Technology Choices

Hello world! Welcome to the Zetawar blog!

A few people have expressed interest in learning a bit more about the technology behind Zetawar, so here goes. In this first blog post I will describe the key libraries I'm using and my rationale for choosing them.

ClojureScript

First off, it's important to note Zetawar is implemented entirely in ClojureScript. However, explaining that decision is more than I want to attempt in this post. Just take it as a given for now, and I'll try to dig into that more in the future.

Datascript

The Zetawar game and user interface state are stored in Datascript. Datascript is an in-memory database that supports ClojureScript and Clojure and implements a large portion of the Datomic API. Datomic in turn is a durable relational database that supports ACID transactions, declarative queries, and has a first class notion of time. Due to it being in-memory only, Datascript does not support durability. It also does not retain a history of all changes to the database like Datomic does, but it implements enough Datomic features to be quite useful in its own right.

I decided to use Datascript primarily for two reasons. First, Datascript provides extremely flexible query functionality. It supports Datalog, which provides SQL like queries, Datomic's pull API, which provides hierarchical data selection, and Datomic's entity API, which provides a lazy map like interface to database entities. This query flexibility means data can be structured based on logical relationships between data elements rather than how the data is accessed. Second, if in the future I want to make a version of the game that has a server component that needs to run some of the game logic, it should be relatively easy to port the game logic from Datascript to Datomic since their APIs are so similar.

Reagent

The Zetawar user interface is rendered with Reagent. Given that I wanted to make Zetawar web based (I'll discuss that decision more in a future post), the declarative React model on which Reagent is based is a natural fit. The game board interface is a pure function of the game state and the performance requirements of a turn based strategy game are not so great that rendering to the DOM (as opposed to Canvas or WebGL) is likely to be a bottleneck.

So why Reagent and not Om, Om.next, or Rum? Mostly it comes down to familiarity. I have used Reagent on other projects and found it to be effective and easy to use. It's also quite straightforward, with the addition of cursors in Reagent 0.5, to mimic the single atom approach of Om if desired. Om.next and Rum both look interesting, and I did seriously consider Om.next, but wasn't convinced that it provided enough benefits over Reagent (for this project anyway) to justify both the risk of using such a new library as well as the extra time it would take to get up to speed on it. I dismissed Rum on similar grounds. Though I do appreciate its minimalist design and hope to try it out on some future project.

Posh

Posh is the glue that connects Reagent to Datascript. It provides a mechanism for specifying Datascript queries and pulls that are only updated when data related to them has changed. Compared to the simplest alternative of rerunning queries on every transaction, this provides a huge performance boost.

As a new and not very well known library, it is likely the riskiest of these choices. But so far, it has worked extremely well. The only issue I have encountered was a bad interaction with the new lazy-by-default reactions in Reagent 0.6.0-alpha. Posh currently assumes that only a single transaction will take place between each evaluation of its reactions. With the new lazy-by-default reactions, if multiple transactions take place before the next render, some Posh queries may fail to run when related data changes. Thankfully, there is a simple workaround, run Reagent's flush in a Datascript transaction listener so that all reactions are evaluated after every transaction. This destroys the performance improvements possible with lazy transactions, but so far this hasn't been a significant issue. Also, it sounds like this problem will be fixed in the next version of Posh, so it may not even be an issue by the time the final version of Reagent 0.6.0 is released.

Conclusion

That's it for now. In my next post I'll dig into how these libraries are tied together in Zetawar.