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September 96 - Game Controls for QuickDraw 3D

Game Controls for QuickDraw 3D

Philip McBride

Whether the user is navigating a starship or examining a model of the DNA helix, your first-person 3D application must allow user control of the camera movements in a scene. You must keep changing the camera's position and orientation in response to what the user wants to see. Here you'll learn how to create those camera movements and handle the user's directions. As part of the bargain, you'll even get a refresher course in the associated geometry.

Letting the user control the movement of the camera (and thus the view) is critical to first-person interactive 3D games and extremely useful in 3D modeling systems. Through QuickDraw 3D's camera functions and supporting mathematical functions, you can create game controls that direct the position and orientation of a camera. In general, game controls take user input from any input device and control the camera in ways that emulate movements of players, such as people or aircraft. Game controls are useful for any type of 3D viewer application, including 3D Internet browsers.

You'll start your career as a camera operator by learning about the basic moves you can make with the camera. Then you'll create the various camera movements, keep the camera movements smooth, and translate user inputs to move the camera. The sample code (which is provided on this issue's CD) is a 3D viewer application with camera movements activated by the keyboard or the mouse. In all of the code, the geometry has been kept as simple as possible, but if you need to brush up, you'll find a refresher course on calculating points and vectors in 3D space.

For an overview of QuickDraw 3D, turn to "QuickDraw 3D: A New Dimension for Macintosh Graphics" in develop Issue 22. That article discusses topics like reading models, using a viewer, creating a camera, and managing documents that have 3D information. To learn more about those and related topics, see the list of recommended reading at the end of this article.


We'll be controlling camera movements based on first-person viewing, so the camera will be our eyes. But before we move through a scene, let's take a look at the kind of camera moves we plan to use. The camera movements you would create in a 3D game for a person who is driving a vehicle or walking on level ground are examples of ground movements. These camera moves include moving forward, backward, sideways to the left, and sideways to the right, plus turning to the left (pan or yaw left) and turning to the right (pan or yaw right). Figure 1 illustrates these basic ground movements.

Figure 1. Ground movements

You can also go airborne with a variety of camera movements. These fancier camera moves are changes that might be typical of an aircraft. They include ascending and descending (moving upward and downward), pitching (tilting) up and down, and rolling (tilting) left and right. Figure 2 illustrates these moves.

Figure 2. Air movements

Now to the fun part -- let's get that camera moving! What you must do to achieve the previously described camera movements, both ground and air, involves some geometry. If you're like most of us and have forgotten your 3D geometry, see "3D Geometry 101" for a refresher course. The 3D geometry for our camera moves is quite simple; it will stick to the kinds of calculations illustrated in "3D Geometry 101."

First, let's take a look at our world. In Figure 3, we have an object in the world coordinate system and a camera looking at the object. The camera has its own coordinate system defined by its location (in world coordinates), up vector, and point of interest.

Figure 3. Our world

    3D GEOMETRY 101

    If you're new to 3D programming (and perhaps a little rusty on your math), here's a brief introduction to some of the 3D concepts you'll find in this article's code.

    A point is represented in 3D space by x, y, and z values in a coordinate system. A vector is a magnitude (length) and direction; it's represented by an initial point (usually the origin of the coordinate system) and a final point {x, y, z}. Figure 4 illustrates a point and a vector in 3D space.

    Figure 4. A point and a vector in 3D space

    To add a vector and a point, you place the vector's initial point on that point (keeping the vector's direction and magnitude). The new final point of the moved vector is the point resulting from the addition. (See Figure 5.)

    Figure 5. Adding a vector and a point

    To subtract a vector from a point, you place the vector's final point on that point (keeping the vector's direction and magnitude). The new initial point of the moved vector is the result (Figure 6).

    Figure 6. Subtracting a vector from a point

    To create a vector between two points, you subtract the vectors defined by the points (called position vectors). To do this, you first reverse (turn around) the second vector and place its initial point on the final point of the first vector. Then you make a new vector from the first vector's initial point to the second vector's new final point. This new vector has the direction and magnitude of the vector between the two points (Figure 7).

