Postmodern Haskell and OpenGL: Introducing vinyl-gl

March 14, 2016: Reformatting

This article is for those familiar with Haskell and, at least passingly, with Jon Sterling’s vinyl library (that packs quite a nice introduction). Further, it is assumed that the reader is familiar with the basics of computer graphics and OpenGL. I have written another article that introduces the use of relatively modern OpenGL practice with Haskell that may serve as a primer for this article.

This post is a guided tour through the Game2D example in the vinyl-gl repository. I think (hope) the examples directory there is a useful starting point to see how this library may be used. If you want to skip the examples and just get coding, the library is available on hackage.

What’s the Problem?

A drawback to the changes undergone by OpenGL over the past few years as it has shifted from a fixed-function to a programmable pipeline is that it now seems much harder to get started. Part of the problem is that, while moving virtually all processing into shader programs provides better performance and vastly more flexibility, programmers must now connect their application code to their GLSL code. This is a bit of a pain as it typically requires thinking about detailed aspects of memory layout, and rather pedantic interactions with OpenGL in order to get past the fact that you must hand it a void* with the promise that this blob of memory is full of useful goodies.

A Worked Example

A first example of connecting Haskell OpenGL code with GLSL is the skeleton of a 2D side-scroller game (think Super Mario Bros.). In these games, levels are often drawn as a set of reusable tiles, and player movement causes a camera to translate across the level. Here’s what it will look like,


I will begin by presenting the GLSL code to be used. I am going to be drawing textured 2D triangles to make up the game level. Our vertex shader will take in a 3x3 matrix that captures the 2D transformations our geometry may undergo. A vertex coordinate and a texture coordinate will comprise the vertex input for the shader, which will then output clip-space coordinates for the vertex data (gl_Position), and pass the texture coordinates through to the fragment shader.

#version 150
uniform mat3 cam;
in vec2 vertexCoord;
in vec2 texCoord;
out vec2 texCoordFrag;

void main() {
  texCoordFrag = texCoord;
  gl_Position = vec4(cam * (vec3(vertexCoord, 1) * 2 - 1), 1);

The fragment shader simply samples the texture.

#version 150
uniform sampler2D tex;
in vec2 texCoordFrag;
out vec4 fragColor;

void main() {
  fragColor = texture(tex, texCoordFrag);

In summary, we have uniform inputs cam and tex. We also have per-vertex inputs vertexCoord and texCoord.

Now we can write some Haskell to feed the GLSL monster. We start by pulling in vinyl, GLUtil, and vinyl-gl in addition to some of the usual suspects.

{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds, TypeOperators #-}
import Control.Applicative
import Data.Foldable (foldMap, traverse_)
import Data.Vinyl
import Graphics.GLUtil
import Graphics.GLUtil.Camera2D
import Graphics.Rendering.OpenGL
import Graphics.UI.GLFW (Key(KeyEsc))
import Graphics.VinylGL
import Linear (V2(..), _x, M33)
import System.FilePath ((</>))

We also have some helper modules used in these examples. These modules are tied to the GLFW-b package’s windowing and input facilities. They serve to kick off our main window with an event loop, and map keyboard input to camera movements.

import Keyboard2D (moveCamera)
import Window (initGL, UI(..))

The rendering parts of our application need to refer to some common rendering state. In our case, we just have a 2D transformation matrix that operates on homogenous 2D points, but we use a vinyl record to get used to techniques that let us avoid coupling the rendering state across all rendering functions. Take a look Demo3D.hs example and its associated rendering functions in Geometry.hs to see this in action. Note the association between the field named "cam" and the vertex shader uniform named cam.

type AppInfo = PlainRec '["cam" ::: M33 GLfloat]

Our game is just going to have ground in front of a blue sky background. The ground is made up of columns of dirt tiles, each topped by a grass tile. Given that design, a level in our game is simply a list of column heights. Here we work with game maps made up of columns whose height ranges from 0 to 10.

gameLevel :: [Int]
gameLevel = [3,3,3,4,5,4,3,3,3,4,5,5,6,7,6,6,6,7,6,5,4,3,3]

We will need to convert a tile height to a 2D square in order to draw the tile on the screen. We define this mapping once so we have a compact game level representation and a consistent-by-construction tile size. Since we are only given the height of the tile to produce, we set its left edge to have an X coordinate of 0. We also here convert our game level’s vertical coordinate system of [0,10] to normalized coordinates that range from 0 to 1. The tile function gives us the four vertices of a square for a tile.

tile :: Int -> [V2 GLfloat]
tile h = let h' = fromIntegral h / 10 in V2 <$> [0,0.2] <*> [h', h' - 0.2]

The tile function can be used to build a column of tiles whose left edge has an X coordinate of 0. We now lay these columns out side-by-side extending from a leftmost edge at the Y axis. Each successive column is placed farther along the positive X axis.

spaceColumns :: [[V2 GLfloat]] -> [[V2 GLfloat]]
spaceColumns = zipWith (map . (_x +~)) [0, 0.2 ..]

