TickerHandler

One way to implement a dynamic MUD is by using “tickers”, also known as “heartbeats”. A ticker is a timer that fires (“ticks”) at a given interval. The tick triggers updates in various game systems.

About Tickers

Tickers are very common or even unavoidable in other mud code bases. Certain code bases are even hard-coded to rely on the concept of the global ‘tick’. Evennia has no such notion - the decision to use tickers is very much up to the need of your game and which requirements you have. The “ticker recipe” is just one way of cranking the wheels.

The most fine-grained way to manage the flow of time is of course to use Scripts. Many types of operations (weather being the classic example) are however done on multiple objects in the same way at regular intervals, and for this, storing separate Scripts on each object is inefficient. The way to do this is to use a ticker with a “subscription model” - let objects sign up to be triggered at the same interval, unsubscribing when the updating is no longer desired.

Evennia offers an optimized implementation of the subscription model - the TickerHandler. This is a singleton global handler reachable from evennia.TICKER_HANDLER. You can assign any callable (a function or, more commonly, a method on a database object) to this handler. The TickerHandler will then call this callable at an interval you specify, and with the arguments you supply when adding it. This continues until the callable un-subscribes from the ticker. The handler survives a reboot and is highly optimized in resource usage.

Here is an example of importing TICKER_HANDLER and using it:

# we assume that obj has a hook "at_tick" defined on itself
from evennia import TICKER_HANDLER as tickerhandler

tickerhandler.add(20, obj.at_tick)

That’s it - from now on, obj.at_tick() will be called every 20 seconds.

You can also import function and tick that:

from evennia import TICKER_HANDLER as tickerhandler
from mymodule import myfunc

tickerhandler.add(30, myfunc)

Removing (stopping) the ticker works as expected:

tickerhandler.remove(20, obj.at_tick)
tickerhandler.remove(30, myfunc)

Note that you have to also supply interval to identify which subscription to remove. This is because the TickerHandler maintains a pool of tickers and a given callable can subscribe to be ticked at any number of different intervals.

The full definition of the tickerhandler.add method is

tickerhandler.add(interval, callback,
                  idstring="", persistent=True, *args, **kwargs)

Here *args and **kwargs will be passed to callback every interval seconds. If persistent is False, this subscription will not survive a server reload.

Tickers are identified and stored by making a key of the callable itself, the ticker-interval, the persistent flag and the idstring (the latter being an empty string when not given explicitly).

Since the arguments are not included in the ticker’s identification, the idstring must be used to have a specific callback triggered multiple times on the same interval but with different arguments:

    tickerhandler.add(10, obj.update, "ticker1", True, 1, 2, 3)
    tickerhandler.add(10, obj.update, "ticker2", True, 4, 5)

Note that, when we want to send arguments to our callback within a
ticker handler, we need to specify ``idstring`` and ``persistent``
before, unless we call our arguments as keywords, which would often
be more readable:
tickerhandler.add(10, obj.update, caller=self, value=118)

If you add a ticker with exactly the same combination of callback, interval and idstring, it will overload the existing ticker. This identification is also crucial for later removing (stopping) the subscription:

tickerhandler.remove(10, obj.update, idstring="ticker1")
tickerhandler.remove(10, obj.update, idstring="ticker2")

The callable can be on any form as long as it accepts the arguments you give to send to it in TickerHandler.add.

Note that everything you supply to the TickerHandler will need to be pickled at some point to be saved into the database. Most of the time the handler will correctly store things like database objects, but the same restrictions as for Attributes apply to what the TickerHandler may store.

When testing, you can stop all tickers in the entire game with tickerhandler.clear(). You can also view the currently subscribed objects with tickerhandler.all().

See the Weather Tutorial for an example of using the TickerHandler.

When not to use TickerHandler

Using the TickerHandler may sound very useful but it is important to consider when not to use it. Even if you are used to habitually relying on tickers for everything in other code bases, stop and think about what you really need it for. This is the main point:

You should never use a ticker to catch changes.

Think about it - you might have to run the ticker every second to react to the change fast enough. Most likely nothing will have changed at a given moment. So you are doing pointless calls (since skipping the call gives the same result as doing it). Making sure nothing’s changed might even be computationally expensive depending on the complexity of your system. Not to mention that you might need to run the check on every object in the database. Every second. Just to maintain status quo …

Rather than checking over and over on the off-chance that something changed, consider a more proactive approach. Could you implement your rarely changing system to itself report when its status changes? It’s almost always much cheaper/efficient if you can do things “on demand”. Evennia itself uses hook methods for this very reason.

So, if you consider a ticker that will fire very often but which you expect to have no effect 99% of the time, consider handling things things some other way. A self-reporting on-demand solution is usually cheaper also for fast-updating properties. Also remember that some things may not need to be updated until someone actually is examining or using them - any interim changes happening up to that moment are pointless waste of computing time.

The main reason for needing a ticker is when you want things to happen to multiple objects at the same time without input from something else.