Blog: Rules for a future-proof 2D render order

The next weblog put up, until differently famous, used to be written by way of a member of Gamasutra’s group.
The ideas and reviews expressed are the ones of the author and no longer Gamasutra or its mother or father corporate.


Whenever you get started running on a 2D sport, the query of find out how to arrange a correct render order will arise very early on. Render order, a minimum of in the way in which I will be able to be the usage of the time period, determines which portions of your 2D sport get rendered (drawn, displayed, proven) in entrance of (i.e. later than) different portions.

Sadly, you will be unable to determine the necessities for a just right machine till after you want it. I simply spent nearly per week converting ours from what I assumed could be just right once we began our present challenge to what many months later grew to become out to make much more sense. Here is hoping that our findings will prevent the difficulty of going thru that painful refactoring procedure and allow you to get it proper from the beginning.

Please observe:

  1. A few of this is sensible for any 2D sport, however some will probably be particular to a super aspect view conventional for side-scrolling video games.
  2. The program accounts for real-time lights; if that is no worry of yours, a more effective machine would possibly do.
  3. It additionally accounts for a couple of vertical layers, a few of that are most effective printed after a foreground sprite fades out. In case your sport does not have this, portions of our machine will probably be inappropriate for you.
  4. I will be able to be the usage of some Harmony-specific terminology like “Sorting Layer” and “Order in Layer”. Nonetheless, maximum of this newsletter will have to be useful on a conceptual stage without reference to sport engine.

When you’re running in Harmony and are totally new to the subject, I assumed I would supply a brief clarification of Harmony’s Render Order machine (as of Harmony 2019.three.13) and provide you with a snappy intro into its utilization. In case you already understand it, skip proper forward to Absolute best Practices beneath.

The next assumes that you just if truth be told paintings in a 2-dimensional house and don’t seem to be the usage of the Z axis to decide Render Order. If you wish to have your sprites to make use of Harmony’s 2D Render Order machine as an alternative of rendering in response to your sprites’ Z positions, you want to choose your digicam and set its Projection to Orthographic as an alternative of Point of view.

1.1 Sorting Layers

As soon as this is achieved, your whole sprites will probably be rendered in response to Sorting Layers (“SL” for brief). Those paintings necessarily like layers in Photoshop or some other symbol enhancing tool: All sprites on one SL will at all times be rendered in entrance of all sprites on some other, thus including intensity on an “imagined Z axis”.

Let’s take a look on the to be had Sorting Layers. Upload a SpriteRenderer element to a sport object and choose the Sorting Layer drop-down.

Hit Upload Sorting Layer… on the backside to open the Tags and Layers window. It displays all current SLs and lets you upload any selection of new ones. “Default” can’t be deleted, however you shouldn’t have to make use of it. The SL on the best of the listing is rendered on the very again, the SL on the backside is the entire method within the entrance.

Many of the recommendation below Absolute best Practices relates to which layers you will have to arrange, so I would possibly not move into element about it right here. On the other hand, here is a Harmony-specific tip: When including new SLs, use a slash to nest them. Nested layers will then seem smartly grouped in combination within the SL drop-down for your Sprite Renderers. Within the instance beneath, we distinguish between middleground (MG) and background (BG), each and every of which surround a number of SLs:

As soon as your SLs are arrange, you’ll be able to assign any sprite to your scene to them by way of settling on its SpriteRenderer element and selecting the required SL from the drop-down menu.

1.2 Order in Layer

Inside of each and every SL, sprites are once more arranged into an Order in Layer (“OiL” for brief). Whilst SLs have names, the OiL of a sprite is indicated as an integer. The upper it’s, the additional in entrance a sprite is rendered. Imagine the next instance containing 3 SLs: “Background”, “Middleground”, and “Foreground”.

Sprite Sorting Layer Order in Layer
Sky Background -1
Moon Background zero
Skyline Background 1
Space Middleground -1
Participant personality Middleground zero
Column Middleground 1
Laundry Foreground zero

Even if sky, moon, and skyline are all at the background layer, they’re rendered in the proper order as a result of their Order in Layer. As you’ll be able to see, an OiL could have a unfavourable int price.

