Adding some type info to haXe

There are two good things about open source software; it’s open, and there’s source. So I had a hack with haXe and produced haxe-typed.exe, as a replacement for haxe.exe. This executable adds strong typing to strings, ints, floats and bools when they are local variables. It does not add types to function parameters and return types.

The results were promising:

AS3 haXe haXe typed
CarDemo 7.6 ms 38.6 ms 38.9 ms
SimpleLoop – for 115 ms 1218 ms 74 ms
SimpleLoop – while 115 ms 1020 ms 76 ms
PerfTest 1 – string manipulation, join 238 ms 383 ms 720 ms
PerfTest 2 – string sort 620 ms 1284 ms 195 ms
PerfTest 3 – string addition 125 ms 138 ms 130 ms
PerfTest 4 – bit string manipulation 125 ms 134 ms 125 ms
PerfTest 5 – floating point ops 2 ms 24 ms 2 ms
PerfTest 6 – substr 2 ms 7 ms 7 ms
PerfTest 7 – string indexOf 58 ms 75 ms 75 ms
PerfTest 8 – Math.round/random 6 ms 38 ms 24 ms
PerfTest 9 – integer addition 31 ms 343 ms 27 ms
PerfTest 10 – string function calls 34 ms 103 ms 104 ms
PerfTest 11 – MD5 68 ms 163 ms 171 ms
PerfTest 12 – integer function calls 1 ms 14 ms 9 ms

Here we see that where the processing is local, and in a tight loop, huge performance gains can be achieved. When functions calls are involved, there are no gains – sometimes it is even slower (presumably because of the conversion of specific type to generic type). Unfortunately, CarDemo makes extensive use of properties and object orientation nad therefore does not benefit at all from these optimisations.

HaXe even outperforms in a few tests – the integer loop and the sort function. My initial guess is haXe’s use of local variables for constants, rather than integer constants is what helps this loop, and I have no idea about the sort function. Perhaps there is a bug somewhere.

Implementation
Use the above haxe-typed.exe at your own risk. There it was more hacking than science used to produce it. Also, there is a bunch of text-out that probably means nothing – this is basically my attempt at understanding what was going on. If you are after the source-code changes just let me know. The changes are probably not very nice to look at, or done very well – but at least I got it compiling.

The exe is not very widely tested (only on these 3 programmes !). When there is a type mismatch, the flash player throws an exception and the execution stops – often leaving you looking at a white screen. Use the “player/debug/SAFlashPlayer.exe”, provided with the flex SDK, to see these exceptions. More often than not, they are something like “Int and * can not be reconciled”. This means there is a bug in bytecode created by the modified haXe. The process of fixing the exe was to basically track these down one by one.

The code also relies on expressions having the correct type. This is generally the case with haXe, except for the case of Floats with constant ints, eg: “var f:Float = 2”. I had to change the source to “var f:Float = 2.0” to get these to compile.

I had no reference to the AS3 assembly syntax other than what I could see in the haXe code and what I could deduce from the “abcdump.exe” of both haXe and flex outputs. The only principle for typing local varibles I can see is to initialise them with a specifically typed value. And this must be done at the “top” of the function – I’m not sure what logic is used to determine where the “top” finishes, but the following pseudo code works:

  var i:Int = 0;
  while (something)
  {
     ....
  }

Whereas the following does not define i as an integer:

  While (something)
  {
     var i:Int = 0;
     ....
  }

So the task of adding type information amounts to initialising all the local variables (including those that are limited in scope by blocks) at the top of the function.

I did not add strong types to object variables. This should be quite possible, since haXe knows the obejct types. External information suggests that this would be a very good thing to do, and I may get around to it one day. Maybe.

I also did not add types to function arguements or return values. I’m sure doing so would close the gap between haXe and AS3 native code, however the genswf9.ml code removes this type information reasonably early and it would take a bit of effort to get this working.

I found editing the ocaml code a bit of a slog. Firstly, “ml” style languages were new to me and it took me a while to grok it. It took me a while to workout how to even decompose the syntax into a series of statements (oh, it’s returning a function!). Secondly, the code is pretty much bereft of comments so it was hard to know where to start – I couldn’t really look a a bit of code in isolation whithout a good feeling for the whole code base. And Lastly, the ocaml penchant for terse variable names (eg, “let field_access ctx get f t e p =”).

