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Tutorial 31 - Codea Collision Detection | App Code for Sale | Preview

Tutorial 31 - Codea Collision Detection | iOS Tutorial

How Collision Detection works in Codea

Overview PAGE TOP


31.1 Overview PAGE TOP

Collision detection is a common requirement in game or simulator programming. It involves determining whether two or more objects have intersected. We will only be examining this problem in 2D (two dimensions) for this tutorial.

There are two main approaches to detecting collisions, discrete and continuous. In the discrete case, we advance the physical model by a small time step, and then check if any of our objects are intersecting, or are so close to each other that for all intents and purposes we consider them intersecting. For the continuous case, we write a collision detection algorithm which will be able to predict the trajectories of the physical bodies. The instants of collision are calculated, and the physical bodies never actually have to collide for us to detect the collision.

The continuous approach is more accurate but is also more difficult. So for this tutorial, we will develop a few different discrete detection algorithms. Discrete detection will get the job done in many situations and is well suited to the Codea draw loop architecture. As long as your time steps are small enough, there aren't too many objects and the objects are large enough, you shouldn't miss any collisions.

Note that collision detection can chew up a lot of CPU time. If n is the number of objects on the screen that we need to test, then the:

Number of collision detection tests = (n² - n) / 2

Thus the number of tests increases exponentially with the number of objects being modeled. Consequently, if you have more than a few objects, you will want to look at optimising your tests.

31.2 Bounding Box Detection PAGE TOP

If we have two rectangular objects with origins at (x1, y1) and (x2, y2) and dimensions (i.e. width and heights) of (w1, h1) and (w2, h2), then we can use the following function to determine whether the two rectangles are overlapping at a particular point in time.

function CollisionDetected(x1,  y1,  w1,  h1,  x2,  y2,  w2,  h2) 

  Collision = false

  if (y2 >= y1 and y1 + h1 >= y2) or (y2 + h2 >= y1 and y1 + h1 >= y2 + h2) 
    or (y1 >= y2 and y2 + h2 >= y1) 
        or (y1 + h1 >= y2 and y2 + h2 >= y1 + h1) then
      if x2 >= x1 and x1 + w1 >= x2 then            -- corner 1
          Collision = true
      if x2 + w2 >= x1 and x1 + w1 >= x2 + w2 then  -- corner 2
          Collision = true 
      if x1 >= x2 and x2 + w2 >= x1 then            -- corner 3
         Collision = true 
      if x1 + w1 >= x2 and x2 + w2 >= x1 + w1 then  -- corner 4
         Collision = true

  return Collision -- return whether or not a collision is detected 


A faster version (about 10%) of the same function (albeit a bit more difficult to follow) is:

function CollisionDetected(x1,  y1,  w1,  h1,  x2,  y2,  w2,  h2) 
 return not ((y1+h1 < y2) or (y1 > y2+h2) or (x1 > x2+w2) or (x1+w1 < x2))

And here is another version:

function CollisionDetected(x1,  y1,  w1,  h1,  x2,  y2,  w2,  h2) 
    local ax2, bx2, ay2, by2 = x1 + w1, x2 + w2, y1 + h1, y2 + h2
    return ax2 > x2 and bx2 > x1 and ay2 > y2 and by2 > y2

We will leave it as an exercise for the reader to demonstrate that these functions are all logically equivalent.

31.3 Bounding Circle Detection PAGE TOP

The simplest method to detect circles colliding is to check whether the circles are overlapping. This can be done by calculating the distance between the centers of the two circles and seeing if it is less than or equal to the sum of the radii of the circles. If it is then a collision has occurred.

function CollisionDetected(x1, y1, r1, x2, y2, r2)

    local dx = x2 - x1
    local dy = y2 - y1

    return math.sqrt(dx^2 + dy^2) <= r1 + r2


The square root in the distance formula is unnecessary because the inequality will still hold if we square both sides. Removing the square root will increase your collision detection speed, especially if you are checking for many collisions, because this is a relatively expensive calculation.