    Figure 7. Creating a vector between two points

    A translation of a point or a vector by Tx, Ty, and Tz values moves the point or the vector by adding the T values to its own values (Figure 8).

    Figure 8. Translating a point or a vector by T

    In Figure 8, the translation value T is really from the translation part of a transformation matrix. A transformation matrix is used to transform a point or a vector by translation, rotation, and scaling. The transformation matrix you use is 4 x 4 -- with the upper-left 3 x 3 portion acting as the rotation matrix, the bottom-left 1 x 3 portion acting as the translation matrix, and the top-left to bottom-right diagonal of the rotation matrix acting as the scaling matrix. The following transformation matrix has elements labeled for translation (T), rotation (R), and scaling (S). The fourth column is ignored for simplicity.

    When you apply a transformation to a point or a vector, you multiply by the matrix, as in the following formula for our point {x, y, z} and a transformation matrix:

    [{Sx*R0,0*x + R1,0*y + R2,0*z + Tx},
    {R0,1*x + Sy*R1,1*y + R2,1*z + Ty},
    {R0,2*x + R1,2*y + Sz*R2,2*z + Tz}]

    As you can see from this formula, if you only want the matrix to apply a translation (the T's), the 3 x 3 rotation matrix will be all 0's except for the scaling diagonal, which will be all 1's.

    A rotation of a vector through an arbitrary angle about different axes will use various R elements (the 3 x 3 rotation matrix of the transformation matrix), depending on which axis you're rotating about. For rotations of [[theta]] about the x axis, you get the matrix

    For rotations about the z axis, you get

    And for rotations about the y axis, you get the following matrix:

    So to apply a rotation about an axis, you simply multiply the appropriate rotation matrix by the vector. In Figure 9, the vector on the right is rotated 90deg. about the z axis in the {x, y} plane.

    Figure 9. Rotating a vector about an axis

We'll be dealing with the vectors making up the camera's coordinate system for many of our movement functions, so let's keep these in our application's document structure. We'll keep the camera placement data there as well.

The document structure looks like this:

typedef struct _DocumentRecord {
   TQ3Point3D      cameraLocation;
   TQ3Point3D      pointOfInterest;
   TQ3Vector3D      xVector;
   TQ3Vector3D      yVector;      // up vector
   TQ3Vector3D      zVector;
} DocumentRecord, *DocumentPtr;
The first time we set up our camera, we'll set the values in our document to correspond to the initial camera position. Then with each subsequent movement of the camera, we'll update these fields. The initial camera data is constructed by the code in Listing 1. In the function MyGetCameraData, we do some of our geometric calculations to get the x and z vectors. We subtract the two endpoints (the initial and final points) of the z vector to get that vector. And we get the x vector by cross-multiplying the y and z vectors.

Listing 1. Initializing the camera data
void MyGetCameraData(DocumentPtr theDocument,
     TQ3CameraObject theCamera)
   TQ3CameraPlacement   cameraPlacement;

   // Get the camera data.
   Q3Camera_GetPlacement(theCamera, &cameraPlacement);

   // Set the document's camera data.
   theDocument->cameraLocation = cameraPlacement.cameraLocation;
   theDocument->pointOfInterest = cameraPlacement.pointOfInterest;
   theDocument->yVector = cameraPlacement.upVector;

   // Calculate the x and z vectors and assign them to the document.
      &theDocument->cameraLocation, &theDocument->zVector);
      &theDocument->yVector, &theDocument->xVector);

After the fields in our document have been updated by some camera movement function, we'll want to reset the camera to that new data with the function MySetCameraData (Listing 2).