This may be as far as I take these optimisations for now. The main goal was to see if the performance can be improved – and I think the answer is yes. I don’t think my changes are of high enough quality to re-submit them into the code base (in fact, I would almost certainly do a lot differently if I were to start again). It has been a great exercise and I’ve learnt a lot – including a new programming language.

Decompiling the differences

I have created about the simplest test I can, the “SimpleLoop” programmes.
[AS3 version](http://gamehaxe.com/?page_id=19)
[HaXe version](http://gamehaxe.com/?page_id=17)
The difference in performace is dramatic – 10 to 20 fold. But all is not as bad as it seems…

I have been looking at the *very* interesting tool, abcdump.exe,
[as described here](http://www.5etdemi.com/blog/archives/2007/01/as3-decompiler/).

You can really get a feel for the differences between the outputs. And there is a simple explaination for the differences in file size – haXe includes a small library in the SWF. Fair enough.

I will concentrate on the “Run2” test – both using “while” loops, rather than “for” loops. HaXe’s iterator-style for loops are slower than its while style loops – I’m hoping that this will not always be the case _\[Edit: actually the timings both vary and seem about the same\]_. (Although as a side note, I hope haXe will support *both* styles of for loops, since it makes porting easier amongst other reasons).

A quick look at the decompile of the Run2 function (two nested while… loops) shows the use of the command “iflt”, presumably “if less than”, which seems ideal for these loops. HaXe uses 3 statements here: coerce\_a, lessthan, iffalse. I believe that haXe could easily use this optimisation, especially considering the for(i in 1…1000) style syntax. Also the increment operation. AS3 uses “inclocal\_i”, where haXe uses 4 statements: getlocal, increment, coerce\_a, setlocal. Again some low-hanging fruit for haXe to pick up.

Another trick is “pushshort” rather than “pushint” where size will allow, and it seems haXe integer constants are followed by “coerce_a”, whereas AS3 ones are not. AS3 used “convert\_i” whereas haXe uses “coerce\_a”. I’m not sure of the performace implications of this.

So, after some initial doubts, now I think haXe could get about a 10 fold increase in speed (in these very tight loops) pretty easily. HaXe (especially for flash 9) is very new, and I’m condifent these optimisation will come soon enough.

AS3 haXe
function Run2():int	/* disp_id 0*/
{
// local_count=4 max_scope=1
// max_stack=2 code_len=60
0     getlocal0
1     pushscope
2     pushbyte      	0
4     setlocal1
5     pushbyte      	0
7     setlocal2
8     pushbyte      	0
10    setlocal3
11    pushbyte      	0
13    setlocal1
14    pushbyte      	0
16    setlocal2
17    jump          	L1


L2:
21    label
22    pushbyte      	0
24    setlocal1
25    pushbyte      	0
27    setlocal3
28    jump          	L3


L4:
32    label
33    getlocal1
34    getlocal3
35    add
36    convert_i
37    setlocal1
38    inclocal_i    	3

L3:
40    getlocal3
41    pushshort     	10000
44    iflt          	L4

48    inclocal_i    	2

L1:
50    getlocal2
51    pushshort     	1000
54    iflt          	L2

58    getlocal1
59    returnvalue
}

    function Run2():*	/* disp_id 0*/
{
// local_count=4 max_scope=1
// max_stack=2 code_len=70
0     getlocal0
1     pushscope
2     pushbyte      	0
4     coerce_a
5     setlocal1
6     pushbyte      	0
8     coerce_a
9     setlocal2
10    jump          	L1


L2:
14    label

L1:
15    getlocal2
16    pushint       	1000	// 0x3e8
18    coerce_a
19    lessthan
20    iffalse       	L3

24    pushbyte      	0
26    coerce_a
27    setlocal1
28    pushbyte      	0
30    coerce_a
31    setlocal3
32    jump          	L4


L5:
36    label

L4:
37    getlocal3
38    pushint       	10000	// 0x2710
40    coerce_a
41    lessthan
42    iffalse       	L6

46    getlocal1
47    getlocal3
48    add
49    coerce_a
50    setlocal1
51    getlocal3
52    increment
53    coerce_a
54    setlocal3
55    jump          	L5

L6:
59    getlocal2
60    increment
61    coerce_a
62    setlocal2
63    jump          	L2

L3:
67    getlocal1
68    returnvalue
69    returnvoid
}

Performance Anxiety

The game code was heavy on maths, so I have decided to pinpoint where the difference in performance is coming from. I found an AS3 performance test on [AS3 performace test](http://www.onflex.org/perf/) and ported it to hAxe – again, not necessarily perfectly.

