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The Grid

The Grid

April 12, 2017

Project: Learn to buid Conway's Game of Life with SpriteKit and Swift 3

Time to code! In this step you are going to hook up the UI we've created in SpriteBuilder with the game logic you're going to code in Xcode.

Create the grid class

The grid class will be a subclass of SKSpriteNode.

Create a new Swift file (File > New > File > Swift File) and name it Grid.swift. Replace the contents of this file with:

import SpriteKit

class Grid: SKSpriteNode {

    /* Grid array dimensions */
    let rows = 8
    let columns = 10

    /* Individual cell dimension, calculated in setup*/
    var cellWidth = 0
    var cellHeight = 0

    override func touchesBegan(_ touches: Set<UITouch>, withEvent event: UIEvent?) {
        /* Called when a touch begins */

        /* There will only be one touch as multi touch is not enabled by default */
        for touch in touches {

            /* Grab position of touch relative to the grid */
            let location  = touch.location(in: self)

    /* You are required to implement this for your subclass to work */
    required init?(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
        super.init(coder: aDecoder)

        /* Enable own touch implementation for this node */
        userInteractionEnabled = true

        /* Calculate individual cell dimensions */
        cellWidth = Int(size.width) / columns
        cellHeight = Int(size.height) / rows


The above code should be familiar by now, if you look at the grid asset in GameScene.sks you will see it has 8 rows and 10 columns. During the initialization of the Grid object, the cellWidth & cellHeight properties will be calculated as these will also be required later on.

What will sit in the boxes on the grid? That would be the bubble.png asset, before you can populate the grid with these slimy bubbles you will be adding a custom creature class.

Create the creature class

The Creature class will be another subclass of SKSpriteNode

Create a new Swift file (File > New > File > Swift File) and name it Creature.swift. Replace the contents of this file with:

import SpriteKit

class Creature: SKSpriteNode {

    /* Character side */
    var isAlive: Bool = false {
        didSet {
            /* Visibility */
            isHidden = !isAlive

    /* Living neighbor counter */
    var neighborCount = 0

    init() {
        /* Initialize with 'bubble' asset */
        let texture = SKTexture(imageNamed: "bubble")
        super.init(texture: texture, color: UIColor.clear, size: texture.size())

        /* Set Z-Position, ensure it's on top of grid */
        zPosition = 1

        /* Set anchor point to bottom-left */
        anchorPoint = CGPoint(x: 0, y: 0)

    /* You are required to implement this for your subclass to work */
    required init?(coder aDecoder: NSCoder) {
        super.init(coder: aDecoder)

The code above should be mostly familiar to you. All instances of the Creature class will be created in code, you are setting the init() to use the bubble.png asset and then calling the parent SKSpriteNode with super.init to initialize everything as normal for a SKSpriteNode.

There are two important property additions in your Creature class:

  • isAlive: Is the creature alive or dead? If dead you want to hide it using the hidden property.
  • neighborCount: How many creatures immediately (one block) surround the creature?

Populating the grid

It would be great to run the game soon, let's populate the grid with creatures. You also need a way to track all of the creatures on the grid.

The 2D grid array

A 2D array of creatures would be a great way to create a code representation of the grid.

Add the following 2D array property to the Grid class:

/* Creature Array */
var gridArray = [[Creature]]()

The next step required is to initialize the gridArray, you already know the row and column sizes. A simple for loop through all the rows/columns in the gridArray will allow you to do this.

Initialize the array

Add the following method to the Grid class:

func populateGrid() {
  /* Populate the grid with creatures */

  /* Loop through columns */
  for gridX in 0..<columns {

      /* Initialize empty column */

      /* Loop through rows */
      for gridY in 0..<rows {

          /* Create a new creature at row / column position */
          addCreatureAtGrid(x:gridX, y:gridY)

Read through the comments, you loop through every entry in the grid and call the addCreatureAtGrid(...) method. Now you just need to create this new method :]

Adding a creature

The addCreatureAtGrid(...) method, this should perform the following tasks:

  • Initialize a new Creature object
  • Convert the row/column position into a grid screen position
  • Add creature as a child of the grid node
  • Add creature to the gridArray at the x,y position

Can you implement this method? I'll give you a tip, remember the cellWidth and cellHeight properties ? :]

func addCreatureAtGrid(x: Int, y: Int) {
    /* Add a new creature at grid position*/

    /* New creature object */
    let creature = Creature()

    /* Calculate position on screen */
    let gridPosition = CGPoint(x: x*cellWidth, y: y*cellWidth)
    creature.position = gridPosition

    /* Set default isAlive */
    creature.isAlive = true

    /* Add creature to grid node */

    /* Add creature to grid array */

Great, one last step. You need to call populateGrid() to perform this setup.

Add the following to the end of required init?(...):

/* Populate grid with creatures */

Finally, it's time. Run your game... It should hopefully look like this.

Screenshot populate grid

Touch controls

The grid is full of creatures! It would be nice to have control over the initial seed state so let's look at adding touch controls to the grid.

You should change the creatures to be dead by default and the player's touch will make the creature at that grid position come to life.

Change creature.isAlive = true to creature.isAlive = false

You want to implement the following behavior in touchesBegan(...):

  • Convert grid touch to grid row/column position
  • Access creature at this position in the array
  • Toggle the isAlive property

Can you implement this?

Add the following to touchesBegan(...) after let location:

/* Calculate grid array position */
let gridX = Int(location.x) / cellWidth
let gridY = Int(location.y) / cellHeight

/* Toggle creature visibility */
let creature = gridArray[gridX][gridY]
creature.isAlive = !creature.isAlive

Run your game... You should be able to design your own seed pattern now.


Before you begin working the simulation, let's add some counters for population and generation.

Can you add these counters to the Grid class?

Add the following properties to the Grid class.

/* Counters */
var generation = 0
var population = 0

The simulation

There are two important steps to implement in the Game of Life simulation.

  • 1. Calculate every creature's immediate living neighbors
  • 2. Apply the game of life ruleset
    • If a cell has less than two live neighbors, it dies
    • If it has more than three neighbors, it dies
    • If a live cell has exactly two or three neighbors, it stays alive
    • If a dead cell has exactly three neighbors, it comes to life

Calculating neighbors

For every creature in the grid, you'll need to count every surrounding creature. Imagine a 3x3 grid with your creature at the center. How would you approach this?

You will want to check both rows and columns that are +1/-1 from your central creature. There are a few caveats of course, you need to be careful near the extremes of the grid as stepping outside the bounds of the array will result in a crash. Also the central creature should not be counted.

See if you can setup the first step in the countNeighbors() method. You want to loop through every creature in the grid and reset its neighborCount property to 0

Add the following method to the Grid class:

func countNeighbors() {
/* Process array and update creature neighbor count */

  /* Loop through columns */
  for gridX in 0..<columns {

    /* Loop through rows */
    for gridY in 0..<rows {

      /* Grab creature at grid position */
      let currentCreature = gridArray[gridX][gridY]

      /* Reset neighbor count */
      currentCreature.neighborCount = 0

      /* Loop through all adjacent creatures to current creature */
      for innerGridX in (gridX - 1)...(gridX + 1) {

        /* Ensure inner grid column is inside array */
        if innerGridX<0 || innerGridX >= columns { continue }

        for innerGridY in (gridY - 1)...(gridY + 1) {

            /* Ensure inner grid row is inside array */
            if innerGridY<0 || innerGridY >= rows { continue }

            /* Creature can't count itself as a neighbor */
            if innerGridX == gridX && innerGridY == gridY { continue }

            /* Grab adjacent creature reference */
            let adjacentCreature:Creature = gridArray[innerGridX][innerGridY]

            /* Only interested in living creatures */
            if adjacentCreature.isAlive {
                currentCreature.neighborCount += 1

Please read through the code comments.

Applying the ruleset

Now that you can calculate every creatures neighborCount, you now need to apply the rule set above to simulate the Game of Life. Again you need to loop through every creature in the grid and apply the ruleset.

See if you can implement an updateCreatures() method.

func updateCreatures() {
  /* Process array and update creature status */

  /* Reset population counter */
  population = 0

  /* Loop through columns */
  for gridX in 0..<columns {

      /* Loop through rows */
      for gridY in 0..<rows {

          /* Grab creature at grid position */
          let currentCreature = gridArray[gridX][gridY]

          /* Check against game of life rules */
          switch currentCreature.neighborCount {
          case 3:
              currentCreature.isAlive = true
          case 0...1, 4...8:
              currentCreature.isAlive = false

          /* Refresh population count */
          if currentCreature.isAlive { population += 1 }

Read through the comments, there shouldn't be any surprises in here.

You could just as easily use an if statement when it comes to checking the neighborCount. The Switch statement is very powerful in Swift and allows for a lot of flexibility.

You may have noticed the population counter is being updated, you will be using this value to update the population label in the GameScene.


Congratulations, you've implemented the game logic for Conway's Game of Life! You've also levelled up your array handling skillz.

In the next chapter you're going to put the final pieces together to run and observe the simulation.


If you have feedback on this tutorial or find any mistakes, please open issues on the GitHub Repository.

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