Listing 2. Setting the camera data after a move
void MySetCameraData(DocumentPtr theDocument,
     TQ3CameraObject theCamera)
   TQ3CameraPlacement   cameraPlacement;

   // Set the camera placement data.
   cameraPlacement.cameraLocation = theDocument->cameraLocation;
   cameraPlacement.pointOfInterest = theDocument->pointOfInterest;
   cameraPlacement.upVector = theDocument->yVector;

   // Set the camera data to the camera.
   Q3Camera_SetPlacement(theCamera, &cameraPlacement);

With that camera infrastructure, we're ready to move the camera around a bit. You can find the code for all the moves on this issue's CD. Here you'll find only the code for those movements that are unique. Code for those moves not shown (but previously mentioned) is almost identical to one of the functions shown in the listings.

To move the camera along the z axis either forward or backward, we call the function MyMoveCameraZ (Listing 3). This function translates the camera location and point of interest by the given delta. Note that the associated z vector isn't changed.

Listing 3. Moving the camera along the z axis
void MyMoveCameraZ(DocumentPtr theDocument, float dZ)
   TQ3ViewObject      theView;
   TQ3CameraObject   theCamera;
   TQ3Vector3D         scaledVector;
   TQ3Point3D         newPoint;

   // Get the view and the camera objects.
   theView = theDocument->theView;
   Q3View_GetCamera(theView, &theCamera);

   // Scale the y vector to make it dY longer.
   // Move the camera position and direction by the new vector.
      &scaledVector, &newPoint);
   theDocument->cameraLocation = newPoint;
      &scaledVector, &newPoint);
   theDocument->pointOfInterest = newPoint;

   // Set the updated camera data to the camera.
   MySetCameraData(theDocument, theCamera);

   // Update the view with the changed camera and dispose of the
   // camera.
   Q3View_SetCamera(theView, theCamera);

To move the camera along the x axis (right or left ) or along the y axis (ascending or descending), you use code similar to Listing 3. The only difference is that you base the translation on the change in x or y instead of the change in z. In both cases, the associated vectors don't change.

Next, to rotate the camera right or left about the y axis, we call the function MyRotateCameraY (Listing 4). This function first creates a transformation matrix whose rotation matrix represents rotating about the y axis. It then transforms both the z and x vectors by that rotation (thus rotating those two vectors about the y axis). From the rotated z vector, we obtain the point of interest by adding the camera location to the vector.

Listing 4. Rotating the camera about the y axis
void MyRotateCameraY(DocumentPtr theDocument, float dY)
   TQ3ViewObject      theView;
   TQ3CameraObject   theCamera;
   TQ3Vector3D         rotatedVector;
   TQ3Matrix4x4      rotationMatrix;

   // Get the view and the camera objects.
   theView = theDocument->theView;
   Q3View_GetCamera(theView, &theCamera);

   // Create the rotation matrix for rotating about the y axis.
      &theDocument->cameraLocation, &theDocument->yVector, dY);

   // Rotate the z vector about the y axis.
   Q3Vector3D_Transform(&theDocument->zVector, &rotationMatrix,
   theDocument->zVector = rotatedVector;

   // Rotate the x vector about the y axis.
   Q3Vector3D_Transform(&theDocument->xVector, &rotationMatrix,
   theDocument->xVector = rotatedVector;

   // Update the point of interest from the new z vector.
      &theDocument->zVector, &theDocument->pointOfInterest);

   // Set the updated camera data to the camera.
   MySetCameraData(theDocument, theCamera);

   // Update the view with the changed camera and dispose of the
   // camera.
   Q3View_SetCamera(theView, theCamera);

Rotating the camera about the x axis (pitching up or down) or about the z axis (rolling left or right) is similar to rotating it about the y axis. The main difference is in how the rotation matrix is constructed (from the axis in question) and which axes are rotated (the other two). The only other difference is that when rotating the camera about the z axis, you don't have to update the point of interest because it doesn't change.


To see what we've done to our world, we need a rendering loop, which you'll find in the code on the CD. Since we don't do anything special in our rendering loop, we'll skip the details. For an explanation of rendering loops, see the article "QuickDraw 3D: A New Dimension for Macintosh Graphics" in develop Issue 22.