At this level, you may suppose that you understand all you want to render your sprites in the suitable order. In case you are going for a extra easy glance, that may well be the case. On the other hand, if you wish to move the additional mile (particularly you probably have  dynamic lights), listed here are some extra particular pointers for putting in Sorting Layers (SLs) and Orders in Layer (OiL) in a future-proof method. And although the terminology comes from Harmony, a lot of the following pointers will have to observe to any engine on a conceptual stage.

2.1 Background and Foreground

For our challenge, we’ve made up our minds to differentiate between background (BG), middleground (MG), and foreground (FG). That is simply a conceptual difference; on a technical stage, each and every of those is made up of a couple of Sorting Layers. We additionally added a Sorting Layer named “Dev” for sprites that we use for construction most effective that is invisible to the participant. One thing we did not do (however would possibly at some point) is upload some other visual layer for all Global House UI to make certain that it renders in entrance of all non-UI sprites.

Hiding and appearing the 3 major teams of Sorting Layers (BG, MG, and FG) the usage of a customized script

Regardless of how you find yourself doing it, something to bear in mind when putting in SLs is lights. Each and every 2D Mild element in Harmony can also be set to impact or no longer impact any selection of Sorting Layers:

Because of this the machine figuring out render order and the machine figuring out which lighting impact which sprites are intertwined. This will likely purpose issues; as an example, let’s return to the instance proven below Sorting Order above: In case you upload a gentle to decorate the moon, it’s going to inevitably (inside of its vary) additionally brighten the sky and skyline as a result of all 3 of them are at the identical Sorting Layer. You could no longer need one gentle within the background to impact some other background layer that turns out very a long way clear of it (at the imagined Z axis). Happily, it will simply be resolved by way of making the machine extra granular, i.e. by way of including extra Sorting Layers. The moon and sky may stay at the identical SL and the skyline may well be placed on a brand new one that is visually nearer to the participant. This fashion, the moon would illuminate the clouds, however no longer the skyline.

For our sport, we created 7 Sorting Layers for the background on my own. We ended up with that quantity in particular after experimenting and deciding that 7 visually distinct layers seemed alright. You can realize that some background layers comprise a large, semi-transparent sprite that provides atmospheric tint:

By the way, we were given some other utilization out of the ones 7 background layers by way of giving each and every one its personal parallax pace. (Making a parallax impact with out the will for a Z axis is a subject for some other day.)

A few of the ones SLs could also be additional subdivided into Orders in Layer. As an example, this side road within the background is made up of 3 portions in itself: handrail in entrance, NPCs within the heart, and the remainder within the again.

We additionally added a “unfavourable parallax” layer to the very foreground that strikes towards the digicam and the parallax layers within the background:

The middleground is the place it will get sophisticated, so let’s give it a more in-depth glance!

2.2 Middleground

The middleground (a minimum of in our terminology) is the place the entire motion takes position, the place the participant and NPCs are living, and because of this, the place issues transfer round so much. I will first give an explanation for how we set it up after which elaborate at the reasoning at the back of it.

2.2.1 Sorting Layers

This subsequent difference would possibly seem arbitrary to start with, however it’s actually the perfect consequence we arrived at after a protracted collection of experimentation: There are usually two forms of Sorting Layers within the middleground; “motion layers” the place the participant and NPCs transfer round (known as MG/heart and MG/again), and “wall layers” keeping apart them (known as MG/frontwall, MG/middlewall, and MG/backwall). Recall to mind this latter sort because the “partitions” sandwiching the center and again SLs between each and every different (although they comprise many sprites no longer in particular depicting partitions).

The participant and NPCs can most effective transfer on MG/heart and MG/again and every so often transfer from one to the opposite. In a different way put, they are able to be in “heart spaces” (the place they’re rendered on MG/Heart) and “again spaces” (the place they’re rendered on MG/again). The glory between those two is not at all times instantly obvious and might appear open for interpretation. When does the participant transition from heart to again? The fast solution is: On every occasion they “go by way of” a layer of sprites (in particular MG/middlewall) that rendered at the back of them sooner than and now renders in entrance of them, i.e. after they stroll previous a wall layer.

