helm: A functionally reactive game engine.

[ frp, game-engine, library, mit, program ] [ Propose Tags ]

A functionally reactive game engine, with headgear to protect you from the headache of game development provided.

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Versions 0.1.0, 0.2.0, 0.3.0, 0.3.1, 0.4, 0.5.0, 0.6.0, 0.6.1, 0.7.0, 0.7.1, 1.0.0 (info)
Dependencies base (==4.*), cairo (>=0.12.4 && <1), containers (>= && <1), elerea (>= && <3), filepath (>= && <2), SDL (>=0.6.4 && <1) [details]
License MIT
Copyright (c) 2013, Zack Corr
Author Zack Corr
Maintainer Zack Corr <zack@z0w0.me>
Category Game Engine, FRP
Home page http://github.com/z0w0/helm
Bug tracker http://github.com/z0w0/helm/issues
Source repo head: git clone git://github.com/z0w0/helm.git
Uploaded by ZackCorr at Sat Jul 13 13:43:11 UTC 2013
Distributions NixOS:1.0.0
Downloads 5105 total (22 in the last 30 days)
Rating 2.5 (votes: 3) [estimated by rule of succession]
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Maintainer's Corner

For package maintainers and hackage trustees

Readme for helm-0.3.0

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Helm is a functionally reactive game engine written in Haskell and built around the Elerea FRP framework. Helm is heavily inspired by the Elm programming language (especially the API). All rendering is done through a vector-graphics based API. At the core, Helm is built on SDL and the Cairo vector graphics library. The plan is to change to a more robust setup in the future, such as a lightweight homebrewed renderer built on OpenGL. But for now, Cairo performs pretty well.

In Helm, every piece of input that can be gathered from a user (or the operating system) is hidden behind a signal. For those unfamiliar with FRP, signals are essentially a value that changes over time. This sort of architecture used for a game allows for pretty simplistic (and in my opinion, artistic) code.


  • Allows you to express game logic dependent on input in a straightforward manner, treating events as first class values (the essence of FRP).

  • Vector graphics based rendering, allow you to either write art designed for any resolution or still load generic images and render those as you would with any pixel-based direct blitting game engine.

  • Straightforward API heavily inspired by the Elm programming language. The API is broken up into the following areas:

    • FRP.Helm contains the main code for interfacing with the game engine but also includes some utility functions and the modules FRP.Helm.Color and FRP.Helm.Graphics in the style of a sort of prelude library, allowing it to be included and readily make the most basic of games.

    • FRP.Helm.Automaton contains the Automaton data structure and functions for composing, creating and calculating them. Automatons are a useful abstraction of a dynamic process that is fed input from a signal and feeds output through a signal. This is really useful for things like animation systems, accumulating network packets and other stateful but input dependent things.

    • FRP.Helm.Color contains the Color data structure, functions for composing colors and a few pre-defined colors that are usually used in games.

    • FRP.Helm.Graphics contains all the graphics data structures, functions for composing these structures and other general graphical utilities.

    • FRP.Helm.Joystick contains signals for working with joystick state.

    • FRP.Helm.Keyboard contains signals for working with keyboard state.

    • FRP.Helm.Mouse contains signals for working with mouse state.

    • FRP.Helm.Text contains functions for composing text, formatting it and then turning it into an element.

    • FRP.Helm.Window contains signals for working with the game window state.


The simplest example of a Helm game that doesn't require any input from the user is the following:

import FRP.Helm
import qualified FRP.Helm.Window as Window

render :: (Int, Int) -> Element
render (w, h) = collage w h [move (100, 100) $ filled red $ square 64]

main :: IO ()
main = run $ do
  dims <- Window.dimensions

  return $ fmap render dims

It renders a red square at the position (100, 100) with a side length of 64px.

The next example is the barebones of a game that depends on input. It shows how to create an accumulated state that depends on the values sampled from signals (e.g. mouse input). You should see a white square on the screen and pressing the arrow keys allows you to move it.

{-# LANGUAGE RecordWildCards #-}

import Control.Applicative
import FRP.Elerea.Simple
import FRP.Helm
import qualified FRP.Helm.Keyboard as Keyboard
import qualified FRP.Helm.Window as Window

data State = State { mx :: Double, my :: Double }

step :: (Int, Int) -> State -> State
step (dx, dy) state = state { mx = (realToFrac dx) + mx state,
                              my = (realToFrac dy) + my state }

render :: (Int, Int) -> State -> Element
render (w, h) (State { .. }) = collage w h [move (mx, my) $ filled white $ square 100]

main :: IO ()
main = run $ do
  dims <- Window.dimensions
  arrows <- Keyboard.arrows
  stepper <- transfer (State { mx = 0, my = 100 }) step arrows

  return $ render <$> dims <*> stepper

Installing and Building

Helm requires GHC 7.6 (Elerea doesn't work with older versions due to a compiler bug). To install the latest (stable) version from the Hackage repository, use:

cabal install helm

Alternatively to get the latest development version, you can clone this repository and then run:

cabal install

You may need to jump a few hoops to install the Cairo bindings (which are a dependency), which unfortunately is out of my hands.


Helm is licensed under the MIT license. See the LICENSE file for more details.


Helm would benefit from either of the following contributions:

  1. Try out the engine, reporting any issues or suggestions you have.

  2. Look through the source, get a feel for the code and then contribute some features or fixes. If you plan on contributing code please submit a pull request and follow the formatting styles set out in the current code: 2 space indents, documentation on every top-level function, favouring monad operators over do blocks, etc.

The following is a list of areas I want to tackle in the future, and possible targets that others could try for:

  • Improve the API. There's a few API calls from Elm that would work just as nicely in Helm. These are marked inside TODOs in the code. There also other important things that it's missing, such as audio, joysticks and loading a larger range of image formats.

  • Backend wise, it would be nice to use OpenGL instead of Cairo. Cairo isn't particuarly that well performing for graphic intensive games, although work is done being towards to fix that. However, using OpenGL would make the engine more lightweight, easier to port and be incredibly easier to accelerate. This means I have to write the full vector graphics stack myself, but the worse part will probably just be line styles, the rest should be moderately easy. This will also allow loading of multiple image formats, as the current reason for not using SDL_image is that it's annoying as fuck to integrate with Cairo. Helm also currently uses the Cairo toy text API for rendering, which isn't suppose to be used in production. If switched to OpenGL, SDL_ttf would be a better fit.

  • Optimizations and testing. This is a early release of the engine so obviously little testing or optimizations have been done. It's a little hard to set up a test framework for a game engine, but I have a few ideas, such as writing a dummy version of the backend that simply renders to a PNG file that is fed fake (but predictable) input, which is then compared to a static PNG file to see if the final expected rendering outcome was achieved.

  • Port and support multiple platforms. I've only been testing it on Linux, but there's really no reason that it wouldn't work out of the box on Windows or OSX after setting up the dependencies. But I'd definitely also like to investigate Android and iOS.