The real issue for us in viewing our camera movements is how smooth and fast those moves appear. The factors that determine how smoothly and quickly the moves work are the sizes (scales) of the deltas (the arguments to the movement functions) and the speed of the machine (and therefore the subsequent speed of the rendering loop). Adjusting for the speed of the machine is beyond the scope of this article.

The sizes of the deltas determine the size of the jumps taken by each camera movement. If the deltas are very small, the camera will move very slightly. And if these movements are repeated, the camera will appear to move slowly over time. If the deltas are large, the camera will appear to move fast.

If you move the camera too slowly, the movement will appear jumpy because the user will see the delays in rendering time. If you move the camera too fast, the movement will appear jumpy because, well, you're making the camera take big jumps. To find just the right speed, you need to experiment with the sizes of the deltas. The main thing to notice is that you should correlate the deltas to the size of the model.

Listing 5 shows how you might set up the delta multipliers (called factors here) that are used to help control movement. From the model's bounding box, the MyInitDeltaFactors function determines the size of the largest dimension. This model size is then used to generate the various factors for different movement functions. Since accelerating the movements (say, by a control key) is quite useful, this function sets that up too.

Listing 5. Creating delta factors based on the model's dimensions
void MyInitDeltaFactors(DocumentPtr theDocument)
   TQ3BoundingBox       viewBBox;
   TQ3Vector3D            diagonalVector;
   float                  maxDimension;

   // Get the bounding box and find the scene dimension.
   MyGetBoundingBox(theDocument, &viewBBox);
   Q3Point3D_Subtract(&viewBBox.max, &viewBBox.min,
   maxDimension = Q3Vector3D_Length(&diagonalVector);

   // Now set the delta factors.
   theDocument->xRotFactor = kXRotFactorBase * maxDimension;
   theDocument->yRotFactor = kYRotFactorBase * maxDimension;
   theDocument->zRotFactor = kZRotFactorBase * maxDimension;
   theDocument->xMoveFactor = kXMoveFactorBase * maxDimension;
   theDocument->yMoveFactor = kYMoveFactorBase * maxDimension;
   theDocument->zMoveFactor = kZMoveFactorBase * maxDimension;

   // Set up the control factor.
   theDocument->controlFactor = kControlFactorBase * maxDimension;

Your mileage may vary, so it's a good idea to take your camera out for a spin and see what factors work for your application.


Now that you have the means of moving the camera this way and that, you need to have something controlling those movements. Our application will use the keyboard and the mouse.

To take input from the keyboard or the mouse, or both, we don't do anything unusual. For the keyboard, we take the key-down events as they happen and determine whether any other keys were held down at the time of the event (for multiple key inputs). For the mouse, we just continually track it.

In both cases, the user can indicate movement along more than one dimension. For example, if moving the mouse forward means "forward" and moving the mouse left means a combination of "turn left" and "roll left," a mouse movement that's both forward and to the left is a combination of three camera movements.

Based on whether the user input is simple or complex, our code makes calls to the appropriate camera movement functions. In the case of the mouse, the speed of the mouse (the difference between the last position and the current position) is also used to adjust the deltas for the camera movement. Listing 6 shows the code used for mouse tracking, but without the error handling and some details of GWorlds and local coordinates (see this issue's CD for the full source code). Here we've hard coded the meanings of the different mouse movements and control keys for simplicity. Ideally, you would have this stored in preference data that the user can set.

Listing 6. Tracking the mouse
void MyDoMouseMove(WindowPtr theWindow, EventRecord *theEvent)
   DocumentPtr    theDocument;
   Point          newMouse;
   long           dx, dy, oldX, oldY;
   float          xRot, yRot;
   short          usingControl = false;

   // Get the document from the window.
   theDocument = MyGetDocumentFromWindow(theWindow);

   // Get the current mouse position.
   oldX = newMouse.h;
   oldY = newMouse.v;

   // If the control key is down, we're in depth mode.
   if (theEvent->modifiers & controlKey)
      usingControl = true;

   // Loop, moving the camera while the mouse is down.
   while (StillDown()) {
      // Get the next mouse position.

