Monday, May 9, 2016

Add Gamepad Support to a Phaser Game

It seems like I haven't written a blog post in forever! It's actually been less than 2 weeks. Right before I took a break, I wrote a little about my new NES-style Bluetooth gamepad. I've been trying off-and-on ever since then to get my 8-bit style platformer to work with it, and today I finally had some success!

First of all, it needs to be said that support for gamepads in the browser is very inconsistent. The W3C's Gamepad API document is still a working draft after all these years (I first read about it and tried it out in 2013). It seems as though Mozilla and Google have some different opinions on how it should work, because the way you interact with the devices varies significantly between Firefox and Chrome. Phaser provides gamepad support through the Gamepad object, but the documentation carries a warning about the volatility of the specification.

Here's what I learned when I tried to use it...

I started with some of the examples on Phaser's site. They worked, most of the time. Let me explain. In theory, working with a gamepad in Phaser is simple. You get a gamepad object, setup a callback to handle the detection of a gamepad device, and bind to buttons in that callback. Then you start the gamepad polling.

function create() {

    // ... setup stuff ...

    var jumpButton = null;

    controller = game.input.gamepad.pad1;

    controller.addCallbacks(this, {
        onConnect: function() {
            // you could use a different button here if you want...
            jumpButton = controller.getButton(Phaser.Gamepad.BUTTON_1);
        }
    });

    game.input.gamepad.start();

    // ... other stuff ...

}

function update() {

    // ... other stuff ...

    if (jumpButton.isDown) {
        // jump code goes here!
    }

    // ... other stuff ...

}

Much like you do for keyboard input, you can set up the buttons you want to listen for in create and then perform actions based on their state in update. And this works pretty well - in Firefox. Chrome, on the other hand, has some issues. Phaser's example code, much like my example above, works most of the time in Chrome when the code gets executed very quickly after the page loads. But if you put enough setup code in front of your gamepad initialization you'll be wondering, like I was, why your gamepad never connects.

I had to dig into the Phaser code in order to figure this out. It works consistently in Firefox because Firefox waits until the first time a button is pressed on a gamepad before it emits a gamepadconnected event from the window object. Phaser catches that and sets everything up, calling the onConnect function when complete. In Chrome, however, gamepads just show up magically at some point after the page is loaded, in an array-like object accessed by calling navigator.getGamepads(). Phaser checks this list constantly, and when things appear for the first time, it makes all the internal setup calls. And right there's the problem! If the gamepads appear BEFORE my onConnect callback function is set up, I missed the boat. A default, no-op callback got executed instead and my gamepad buttons never get set up!

There was no work-around for this that I felt was acceptable, so I actually forked Phaser and fixed the problem in the Gamepad object's code. It was a fairly simple fix - I just don't start polling for those gamepad objects until after the call has been made to game.input.gamepad.start().

I forked off of version 2.4.7 and submitted a pull request, so hopefully my fix makes it in to the next Phaser release and the rest of you won't have to deal with this problem like I had to! If you can't wait, try using my fork and gamepad branch.
UPDATE: My pull request was merged, but not in time for 2.4.8. Look for this fix in the 2.4.9 release!
If you're just interesting in playing the game I've been working on, you can do that here: http://amphibian.com/eight-bit. The full source code is available on GitHub. If you're just interested in viewing today's comic, you can do that here:

Amphibian.com comic for 9 May 2016