You can check out the results here:

* [AS3 test](/?page_id=11)
* [haXe test](/?page_id=8)

The tests can be seen at [http://www.onflex.org/perf/srcview](http://www.onflex.org/perf/srcview).

As you can see, the haXe code is slower – sometimes a lot slower – than the AS3 code. Of note:

* Test 2 : sort. This is perhaps not surprising because the haXe version is using a custom string compare function, rather than a built-in one.
* Many of the functions are to do with string manipulation. I suspect the probelms here are introduced though the layering of the library via “Std.” and the internal string functions.
* Function 9, the loop code, shows a huge difference. Here I think there must be some loop optimisation that hAxe is missing out on.
* Function 12, a subroutine call, is also very very slow. I think there may be something simple that haXe is not doing.

So there you have it. Loops and function calls – building blocks of most programmes, are very slow.

These differences are way bigger than the file-size differences would suggest, so I think there is still hope that haXe speed can be greatly improved.

Physical Test

I am interested in many types of games, but I find physical simulations particularly cool. So I did some fishing on the internet for flash-based (flash9 = actionscript 3=AS3) physics code, and I found APE as a freeware physics engine. Since I had the source code, I though this would be a good test to compare haXe and AS3. This should be an interesting test because they both run on the same virtual machine, so it is just the code-generation differences that we are testing. I ported the demo to haXe – now I admit that this may not have been the best port, but still the results are a bit disappointing. Checkout the comparison for yourself:

AS3 Version

haXe Version

I get AS3 version 7.05ms/frame calculation, and haXe 37.8ms. That’s about 5 times slower. Also of interest is the difference in file size. AS3 swf file is 10051bytes, and the haXe file is 11907. I will have to find the source of this difference if performance libraries are to be written in haXe

The Plan

Well, as the URL of the site may suggest, my initial plan is to use the “haXe” programming language. And I plan to do this by generating byte-code for flash-player 9 for the web, and linking the neko virtual machine to a suitable “engine” for the stand-alone executables.

The possibilities I see are:

  1. Use haXe to generate flash9 and neko code. All logic written in haXe. Plus a simple C++ engine to link the neko into.
  2. If haXe is not fast enough on flash9, write performace code in AS3, and replicate this in C++. Then use haXe for more high-level scripting.
  3. Write all in AS3, and buy a stand-alone flash player.
  4. Write in Java for the web and link a JVM into a C++ executable.
  5. Write all in Java and simply bundle it into a stand-alone player.

This is pretty much the order I think I will try things. I’m hoping I can get point 1 to work – this will give the greatest ability to get a simple web version going, with the ability to download a stand-alone version that is far more complex and not performance bound.

I prefer Flash to Java mainly because of end-user acceptance.

Hello world!

Hi Everyone. This is my site chronicling my efforts in web game development.

I have been programming since command-line was the way to programme. A simpler time when anyone could boot up his computer and start typing a game.

But nostalgia is a thing of the past, and advances, such as C++, means that you can write bigger and better programmes than when you typed in your Apple-basic code and saved it on your floppy.

I’ve done my fair share of writing big C++ programmes and the idea of writing some smaller, web based games has a great appeal. I think it’s the simplicity – and the immediacy of just plonking it on a website and people can play it straight away – no installs, no downloading just one click.

I have already published a game, FreeRange , written in C++. It occurred to me it would be good to convert it to a web game – but the syntax and structure was all wrong. This got me thinking about how I could have structured it to allow for co-development of an compiled executable and a web-based application.

So that is what this site is all about. The quest to discover the best way of developing a game, using one code base, that will work on both the web and a stand-alone application.

I’m not exactly sure where this will go, but I do know that it will involve either Flash or Java and will use some for of virtual machine in the executable.