Building a Bridge to GLSL

The 2D vertices we produce will consist of not only 2D positions, but also texture coordinates that define how our tile images are mapped to 2D tiles. Having this Tex field means that we have the flexibility to switch to a sprite atlas technique, or to repeat an image across a tile. Once again, we are arranging a coincidence of naming here: the vinyl Field pos has a type with name "vertexCoord" that matches up with the vertexCoord our vertex shader expects as input.

type Pos = "vertexCoord" ::: V2 GLfloat
type Tex = "texCoord"    ::: V2 GLfloat

pos :: Pos
pos = Field

tex :: Tex
tex = Field

We’re not going to do anything fancy with texture coordinates for now, so we will simply assign each vertex texture coordinates that map the entire texture to the tile square.

tileTex :: [[V2 GLfloat]] -> [PlainRec [Pos,Tex]]
tileTex = foldMap (flip (zipWith (<+>)) (cycle coords) . map (pos =:))
  where coords = map (tex =:) $ V2 <$> [0,1] <*> [0,1]

We compute all the grassy tiles from our gameLevel data structure together because they share the same texture. By grouping our tiles by their textures, we can simplify eventual rendering.

The grassTiles action computes a list of vertices with position (Pos) and texture coordinate (Tex) fields, then loads all that data into OpenGL. The fields used here will correspond to the inputs expected by our GLSL vertex shader. Data is loaded into OpenGL with the bufferVertices function that takes a list (or a Data.Vector.Storable.Vector) of PlainRec=s and feeds the data into OpenGL. Note that the =BufferedVertices type is tagged with the fields of the buffered vertex data. This lets us compare our buffered data with the expectations of our GLSL program when possible.

grassTiles :: IO (BufferedVertices [Pos,Tex])
grassTiles = bufferVertices . tileTex . spaceColumns $ map tile gameLevel

Producing the columns of dirt that support our grassy tiles is slightly more complicated. Conceptually, we generate a new tile at every possible tile height down to 1 (remember our game level has tiles going up from 0). This means that rather than producing one tile for each element of the gameLevel structure, we instead produce a list of tiles corresponding to a dirt column in our game world.

dirtTiles :: IO (BufferedVertices [Pos,Tex])
dirtTiles = bufferVertices . tileTex . spaceColumns $ map col gameLevel
  where col :: Int -> [V2 GLfloat]
        col h = foldMap tile [h - 1, h - 2 .. 1]

So much for geometry! We have now defined how to produce a bunch of textured 2D squares from our gameLevel data structure. The next step is to load the images we want to use into OpenGL TextureObject=s. Here, we load images from the =art directory, and set each to use nearest-neighbor filtering.

loadTextures :: [FilePath] -> IO [TextureObject]
loadTextures = fmap (either error id . sequence) . mapM aux
  where aux f = do img <- readTexture ("art" </> f)
                   traverse_ (const texFilter) img
                   return img
        texFilter = do textureFilter Texture2D $= ((Nearest, Nothing), Nearest)
                       texture2DWrap $= (Repeated, ClampToEdge)

Ready to Render

Finally, we can define how to draw our game world! We will make use of the geometry and texture loading pieces defined above to produce a function that will draw our game level. I obtained the images used here from; with thanks to the artist,

background :: IO (AppInfo -> IO ())
background = 
  do [grass,dirt] <- loadTextures [ "ground.png", "ground_dirt.png" ]

With our textures loaded, we are now going to load our GLSL program by specifying a vertex shader and a fragment shader.

     s <- loadShaderProgram ("etc"</>"game2d.vert") ("etc"</>"game2d.frag")

Our fragment shader has a sampler2D uniform input to support texturing. We are always going to use the first texture unit, denoted 0, so we can set this uniform parameter of our shader program now.

     setUniforms s (texSampler =: 0)

We are now ready to prepare our geometry. Recall that we have code that loads a bunch of 2D vertices into OpenGL: four vertices for each tile. We are going to render each tile as a pair of triangles, but we don’t want to make separate rendering calls for every tile, or even every triangle. To this end, we will also provide OpenGL with vertex indices that describe how to index into the buffered vertices to produce triangles.

