F = G + H
- G= 表示从A点到当前点的所经过的路径长度
Note: In earlier versions of this article, it was suggested that you can stop when the target square (or node) has been added to the open list, rather than the closed list. Doing this will be faster and it will almost always give you the shortest path, but not always. Situations where doing this could make a difference are when the movement cost to move from the second to the last node to the last (target) node can vary significantly -- as in the case of a river crossing between two nodes, for example.
Now that you understand the basic method, here are some additional things to think about when you are writing your own program. Some of the following materials reference the program I wrote in C++ and Blitz Basic, but the points are equally valid in other languages.
1. Other Units (collision avoidance): If you happen to look closely at my example code, you will notice that it completely ignores other units on the screen. The units pass right through each other. Depending on the game, this may be acceptable or it may not. If you want to consider other units in the pathfinding algorithm and have them move around one another, I suggest that you only consider units that are either stopped or adjacent to the pathfinding unit at the time the path is calculated, treating their current locations as unwalkable. For adjacent units that are moving, you can discourage collisions by penalizing nodes that lie along their respective paths, thereby encouraging the pathfinding unit to find an alternate route (described more under #2).
If you choose to consider other units that are moving and not adjacent to the pathfinding unit, you will need to develop a method for predicting where they will be at any given point in time so that they can be dodged properly. Otherwise you will probably end up with strange paths where units zig-zag to avoid other units that aren't there anymore.
You will also, of course, need to develop some collision detection code because no matter how good the path is at the time it is calculated, things can change over time. When a collision occurs a unit must either calculate a new path or, if the other unit is moving and it is not a head-on collision, wait for the other unit to step out of the way before proceeding with the current path.
These tips are probably enough to get you started. If you want to learn more, here are some links that you might find helpful:
2. Variable Terrain Cost: In this tutorial and my accompanying program, terrain is just one of two things – walkable or unwalkable. But what if you have terrain that is walkable, but at a higher movement cost? Swamps, hills, stairs in a dungeon, etc. – these are all examples of terrain that is walkable, but at a higher cost than flat, open ground. Similarly, a road might have a lower movement cost than the surrounding terrain.
This problem is easily handled by adding the terrain cost in when you are calculating the G cost of any given node. Simply add a bonus cost to such nodes. The A* pathfinding algorithm is already written to find the lowest cost path and should handle this easily. In the simple example I described, when terrain is only walkable or unwalkable, A* will look for the shortest, most direct path. But in a variable-cost terrain environment, the least cost path might involve traveling a longer distance – like taking a road around a swamp rather than plowing straight through it.
An interesting additional consideration is something the professionals call “influence mapping.” Just as with the variable terrain costs described above, you could create an additional point system and apply it to paths for AI purposes. Imagine that you have a map with a bunch of units defending a pass through a mountain region. Every time the computer sends somebody on a path through that pass, it gets whacked. If you wanted, you could create an influence map that penalized nodes where lots of carnage is taking place. This would teach the computer to favor safer paths, and help it avoid dumb situations where it keeps sending troops through a particular path, just because it is shorter (but also more dangerous).
Yet another possible use is penalizing nodes that lie along the paths of nearby moving units. One of the downsides of A* is that when a group of units all try to find paths to a similar location, there is usually a significant amount of overlap, as one or more units try to take the same or similar routes to their destinations. Adding a penalty to nodes already 'claimed' by other units will help ensure a degree of separation, and reduce collisions. Don't treat such nodes as unwalkable, however, because you still want multiple units to be able to squeeze through tight passageways in single file, if necessary. Also, you should only penalize the paths of units that are near the pathfinding unit, not all paths, or you will get strange dodging behavior as units avoid paths of units that are nowhere near them at the time. Also, you should only penalize path nodes that lie along the current and future portion of a path, not previous path nodes that have already been visited and left behind.
3. Handling Unexplored Areas: Have you ever played a PC game where the computer always knows exactly what path to take, even though the map hasn't been explored yet? Depending upon the game, pathfinding that is too good can be unrealistic. Fortunately, this is a problem that is can be handled fairly easily.
