Lazy Foo' Productions

Level Editors

Last Updated 8/10/22
Having to hard code your levels is a pain. Fortunately you can make and save a level with a level editor. Here you'll get the basics on how to make one.
In this article we're going to be using the tiling engine from the Tiling tutorial. This article assumes you've read it, so if you haven't already, you should read it now.

When it comes to level editors, there's 3 basic things you need. To demonstrate the first two things, I've made this video:

This is a demo of the debug mode for Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis:

The code to activate it is (at the title screen) press C, C, Up, Down, Left, Right, Hold A, Start and keep holding A 'til the first level appears.

In this video I goof around with the debug mode. The debug mode is not a full level editor but it has two features you want to pay attention to: the ability to choose a game object and place it where you want. With our level editor, we're going to be able to choose a tile and place it where we want on our tile map.

Now what is this missing to be able to be a full fledged level editor? Simple, you can't save and load what you made. We already covered how to load a tile map in the tiling tutorial, and we'll cover saving in this article.

Now let's get started with our level editor.
//The different tile sprites const int TILE_RED = 0; const int TILE_GREEN = 1; const int TILE_BLUE = 2; const int TILE_CENTER = 3; const int TILE_TOP = 4; const int TILE_TOPRIGHT = 5; const int TILE_RIGHT = 6; const int TILE_BOTTOMRIGHT = 7; const int TILE_BOTTOM = 8; const int TILE_BOTTOMLEFT = 9; const int TILE_LEFT = 10; const int TILE_TOPLEFT = 11; //The reflected tile types const char* TILE_NAMES[] = { "TILE_RED", "TILE_GREEN", "TILE_BLUE", "TILE_CENTER", "TILE_TOP", "TILE_TOPRIGHT", "TILE_RIGHT", "TILE_BOTTOMRIGHT", "TILE_BOTTOM", "TILE_BOTTOMLEFT", "TILE_LEFT", "TILE_TOPLEFT" };
We'll be defining human readable versions of our tile constants for later.
//Level camera/cursor SDL_Rect camera = { 0, 0, SCREEN_WIDTH, SCREEN_HEIGHT }; SDL_Point cursor = { SCREEN_WIDTH / 2, SCREEN_HEIGHT / 2 }; //Current tile type int curTileType = TILE_RED;
Instead of moving around the level with a keyboard controlled dot, we'll moving around a cursor with the mouse. We'll also need to keep track of the current type of tile we're placing, so we'll need variables for both of these in addition to the camera.
//Move cursor with mouse else if( e.type == SDL_MOUSEMOTION ) { cursor.x = e.motion.x; cursor.y = e.motion.y; } //Cycle through tile types with mouse wheel else if( e.type == SDL_MOUSEWHEEL ) { //Wheel up if( e.wheel.y > 0 ) { --curTileType; if( curTileType < TILE_RED ) { curTileType = TILE_TOPLEFT; } SDL_SetWindowTitle( gWindow, TILE_NAMES[ curTileType ] ); } //Wheel down else { ++curTileType; if( curTileType > TILE_TOPLEFT ) { curTileType = TILE_RED; } SDL_SetWindowTitle( gWindow, TILE_NAMES[ curTileType ] ); } } //Place tile on click else if( e.type == SDL_MOUSEBUTTONDOWN ) { SDL_SetWindowTitle( gWindow, TILE_NAMES[ curTileType ] ); putTile( tileSet, cursor, camera, curTileType ); }
When we move the mouse we update the cursor position, when we scroll the mouse wheel we cycle through the tile types, and when we click the mouse we place a tile (we'll cover how this function works in a bit).
//Move camera towards cursor if( cursor.x < SCREEN_WIDTH / 4 ) { camera.x -= CURSOR_VEL; } if( cursor.x > SCREEN_WIDTH * 3 / 4 ) { camera.x += CURSOR_VEL; } if( cursor.y < SCREEN_HEIGHT / 4 ) { camera.y -= CURSOR_VEL; } if( cursor.y > SCREEN_HEIGHT * 3 / 4 ) { camera.y += CURSOR_VEL; } //Keep the camera in bounds if( camera.x < 0 ) { camera.x = 0; } if( camera.y < 0 ) { camera.y = 0; } if( camera.x > LEVEL_WIDTH - camera.w ) { camera.x = LEVEL_WIDTH - camera.w; } if( camera.y > LEVEL_HEIGHT - camera.h ) { camera.y = LEVEL_HEIGHT - camera.h; }
When the cursor goes in the top/bottom/right/left quarter of the screen, we scroll the camera to catch up to the cursor. After moving the camera, we should make sure to keep it in bounds.
//Clear screen SDL_SetRenderDrawColor( gRenderer, 0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF ); SDL_RenderClear( gRenderer ); //Render level for( int i = 0; i < TOTAL_TILES; ++i ) { tileSet[ i ]->render( camera ); } //Render dot like cursor gDotTexture.render( cursor.x - gDotTexture.getWidth() / 2, cursor.y - gDotTexture.getHeight() / 2 ); //Update screen SDL_RenderPresent( gRenderer );
Lastly for our rendering, we render the tiles and then the cursor on top of it.
void putTile( Tile *tiles[], SDL_Point cursor, SDL_Rect camera, int tileType ) { //Offset cursor by camera SDL_Rect box = { cursor.x + camera.x, cursor.y + camera.y, 0, 0 }; //Go through the tiles for( int i = 0; i < TOTAL_TILES; ++i ) { //If the collision box touches this tile if( checkCollision( box, tiles[ i ]->getBox() ) ) { //Set tile tiles[ i ]->setType( tileType ); break; } } }
Placing tiles is fairly simple. We calculate a collision point by taking the cursor and offsetting it by the camera, and then checking which tile the cursor is touching.

When we find tile the cursor collides with, we set it to be the type we want.
void saveTiles( Tile *tiles[] ) { //Open the map std::ofstream map( "09_level_editors/" ); //Go through the tiles for( int t = 0; t < TOTAL_TILES; t++ ) { //Write tile type to file map << tiles[ t ]->getType() << " "; } //Close the file map.close(); }
Lastly, our map saving function just writes out the tile values to the text file. I didn't bother going over the file loading because it is literally copy/pasted from the tiling tutorial.
So that's it for the level editor made for this article. The next section of the article assumes you have a good handle on inheritance and polymorphism. As I said in the state machines article, if you don't know these OOP concepts already you should learn them if you want to make anything complex in C++.

The tiling engine we use here is a simple one. We only have tile objects and their only difference is their sprite and being a floor or a wall type. What about more complex level engines?

A common way to organize your different level object classes is to have a base class and have your different classes inherit from it.
class GameObject { //Stuff }; class Wall : public GameObject { //Stuff }; class Door : public GameObject { //Stuff }; class ThisThing : public GameObject { //Stuff }; class ThatThing : public GameObject { //Stuff };
This would be a way to organize your classes for your game. We have a base game object class and we have our game objects inherit from it.
void putObject( std::vector<GameObject*> &level, int objectType ) { //Mouse offsets int x = 0, y = 0; //Get mouse offsets SDL_GetMouseState( &x, &y ); //Adjust to camera x += camera.x; y += camera.y; //Place object switch( objectType ) { case LVLOBJ_THIS: level.push_back( new ThisThing( x, y ) ); break; case LVLOBJ_THAT: level.push_back( new ThatThing( x, y ) ); break; } }
Here's what a placement function might look like. It simply adds in a new game object to the level at the place the user specified.

Well placing new objects in the level was easy enough but how do you save the objects?
void ThisThing::write_info( std::ofstream &save ) { //Write type save << LVLOBJ_THIS << " "; //Write attributes save << x << " "; save << y << " "; save << maxHealthPoints << " "; save << weapon << " "; save << etc << " "; }
What you can do is have a save function that goes through the level objects, then give your objects a function that writes their attributes to a file.

Here we have a function that takes in a reference to a save file. First we write the object type to the file, and after that we write the various attributes to the file.

Writing the level objects was easy enough, but what about reading them?
//Go through file while( file.eof()! ) { //Determines what kind of object will be made int objectType = -1; //Read level object type from level file file >> objectType; //If there was a problem in reading the level file if( == true ) { //Stop loading level map.close(); return false; } //Place object switch( objectType ) { case LVLOBJ_THIS: level.push_back( new ThisThing( file ) ); break; case LVLOBJ_THAT: level.push_back( new ThatThing( file ) ); break; } }
When we wrote the level object to the file, we had each object write a set of attributes to a file. The first thing in each of the sets was the type of object.

When reading in objects we would read the first character to determine what kind of object the attribute set belongs to. Then we add the proper object to the level and pass a reference of the file to the constructor of the new object.
ThisThing::ThisThing( std::ifstream &load ) { //Get attributes load >> x; load >> y; load >> maxHealthPoints; load >> weapon; load >> etc; }
Now the constructor can continue reading the file and get its attributes. Once this object is constructed, the loading function will continue reading more objects.

Now what if you want to edit objects while in the editor?
while( SDL_PollEvent( &event ) ) { //When the user clicks if( event.type == SDL_MOUSEBUTTONDOWN ) { //On left mouse click if( event.button.button == SDL_BUTTON_LEFT ) { //Select an object select_level_object( level, selectedObject ); } } //Edit level object if( selectedObject != NULL ) { selectedObject->handle_edit(); } }
//Show edit interface if( selectedObject != NULL ) { selectedObject->show_edit(); }
You could give your game objects functions that allow you to edit their attributes.

You would need something to select the game objects, a function to handle events to edit the object's attributes, and a function that shows the attribute editor.

The above two segments of psuedo code show what these might look like.
void select_level_object( std::vector &level, GameObject* &selected ) { //Mouse offsets int x = 0, y = 0; //Get mouse offsets SDL_GetMouseState( &x, &y ); //Adjust to camera x += camera.x; y += camera.y; //Don't want to point to old selected object. selected = NULL; //Go through level objects for( int o = 0; o < level.size(); o++ ) { //If the mouse touches a level object if( mouse_touches( level[ o ] ) == true ) { selected = level[ o ]; } } } void ThisThing::handle_edit() { //Handle GUI Objects hpEditor.handle_events(); weaponEditor.handle_events(); etcEditor.handle_events(); } void ThisThing::show_edit() { //Show GUI Objects;;; }
This is what the object selecting and attribute editing functions might look like. Now that we're getting to into GUIs, I would recommend using a GUI library if you're going to do any complex GUIs. You could roll your own GUIs like in this psuedo code, but some people think it's like pulling teeth. It's your level designer so it's up to you.

There is other stuff we could cover, like using binary file IO as opposed to ASCII like we did here, file selectors, or adding all sort of other features, but you have the fundamentals. The hardest part is getting off the ground, so the rest you should be able to figure out with a little creative thinking and googling.
Download the media and source code for this article here.