function CollisionDetected(x1, y1, r1, x2, y2, r2)

    local dx = x2 - x1
    local dy = y2 - y1

    return (dx^2 + dy^2) <= (r1 + r2)^2



31.3 Box2D Collision Detection PAGE TOP

If you don't want to roll your own collision detection, then you can utilise the built in collision detection functionality of Codea, which is provided courtesy of its Box2D implementation. To use this, the bodies which are colliding need to be created using the physics.body() function. The downside of using this approach is that physics bodies can only have the following shapes (the property is called shapeType):

  • Circle;
  • Polygon;
  • Chain; or
  • Edge (usually used for the ground or walls).

So for pixel perfect collisions you will need to use another approach if your sprites can't be outlined using one of the shapes above. In many cases however, you can approximate the sprite shape using these.

In addition to the shape type, we need to define the body type for our physics object. There are three options:

  1. Dynamic - these objects move under the influence of collisions, forces, joints and gravity (we will use this type for our asteroids);
  2. Static - these objects are not supposed to move and are unaffected by collisions and forces (e.g. the ground or walls); and
  3. Kinematic - these objects can move by setting their linear velocity but like static bodies are unaffected by collisions and forces (we will use this type for our ship, if the ship collides with an asteroid we want it to explode not bounce away).

To demonstrate how easy this is to implement we will create a simple Asteroids game with a ship in the center of the screen and randomly generated asteroids, which will destroy our ship if we detect a collision.

While Box2D will model the movement of our physics bodies for us, it is our responsibility to render (i.e. draw) representations of these bodies on the screen. To do this we will use a simplified version of the PhysicsDebugDraw class (called PhysicsDraw) which is included with the Physics Lab example. A copy of this simplified class is included at the end of the tutorial.

function setup() 

    physics.gravity(0.0, 0.0) 
    physicsDraw = PhysicsDraw() 
    ship = createShip(WIDTH/2, HEIGHT/2) 
    asteroidTimer = 0


The physics.gravity function allows us to set the gravity for our game for the x and y axis respectively. The units are pixels per second squared. We have set our program gravity to zero since we are in space. The createShip function will create a new physics body which we add to the table of bodies in PhysicsDraw. Every draw cycle, PhysicsDraw will render all the physics bodies at their current location.

function createShip(x, y, w, h)

   -- (x, y) are the centre co-ordinates of the ship.
   -- (w, h) define the width and height of the box containing the ship,
   -- if not specified they are 50 and 35 respectively.

   local width = w or 50
   local height = h or 35
   local shipBody = physics.body(POLYGON, 
                                  vec2(0, height), vec2(width, height/2), 
                                  vec2(0, 0), vec2(height/2, height/2), 
                                  vec2(0, height))

   shipBody.x = x
   shipBody.y = y
   shipBody.type = KINEMATIC
   shipBody.sleepingAllowed = false
   shipBody.info = "ship"
   shipBody.interpolate = true

   return shipBody


Next up we need functions to create our asteroids. We will use the same function (createRandPoly) to generate the debris field for when our ship collides with an asteroid and explodes.

function createRandPoly(x, y, s1, s2)

   -- s1 and s2 define the range of length for the poly sides
   -- count defines the number of sides of the poly

   local minLength = s1 or 1
   local maxLength = s2 or 5
   local count = math.random(5,10)
   local r = math.random(minLength, maxLength)
   local a = 0
   local d = 2 * math.pi / count
   local points = {}

   for i = 1,count do
       local v = vec2(r,0):rotate(a) 
                     + vec2(math.random(-10,10), math.random(-10,10))
       a = a + d
       table.insert(points, v)

   local poly = physics.body(POLYGON, unpack(points))

   poly.x = x
   poly.y = y
   poly.type = DYNAMIC
   poly.sleepingAllowed = false
   poly.restitution = 0.5
   poly.info = "poly"

   return poly


function createAsteroid(x, y)

   return createRandPoly(x, y, 25, 65)


The asteroids are placed off the screen in random locations and accelerated towards the screen where eventually one of them will collide with our ship. Inside the draw() function we create a new asteroid every second.

function placeRandomAsteroid()

   -- Generate (x, y) co-ordinates which are
   -- initially off the screen.

   local x = math.random(WIDTH)

   if x < WIDTH/2 then
       x = x - WIDTH
       x = x + WIDTH

   local y = math.random(HEIGHT)

   if y < HEIGHT/2 then
       y = y - HEIGHT
       y = y + HEIGHT

   -- Create an asteroid at the new co-ordinates

   local asteroid = createAsteroid(x, y)

   -- Give the asteroid a linear velocity
   -- towards the screen (and our ship)

   local dX, dY = math.random(50, 100), math.random(50, 100)

   if x > WIDTH then
       dX = -dX

   if y > HEIGHT then
       dY = -dY

   asteroid.linearVelocity = vec2(dX, dY)


function createExplosionAt(x, y)

   -- Creates 6 small polygon moving out from (x, y)
   -- to simulate our ship exploding.
   -- the body.info field is set to debris so that we
   -- can render it the same colour as our ship (i.e. to
   -- distinguish them from the asteroid polygons.

   randPoly1 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly1.info = "debris"
   randPoly2 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly2.info = "debris"
   randPoly3 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly3.info = "debris"
   randPoly4 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly4.info = "debris"
   randPoly5 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly5.info = "debris"
   randPoly6 = createRandPoly(x, y)
   randPoly6.info = "debris"   


-- This function gets called once every frame

function draw()

   -- This sets a dark background color 

   background(40, 40, 50)

   -- Generate a random asteroid every second

   asteroidTimer = asteroidTimer + DeltaTime

   if asteroidTimer > 1.0 then
       asteroidTimer = 0

   -- Do your drawing here



-- Collision Detection
-- This is simply a matter of checking whether one of the two
-- colliding bodies are our ship.

function collide(contact)

   if contact.bodyA == ship or contact.bodyB == ship then
       createExplosionAt(ship.x, ship.y)
       ship.info = "destroyed"
       ship = nil


Collision detection is then just a matter of calling the built in collide() function and checking whether one of the two colliding bodies is our ship. Included below is the simplified PhysicsDebugDraw class which is responsible for rendering our physics bodies each frame.

--# PhysicsDraw

PhysicsDraw = class()

-- Simplified Physics Debug Draw class from the Physics Lab
-- example in Codea.

function PhysicsDraw:init()
   self.bodies = {}
   self.contacts = {}

function PhysicsDraw:addBody(body)

function PhysicsDraw:draw()


   for i,body in ipairs(self.bodies) do

       translate(body.x, body.y)

       if body.type == STATIC then
       elseif body.type == DYNAMIC and body.info ~= "debris" then

       if body.shapeType == POLYGON and body.info ~= "destroyed" then
           local points = body.points
           for j = 1,#points do
               a = points[j]
               b = points[(j % #points)+1]
               line(a.x, a.y, b.x, b.y)
       elseif body.shapeType == CHAIN or body.shapeType == EDGE then
           local points = body.points
           for j = 1,#points-1 do
               a = points[j]
               b = points[j+1]
               line(a.x, a.y, b.x, b.y)
       elseif body.shapeType == CIRCLE then


   stroke(255, 0, 0, 255)
   fill(255, 0, 0, 255)

   for k,v in pairs(self.contacts) do
       for m,n in ipairs(v.points) do
           ellipse(n.x, n.y, 10, 10)


function PhysicsDraw:collide(contact)
   if contact.state == BEGAN then
       self.contacts[contact.id] = contact
       sound(SOUND_HIT, 2643)
   elseif contact.state == MOVING then
       self.contacts[contact.id] = contact
   elseif contact.state == ENDED then
       self.contacts[contact.id] = nil


A complete download of the code presented in this tutorial is available from our Gist repository.

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