The answer is to create a separate "knownWalkability" array for each of the various players and computer opponents (each player, not each unit -- that would require a lot more computer memory). Each array would contain information about the areas that the player has explored, with the rest of the map assumed to be walkable until proven otherwise. Using this approach, units will wander down dead ends and make similar wrong choices until they have learned their way around. Once the map is explored, however, pathfinding would work normally.
4. Smoother Paths: While A* will automatically give you the shortest, lowest cost path, it won't automatically give you the smoothest looking path. Take a look at the final path calculated in our example (in Figure 7). On that path, the very first step is below, and to the right of the starting square. Wouldn't our path be smoother if the first step was instead the square directly below the starting square?
There are several ways to address this problem. While you are calculating the path you could penalize nodes where there is a change of direction, adding a penalty to their G scores. Alternatively, you could run through your path after it is calculated, looking for places where choosing an adjacent node would give you a path that looks better. For more on the whole issue, check out Toward More Realistic Pathfinding, a (free, but registration required) article at Gamasutra.com by Marco Pinter.
5. Non-square Search Areas: In our example, we used a simple 2D square layout. You don't need to use this approach. You could use irregularly shaped areas. Think of the board game Risk, and the countries in that game. You could devise a pathfinding scenario for a game like that. To do this, you would need to create a table for storing which countries are adjacent to which, and a G cost associated with moving from one country to the next. You would also need to come up with a method for estimating H. Everything else would be handled the same as in the above example. Instead of using adjacent squares, you would simply look up the adjacent countries in the table when adding new items to your open list.
Similarly, you could create a waypoint system for paths on a fixed terrain map. Waypoints are commonly traversed points on a path, perhaps on a road or key tunnel in a dungeon. As the game designer, you could pre-assign these waypoints. Two waypoints would be considered "adjacent" to one another if there were no obstacles on the direct line path between them. As in the Risk example, you would save this adjacency information in a lookup table of some kind and use it when generating your new open list items. You would then record the associated G costs (perhaps by using the direct line distance between the nodes) and H costs (perhaps using a direct line distance from the node to the goal). Everything else would proceed as usual.
Amit Patel has written a brief article delving into some alternatives. For another example of searching on an isometric RPG map using a non-square search area, check out my article Two-Tiered A* Pathfinding.
6. Some Speed Tips: As you develop your own A* program, or adapt the one I wrote, you will eventually find that pathfinding is using a hefty chunk of your CPU time, particularly if you have a decent number of pathfinding units on the board and a reasonably large map. If you read the stuff on the net, you will find that this is true even for the professionals who design games like Starcraft or Age of Empires. If you see things start to slow down due to pathfinding, here are some ideas that may speed things up:
- Consider a smaller map or fewer units.
- Never do path finding for more than a few units at a time. Instead put them in a queue and spread them out over several game cycles. If your game is running at, say, 40 cycles per second, no one will ever notice. But they will notice if the game seems to slow down every once in a while when a bunch of units are all calculating paths at the same time.
- Consider using larger squares (or whatever shape you are using) for your map. This reduces the total number of nodes searched to find the path. If you are ambitious, you can devise two or more pathfinding systems that are used in different situations, depending upon the length of the path. This is what the professionals do, using large areas for long paths, and then switching to finer searches using smaller squares/areas when you get close to the target. If you are interested in this concept, check out my article Two-Tiered A* Pathfinding.
- For longer paths, consider devising precalculated paths that are hardwired into the game.
- Consider pre-processing your map to figure out what areas are inaccessible from the rest of the map. I call these areas "islands." In reality, they can be islands or any other area that is otherwise walled off and inaccessible. One of the downsides of A* is that if you tell it to look for paths to such areas, it will search the whole map, stopping only when every accessible square/node has been processed through the open and closed lists. That can waste a lot of CPU time. It can be prevented by predetermining which areas are inaccessible (via a flood-fill or similar routine), recording that information in an array of some kind, and then checking it before beginning a path search.
- In a crowded, maze-like environment, consider tagging nodes that don't lead anywhere as dead ends. Such areas can be manually pre-designated in your map editor or, if you are ambitious, you could develop an algorithm to identify such areas automatically. Any collection of nodes in a given dead end area could be given a unique identifying number. Then you could safely ignore all dead ends when pathfinding, pausing only to consider nodes in a dead end area if the starting location or destination happen to be in the particular dead end area in question.