We have defined our square tile vertices like this:

    0 ------- 2
    |         |
    |         |
    |         |

These four vertices may be drawn as two triangles with counterclockwise winding by considering one triangle consisting of vertices [0,1,2] and another consisting of vertices [2,1,3]. Thus the indices [0,1,2,2,1,3] may be used to index into a buffer of four vertices to render two triangles making up one square tile. We’ve buffered all our tile vertices contiguously, so all we need to do is repeat the [0,1,2,2,1,3] pattern for each tile, shifting the sequence by 4 for each tile (for example, the second tile indexes into the buffered vertex data at [4,5,6,6,5,7]). We build an infinite list of such shifted sequences in the definition for inds below, then take 6 indices for each tile in our game world.

     grassVerts <- grassTiles
     eb <- bufferIndices inds
     grassVAO <- makeVAO $ do enableVertices' s grassVerts
                              bindVertices grassVerts
                              bindBuffer ElementArrayBuffer $= Just eb
     dirtVerts <- dirtTiles

OpenGL is a stateful system, and Vertex Array Objects (VAOs) were added to help encapsulate some of this state. In particular, we need to bind each field of our vertices to its corresponding GLSL shader input. We do this by giving OpenGL offsets and strides into our vertex buffer that define how to pick out each field of each vertex. The vinyl-gl library handles all of this automatically. The convention that drives the entire arrangement is that the symbolic name attached to each field is identical to the corresponding GLSL input’s name.

     dirtVAO <- makeVAO $ do enableVertices' s dirtVerts
                             bindVertices dirtVerts
                             bindBuffer ElementArrayBuffer $= Just eb
     return $ \i -> do currentProgram $= Just (program s)
                       setUniforms s i
                       withVAO grassVAO . withTextures2D [grass] $
                         drawIndexedTris numGrassTris
                       withVAO dirtVAO . withTextures2D [dirt] $
                         drawIndexedTris numDirtTris
  where numGrassTris = fromIntegral $ 2 * length gameLevel
        numDirtTris = fromIntegral . sum $ map (*2) gameLevel
        texSampler = Field :: "tex" ::: GLint
        inds = take (sum $ map (*6) gameLevel) $
               foldMap (flip map [0,1,2,2,1,3] . (+)) [0,4..]

The Window and Main Loop

Our application is driven by a single initialization function. We set the color to which each frame will be cleared, turn on alpha blending, as our textures have alpha channels, and initialize our background renderer.

setup :: IO (AppInfo -> IO ())
setup = do clearColor $= Color4 0.812 0.957 0.969 1
           blend $= Enabled
           blendFunc $= (SrcAlpha, OneMinusSrcAlpha)

The game loop makes use of a frame-tick action that provides an updated UI value and the drawing function returned from setup.

loop :: IO UI -> IO ()
loop tick = setup >>= go camera2D
  where go :: Camera GLfloat -> (AppInfo -> IO ()) -> IO ()
        go c draw = 
          do ui <- tick
             clear [ColorBuffer, DepthBuffer]
             let mCam = camMatrix c
                 info = Field =: mCam
             draw info
             if keysPressed ui ^. contains KeyEsc
             then return () -- terminate
             else go (moveCamera ui c) draw

Open the window and kick off the loop!

main :: IO ()
main = usage >> initGL "2D Platformer" 640 480 >>= loop
usage :: IO ()
usage = putStrLn "Arrow keys to translate, shift+arrow to rotate, esc to exit!"

And that’s it! Since walking through working code isn’t entirely satisfying, what would happen if we screwed up the synchronization between Haskell and GLSL?

Safety Net

Suppose we had written:

type Pos = "vertexCoord" ::: V2 GLint

and treated vertex position as an integer value throughout.

This would result in a runtime error at startup:

Game2D: Type mismatch in vertexCoord

Similarly, had we written:

type Pos = "vertexCoord" ::: V3 GLfloat

We would see the same error at runtime. We are not inspecting the GLSL program at compile time, as it may change between the time we typecheck our Haskell program and run our executable. However, once we have loaded GLSL code at runtime, and tried to enable some BufferedVertices with enableVertices', vinyl-gl can detect mismatches between the Haskell and GLSL sides.

Another potential mishap: had we let our names get out of sync and written,

type Pos = "vCoords" ::: V2 GLfloat

We would get a different error at runtime:

Game2D: GLSL expecting vertexCoord

These hypothetical errors may seem a bit contrived, but easily arise when composing larger applications from small pieces, as we always do in Haskell. The extensible records provided by vinyl combined with the vinyl-gl machinery let us,

  • Append fields to records to grow complex vertex descriptors
  • Project out simpler supertypes from more richly defined descriptors
  • Load complex vertex data into OpenGL, but only map parts of the data to GLSL parameters

This flexibility helps the programmer avoid getting boxed in by specific record types while maintaining good relations between Haskell and GLSL code.

Short and Sweet

To bring things full circle, here is a version of the code from the older article linked at the top compared to a version ported to use vinyl-gl and the newest GLUtil. We have eliminated nearly half the code by reducing OpenGL boilerplate (GLSL ↔ Haskell synchronization, VertexArrayDescriptor specifications, etc.), and better encapsulating rendering actions.

(Old version on the left, new version on the right.)

vinyl-gl-comparison.png (pdf)