By way of doing so, the participant might input the boundaries of a sprite at the wall layer inbetween that then fades out. We name those “facades”, and one can also be observed within the first instance beneath.

Transferring up: Structures and spaces entered by way of frontal stairs from beneath are generally thought to be because the participant getting into a again space since the participant walks “additional into” the display screen or “clear of the participant”, at the back of the wall layer they had been up to now in entrance of:

On the other hand, this is not essentially the case when transferring up. Within the instance beneath, the participant remains on MG/heart the entire time. This is as a result of they by no means go by way of a wall layer; the facade sprite that fades out used to be in entrance of them the entire time (on MG/frontwall), as you’ll be able to see from the columns on the backside:

Different actions: Coming into a construction or space from the aspect or best is other because the participant by no means is going “additional into” the display screen, thus by no means bypassing a wall layer, regardless of in the event that they stroll usually, use stairs, or stroll thru a door. This situation by no means counts as getting into or leaving a again space as a result of no motion at the imagined Z axis happens.

Teleporting: Teleporters transferring the participant from an open space right into a room or construction don’t seem to be the entire identical. If the participant is transported at the back of a sprite that used to be up to now at the back of the participant (once more: in the event that they transfer previous MG/middlewall), they’re certainly transferring from MGmiddle to MGback:

On the other hand, if the participant does no longer transfer previous a sprite that used to be up to now at the back of them, they keep at the identical layer. Within the instance beneath, the participant teleports from MGmiddle to MGmiddle. What to appear out for

After telling you what labored, I additionally need to communicate in regards to the mistake we made with our Sorting Layers that led to me to rebuild the machine totally to the way in which it’s now. I encourage you to learn this bit as it will prevent a large number of headache!

The render order we used to have incorporated most effective the Sorting Layers MG/entrance/heart/again/veryback. On the other hand, this fell aside with the advent of 2D Lighting: In positive situations, a sprite had to be rendered on a definite layer however wasn’t meant to be suffering from a gentle supply that carried out to different sprites on that very same layer. This most commonly affected facades; believe the instance beneath:

Instance setup; sprites were moved at the Z axis just for demonstration functions

The participant must be rendered in entrance of the facade whilst outdoor the construction. Subsequently, because the participant is at the (previously) MGmiddle layer, the facade must be at the identical or a decrease middleground layer to be rendered at the back of the participant; it can’t be on MG/entrance.

Instance: outdoor (MG/middlewall)


Instance: inside of (MG/backwall)

On the other hand, gentle assets inside of the construction observe to (previously) MG/heart in addition to (previously) MG/again to illuminate the proper sprites at the inside of, at the back of the facade. In consequence, lighting rendered at the back of the facade seem to fall at the entrance of the facade, which should not be the case.

That is why the facade needs to be on some other layer between the participant and the common MGmiddle layer, which is most effective suffering from lighting in entrance of it. To permit for this, we wanted so as to add extra layers.

Sadly, merely including extra layers most effective half-solved the issue as a result of sprites just like the participant and NPCs might transfer from heart to again and vice versa. In consequence, any gentle on a type of layers will both no longer impact the ones transferring sprites or at all times impact them, together with within the flawed situations (i.e. thru partitions). Because of this we got here up with the glory between heart spaces and again spaces in addition to the wall layers between them. Transferring from one to the opposite adjustments the transferring sprite’s Render Layer to MG/heart and MG/again respectively (merely in response to getting into cause colliders). In consequence, a gentle supply impacts them when they are proper subsequent to it in the similar room – however no longer when they are proper subsequent to it however with a wall-inbetween.

