Celeste and TowerFall Physics

I get a lot of questions about how the physics work in TowerFall and Celeste. It’s a very simple system that I arrived at after about a decade of experimenting with tile-based platformers. I wrote an engine ages ago for Game Maker platformers that uses these same basic concepts, and since then I’ve simplified and improved it a bit. Also, the Celeste and TowerFall engines are written in C# so we have fancy features like delegates and structs that make everything nicer. It’s nothing ground-breaking, but I decided to write it down in case it helps anyone!

(This post was originally written about TowerFall, before we created Celeste. It all applies to Celeste as well, so I updated the text to reflect that for readers who only have Celeste as a reference point.)

All of our physics are handled by two classes: Solids and Actors. Solids are, of course, the collidable level geometry. Actors are physics objects, such as players, arrows, monsters, treasure chests, etc. Anything that has to move and interact with the level geometry is an Actor. The system has a few simple constraints:

  • All colliders are axis-aligned bounding boxes (AABBs)
  • All collider positions, widths, and heights are integer numbers
  • Except for special circumstances, Actors and Solids will never overlap
  • Solids do not interact with other Solids

Actor Basics

Let’s start off assuming that Solids will never move — how can Actors move and ensure they never overlap Solids? Actors have a very simple core API with two functions:

Both of these functions take a movement amount as a float, and a collision Action callback as a C# delegate. Actors don’t have any concept of their own velocity, acceleration, or gravity. Every class that extends Actor takes care of that, keeping track of its speed and passing it to these functions when appropriate.

Let’s look inside the MoveX function:

First of all, we add the movement amount to our “remainder” counter. Since positions are represented as integers we can’t move in fractions of pixels, so we only move when the rounded remainder is non-zero.

Now that we know how far we want to move, we simply do it one pixel at a time. For each pixel we check ahead for obstructions, and if the coast is clear we move. If we do hit a wall, we halt movement and call the collision delegate that was passed in.

Why do we pass in a collision delegate? More on this later, but basically it lets us use the same MoveX and MoveY functions to perform lots of different kinds of movement. It also means that classes that extend Actor can easily swap out behaviors for collisions.

At this point, we have Actors that move and never intersect Solids — assuming the Solids never move.

Moving Solids Prep

This is where things get tricky. I’ve seen and written many, many flawed implementations of moving solids throughout the years. Some games from my teenage years have truly atrocious moving platform physics, but I eventually arrived at this solution.

Solids just need one movement function, and they don’t need collision delegates because Solids can’t actually collide with other geometry. If you tell a Solid to move 30 pixels to the right, it is guaranteed to get there, regardless of whether other Solids are in the way. Any Actors we meet along the way will need to be dealt with to uphold our law of no Solid-Actor overlap.

Before we dive into the Solid Move function, however, we need to add a few things to our Actor API:

Actors have IsRiding, a function that allows Solids to check whether a specific Actor is riding it. Typically, an Actor is riding a Solid if that Actor is immediately above the Solid. But some Actors might want to override this function to change how it behaves — for example, in TowerFall, players will also ride Solids that they are ledge grabbing on, and flying monsters never ride Solids. In Celeste, Madeline rides Solids when she stands on them or clings to the side of them.

The second addition, Squish, will define behavior when an Actor is squeezed between two Solids. By default, this simply destroys the Actor.

The Heavy Lifting

When a Solid interacts with an Actor, it can do so in two different ways: carrying or pushing. An Actor is carried if it is riding that Solid, but it is pushed if the Solid’s movement results in them overlapping. It’s important to note that pushing takes priority over carrying — that is, if a Solid simultaneously pushes and carries an Actor, it counts as a push.

Here’s Solid.Move:

That’s a lot of code all at once, so here’s a few notes.

First, add the movement amount to our remainders. Solids share the Actor constraint of integer-locked positions, so they have to use the same system to know when to move.

Second, we build a list of every Actor that is riding on this Solid, AKA a list of every Actor that we should carry. This is done by simply looping over every Actor on the stage and checking actor.IsRiding(this). It’s important we do this before we actually move, because the movement could put us out of range for the IsRiding checks.

Third, we temporarily make this Solid non-collidable. When we push or carry Actors, we resolve it by calling the Actor.Move functions. We don’t want that Actor to take into account the Solid that is pushing or carrying it when it moves.

Next we move one axis at a time, and begin resolving Actor interactions. We do overlap checks to see if we need to push any Actors. An important note here is that we do our carry checks before moving, and our push checks after.

If we find ourselves overlapping any Actors, we need to push them. These Actors are pushed regardless of whether we’re also carrying them, because pushing takes priority over carrying. If we aren’t pushing a given Actor, then we can check if it was placed in our list of Actors we should carry. If it fails that check as well, then the Actor has nothing to do with us and we should leave it alone.

Now let’s look at the differences in how we treat pushed vs carried Actors.

Pushed Actors don’t receive our full movement amount — they are only pushed the difference in pixels between our leading edge and their closest edge. This is to make sure the Actor stays flush with the side of our block that is doing the pushing.

Pushes also use the Actor.Squish callback. Recall that by default, this destroys the Actor. If a Solid pushes an Actor into another Solid, something drastic has to be done. Because we are not allowed overlaps and there is nowhere else left to go, we default to destroying the Actor. Depending on the context you might want to try something else, like wiggling the Actor out of the way. TowerFall and Celeste handle this case in a lot of different ways, depending on the gameplay context.

Carried Actors get the full platform movement speed with no collision callback. There’s no danger of squishing here — nothing happens if the Actor hits a wall.

And that’s it! Hopefully this has been helpful to you :)

Makes games ❤ Celeste, TowerFall, Give Up Robot, Runman, Untitled Story, Jumper, etc