      // Calculate the difference from the last mouse position.
      dx = newMouse.h - oldX;
      dy = oldY - newMouse.v;
      // If there's some difference, move the camera.
      if ((dx != 0) || (dy != 0)) {
         // Calculate the rotation about the y axis (pan) and rotate.
         yRot = ((float) dx * (kQPi / 180.0)) / theDocument->width;
             -yRot * theDocument->yRotFactor);

         // If the control key is down, move along the z axis;
         // otherwise, rotate about the x axis.
         if (usingControl) {
            // Move the camera along the z axis
            // (change in mouse's y).
                dy * theDocument->zMoveFactor);
         } else {
            // Calculate the rotation about the x axis (pitch) and
            // rotate.
            xRot = ((float) dy * (kQPi / 180.0)) / 
                xRot * theDocument->xRotFactor);
         // Update the screen for each move.
      // Set the current mouse position as the old mouse position for
      // the next update.
      oldX = newMouse.h;
      oldY = newMouse.v;

The code for handling keyboard input is even simpler. See the CD for that part of the code.

Many other input devices are also applicable, especially 3D input devices. The proper way to handle such input devices is through the QuickDraw 3D Pointing Device Manager with its controllers and trackers. To use this approach, we would need to define a tracker for our camera and assign it to the available controllers. We would also change the camera movement functions so that they took deltas of both position and orientation. See the book 3D Graphics Programming With QuickDraw 3D and the Graphical Truffles column "Making the Most of QuickDraw 3D" in develop Issue 24 for more on controllers and trackers. (As of now, QuickDraw 3D doesn't have built-in controllers for the mouse and the keyboard, so this code handles them directly.)


To make the geometry and the code for this article clearer, some efficiency issues were ignored. But for most applications, the time spent in moving the camera will be minimal when compared to the time spent rendering and displaying each frame.

However, if the time used for the rendering-rastering phase is minimal and the camera movements use a more significant percentage of the total time, there are a number of solutions. The ultimate efficiency solution is to avoid making any multiplications or divisions in the camera movements by using finite differencing techniques when calculating the moves. This strategy involves keeping more information about each intermediate change and making only the incremental calculations necessary for the next move. This approach is similar to operator reductions in compilers.


A number of applications can use game controls like those discussed here, not just first-person 3D games. Another application that's a good candidate for the kinds of game controls presented here would be a 3D Internet browser. You would want similar 3D controls, but you would also want some controls for selecting Web hot spots that would take you to another 3D Web site. So now the next move is up to you.


    • "QuickDraw 3D: A New Dimension for Macintosh Graphics" by Pablo Fernicola and Nick Thompson, develop Issue 22.

    • "Graphical Truffles: Making the Most of QuickDraw 3D" by Nick Thompson and Pablo Fernicola, develop Issue 24.

    • 3D Graphics Programming With QuickDraw 3D by Apple Computer, Inc. (Addison-Wesley, 1995).

    • Mathematical Elements for Computer Graphics, 2nd Edition, by David F. Rogers and J. Alan Adams (McGraw-Hill, 1990).

    • Tricks of the Mac Game Programming Gurus by Jamie McCornack and others (Hayden Books, 1995).

PHILIP MCBRIDE ( is currently adding QuickDraw 3D and QuickTime VR to HyperCard 3.0. He used to spend time contemplating the meaning of the universe until he figured it out. Now he can be seen wandering the halls at Apple and mumbling something about needing more content. Lately, Philip has been looking into investing in anteaters after learning that a full 20% of the earth's biomass is made up of ants and termites. Just think about that overcrowding the next time someone says we don't need to invest in space travel.

Thanks to our technical reviewers Rick Evans, Richard Lawler, John Louch, Tim Monroe, Nick Thompson, and Dan Venolia.


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