2.2.2 Order in Layer

In a similar way to the background, each and every Sorting Layer within the middleground is in itself divided into a couple of Orders in Layer (OiL). Here is what we realized about the usage of the ones. Stay OiL the similar throughout SLs

The “wall layers” are each and every structured very in a similar fashion to each other, that means that one wall layer’s OiL values are (nearly) precisely the similar as the entire different wall layers’ OiL values. The 2 motion layers additionally proportion the similar OiL values. This makes memorizing OiL a lot more straightforward and significantly accelerates hanging sprites within the scene. As an example, one form of sprite (e.g. foliage) has the similar OiL throughout all wall layers on which it happens. Be sure you arrange exterior documentation for those common OiL laws (and your Render Order typically)! Reserve OiL

In our challenge, one of the sprites can also be interacted with (we name those “Interactables”) and display outlines as soon as the participant will get in vary. The outlines want to be rendered at the back of the Interactable, however in entrance of the sprite at the back of it. Because of this one OiL between the Interactable and the sprite proper at the back of it must be reserved for the description to stop “combating” for render order between the description and the background sprite. For example, if an Interactable (e.g. a cigarette merchandising device) is on OiL 1 and the sprite at the back of it (e.g. a wall) is on OiL zero, the description of the Interactable would have nowhere to move in-between the 2. That is why we’ve now reserved positive OiL for positive renderers: The OiL of any sprite will have to at all times be set to a a couple of of ten (i.e. lead to zero); outlines at all times render 1 OiL at the back of the sprite they belong to (i.e. lead to nine). In our instance, the cigarette merchandising device may well be on 10, the wall at the back of it on zero, and the merchandising device define on nine. Particle results additionally ceaselessly overlap with a couple of sprites in out of control techniques, so we at all times position them on an OiL finishing in eight to keep away from “fights”. Layers finishing in 2 to 7 are nonetheless loose for destiny particular utilization if the will arises.

2.2.2.three Dynamic OiL

Maximum transferring sprites in our sport, like characters, replace their Order in Layer each and every body relying on their y place. This has to occur to ensure that them to render in the proper order relative to each other (at the identical SL) the place motion at the Y axis happens, e.g. on stairs. Within the instance beneath, the participant personality renders in entrance of the NPCs above it, however at the back of the NPCs beneath it.

Merely binding the OiL to an object’s y place – the additional up it’s at the display screen, the decrease its OiL – would possibly be sufficient relying for your setup. On the other hand, you can most likely run into a few issues:

Downside 1: This would possibly no longer paintings for particular scenarios, e.g. complicated set piece animations with a variety of transferring portions.  
Resolution: Because of this we propose including a boolean so you’ll be able to flip this capability off when you ever need to set the Order in Layer manually as an alternative.

Downside 2: What in regards to the rule that sprites can most effective be rendered on OiL that lead to zero?  
Resolution: To make certain that that is the case for transferring sprites as smartly, simply multiply the OiL by way of 10. (Concrete system beneath.)

Downside three: Calculating the render order of sprites in response to their relative place most effective works for sprites that leisure at the ground.  
Resolution: In case your sprites can soar, glide, or fly, issues get a little trickier. The quick solution is: take the gap between a sprite and the bottom platform it pertains to under consideration when calculating the sprite’s OiL. This wasn’t an issue for us as a result of we don’t have any leaping mechanics, so I would possibly not move into extra element about it. On the other hand, [this great blog post]( does!

In spite of everything, this is our whole OiL calculation system (positioned within the _Update()_ way) adopted by way of a snappy clarification: 

movingSprite.sortingOrder = -1 * (Mathf.RoundToInt(change * 100f) * 10);

Part Reasoning
movingSprite.sortingOrder The sprite’s Order in Layer price.
-1 Sprites upper up are if truth be told additional within the again, i.e. the upper the y price, the decrease we wish the OiL to be.
Mathf.RoundToInt() The OiL must be an integer. Use rounding fairly than casting to int, which most effective chops off the decimals.
change * 100 Take the sprite’s y place all the way down to the second one place after the decimal level sooner than rounding. (larger order of magnitude = extra actual)
* 10 Be sure that the sprite’s OiL at all times leads to zero as established above.


That is what it looks as if within the sport. Notice that the OiL on the best adjustments because the participant strikes up and down.

And that is the reason how we do it!

I will communicate extra about correctly putting in 2D belongings, e.g. making a parallax impact and find out how to care for pixel artwork, in destiny weblog posts. Stay a watch our for that on our weblog or our Twitter. In case you discovered an error on this put up or see room for growth, I will be at liberty to replace it. And when you discovered it helpful, be at liberty to proportion it! 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *