

rBuffer.w = bBuffer->w;

rBuffer.h = bBuffer->h;

// Ignore most events, including mouse, and disable the cursor



SDL_ShowCursor( SDL_DISABLE );

Tunnel.Set( 320, 240 ); // Tunnel will fill the whole buffer

Tunnel.Precalc( 16 ); // Inner circle diameter

while (SDL_PollEvent(NULL)==0) {

float fTime = Tunnel_GetTime();

// Surfaces must be locked before modification, especially

// if the buffer resides in the graphics hardware memory



Tunnel.Draw(bBuffer, Image, 180*sin(fTime), fTime*100);

SDL_UnlockSurface(bBuffer); // After updating, you may

// unlock


// Push the buffer out to the screen draw area and force

// a repaint

SDL_BlitSurface( bBuffer, NULL, screen, &rBuffer );

SDL_UpdateRect( screen, 0, 0, 0, 0 );




Figure 2. Spinning and Twisting 2D Tunnel Demo

Some Other Game Engines to Explore

Take a whirlwind tour of some other open source gaming engines.

ALLEGRO (Allegro Low LEvel Game ROutines)

Figure 4. A Breathtaking Scene in Irrlicht

ClanLib: Designed for Multiplayer Gaming

The book leads off with several items on pointers—what they are and aren’t—which can be vexing for people who didn’t grow up on a diet of C code. It quickly leads into more complex topics, many template-related, including partial specialization, generic algorithms, substitution failure, argument deduction, and template template parameters.

I’d bet my last two bits that every C++ programmer would learn something from this slim volume.

About the Author

Victor Volkman has been writing for C/C++ Users Journal and other programming journals since the late 1980s. He is a graduate of Michigan Tech and a faculty advisor board member for Washtenaw Community College’s CIS department. Volkman is the editor of numerous books, including C/C++ Treasure Chest and is the owner of Loving Healing Press. He can help you in your quest for open source tools and libraries; just send an e-mail to

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