7. Maintaining the Open List: This is actually one of the most time consuming elements of the A* pathfinding algorithm. Every time you access the open list, you need to find the square that has the lowest F cost. There are several ways you could do this. You could save the path items as needed, and simply go through the whole list each time you need to find the lowest F cost square. This is simple, but really slow for long paths. This can be improved by maintaining a sorted list and simply grabbing the first item off the list every time you need the lowest F-cost square. When I wrote my program, this was the first method I used.
This will work reasonably well for small maps, but it isn’t the fastest solution. Serious A* programmers who want real speed use something called a binary heap, and this is what I use in my code. In my experience, this approach will be at least 2-3 times as fast in most situations, and geometrically faster (10+ times as fast) on longer paths. If you are motivated to find out more about binary heaps, check out my article, Using Binary Heaps in A* Pathfinding.
Another possible bottleneck is the way you clear and maintain your data structures between pathfinding calls. I personally prefer to store everything in arrays. While nodes can be generated, recorded and maintained in a dynamic, object-oriented manner, I find that the amount of time needed to create and delete such objects adds an extra, unnecessary level of overhead that slows things down. If you use arrays, however, you will need to clean things up between calls. The last thing you will want to do in such cases is spend time zero-ing everything out after a pathfinding call, especially if you have a large map.
I avoid this overhead by creating a 2d array called whichList(x,y) that designates each node on my map as either on the open list or closed list. After pathfinding attempts, I do not zero out this array. Instead I reset the values of onClosedList and onOpenList in every pathfinding call, incrementing both by +5 or something similar on each path finding attempt. This way, the algorithm can safely ignore as garbage any data left over from previous pathfinding attempts. I also store values like F, G and H costs in arrays. In this case, I simply write over any pre-existing values and don't bother clearing the arrays when I'm done.
Storing data in multiple arrays consumes more memory, though, so there is a trade off. Ultimately, you should use whatever method you are most comfortable with.
8. Dijkstra's Algorithm: While A* is generally considered to be the best pathfinding algorithm (see rant above), there is at least one other algorithm that has its uses - Dijkstra's algorithm. Dijkstra's is essentially the same as A*, except there is no heuristic (H is always 0). Because it has no heuristic, it searches by expanding out equally in every direction. As you might imagine, because of this Dijkstra's usually ends up exploring a much larger area before the target is found. This generally makes it slower than A*.
So why use it? Sometimes we don't know where our target destination is. Say you have a resource-gathering unit that needs to go get some resources of some kind. It may know where several resource areas are, but it wants to go to the closest one. Here, Dijkstra's is better than A* because we don't know which one is closest. Our only alternative is to repeatedly use A* to find the distance to each one, and then choose that path. There are probably countless similar situations where we know the kind of location we might be searching for, want to find the closest one, but not know where it is or which one might be closest.
If you do not have access to C++ or Blitz Basic, two small exe files can be found in the C++ version. The Blitz Basic version can be run by downloading the free demo version of Blitz Basic 3D (not Blitz Plus) at the Blitz Basic web site.
You should also consider reading through the following web pages. They should be much easier to understand now that you have read this tutorial.
- Amit’s A* Pages: This is a very widely referenced page by Amit Patel, but it can be a bit confusing if you haven’t read this article first. Well worth checking out. See especially Amit's own thoughts on the topic.
- Smart Moves: Intelligent Path Finding: This article by Bryan Stout at Gamasutra.com requires registration to read. The registration is free and well worth it just to reach this article, much less the other resources that are available there. The program written in Delphi by Bryan helped me learn A*, and it is the inspiration behind my A* program. It also describes some alternatives to A*.
- Terrain Analysis: This is an advanced, but interesting, article by Dave Pottinger, a professional at Ensemble Studios. This guy coordinated the development of Age of Empires and Age of Kings. Don’t expect to understand everything here, but it is an interesting article that might give you some ideas of your own. It includes some discussion of mip-mapping, influence mapping, and some other advanced AI/pathfinding concepts.
Some other sites worth checking out: