Physics contacts and collisions

Physics contacts and collisions

April 10, 2017

Next you'll learn how to setup your physics simulation to notify you of certain events. You want to be able to remove seals from the game when they are hit by penguins, ice blocks or even each other.

Contact delegate

What you as developer need to do is to add meaning to different kinds of collisions. In the game a meaningful collision is one between a seal and any other object in the game.

In SpriteKit you can do this by implementing the SKPhysicsContactDelegate. Let's implement this protocol in the GameScene class, so your code will be notified when a meaningful collision takes place.

Modify the GameScene class declaration:

class GameScene: SKScene, SKPhysicsContactDelegate {

Now that you've adopted the SKPhysicsContactDelegate protocol, you need to sign up your class to receive events generated by the physics contact delegate.

Add this code to didMove(...):

/* Set physics contact delegate */
physicsWorld.contactDelegate = self

Physics masks

In SpriteKit each physicsBody has a property called categoryBitMask. This category is typically used to identify different participants in a collision.

You remember that you setup the penguin with a Category Mask of 1 and the seal with 2. When a collision takes place you will be checking both bodies categoryBitMask for a value of 2 to identify if a seal has been involved in the collision.

By default SpriteKit will not notify you of any collisions, I'm sure you've spotted the Contact Mask property when setting up physics bodies. By default the value is 0 so although collisions will still physically take place, the contactDelegate will never be informed unless we modify the mask to enable notification.

Your use case is straightforward, if anything collides with a seal you want to know about it.

If you look back at the setup of the Seal.sks you set the Contact Mask to be 1 in preparation of this requirement.

Implementing protocol

You will need to implement the beginContact(...) method that will inform you of any meaningful collision contacts. You need to grab a reference first of all to the SKPhysicsBodies involved in the collision. This gives you access to important information such as the categoryBitMask, so you can check if this body is a seal.

Add this method to the GameScene class:

func didBegin(_ contact: SKPhysicsContact) {
  /* Physics contact delegate implementation */

  /* Get references to the bodies involved in the collision */
  let contactA:SKPhysicsBody = contact.bodyA
  let contactB:SKPhysicsBody = contact.bodyB

  /* Was there a seal involved in the collision ? */
  if contactA.categoryBitMask == 2 || contactB.categoryBitMask == 2 {
      print("Seal Hit")

Run your game...

Watch the Debug Panel for log messages. You may notice you get a few Seal hit messges when the level loads. Currently this code is super sensitive, the act of adding Level1.sks to the scene will typically generate a contact event as the seal ever so gently touches the ground or a block when it's first added to the scene.


Now that you know that the collision handler is working, let's improve the implement it. What you want is a way to check how hard the seal was hit and use that to check if you should ignore the collision or destroy the seal.

SpriteKit to the rescue, you can access the collisionImpulse property of the collision to inform you hard these bodies struck each other.

To keep things clean let's add a seal removal method. You'll be adding additional functionality to this method later.

Replace the didBegin method with the following:

func didBegin(_ contact: SKPhysicsContact) {
/* Physics contact delegate implementation */

/* Get references to the bodies involved in the collision */
let contactA:SKPhysicsBody = contact.bodyA
let contactB:SKPhysicsBody = contact.bodyB

/* Get references to the physics body parent SKSpriteNode */
let nodeA = contactA.node as! SKSpriteNode
let nodeB = contactB.node as! SKSpriteNode

  /* Was a seal involved? */
  if contactA.categoryBitMask == 2 || contactB.categoryBitMask == 2 {

      /* Was it more than a gentle nudge? */
      if contact.collisionImpulse > 2.0 {

          /* Kill Seal(s) */
          if contactA.categoryBitMask == 2 {
          if contactB.categoryBitMask == 2 {

You will notice Xcode will popup with an error. That's because you havn't got a dieSeal method, don't worry, you will be implementing this in the next step.

Removing the seal

Add the dieSeal method to your GameScene class:

func dieSeal(_ node: SKNode) {
  /* Seal death*/

  /* Create our seal removal action */
  let sealDeath = SKAction.removeFromParent()

This code should be fairly familiar, notice you are using a SKAction to remove the node rather than calling the removeFromParent method directly.

In the physics simulation you need to ensure that the seal is removed at correct step in the SpriteKit frame render cycle. There is a post-physics step called didSimulatePhysics that takes place after physics forces have been calculated and positions updated for the current frame. At this point it's safe to remove a physics body. However, if you remove a physics body too soon you will run into problems with the physics simulation trying to access nodes that have been prematurely removed. The result is a horrible game crash.

By using the SKAction, SpriteKit will ensure it's removed when it's safe to do so.


The game mechanic is nearly finished, you've learnt to:

  • Implement the physics SKPhysicsContactDelegate
  • Use the categoryBitMask to identify physics bodies in a collision
  • Use SKPhysicsContact to evaluate the collision force between two bodies
  • Remove the seal cleanly from the scene

In the next chapter it's time to add a little sparkle.


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

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