Dynamic Object Creation

Most TADS games define a large number of "static" objects that encode the game world: the locations, characters, and items that make up the game. We call these objects "static" because they exist throughout the program's execution.

It is often useful to create objects dynamically as well. The main reason you'd want to create an object dynamically, rather than define it statically, is that you don't know in advance that you'll need the object at all - or, more typically, you don't know exactly how many instances of the object you'll need. For example, suppose your game includes a pool of water, and you want the player to be able to fill any container with water from the pool. If you could only define objects statically, you'd have to pre-define a sufficient number of "quantity of water" objects to cover each possible container, and you'd have to add new static objects every time you modified your game to add new containers. You'd also have to work out a scheme to keep track of which objects were already in some container, so that you could find an appropriate unused object when the player filled a new container. With dynamic objects, though, you need only define a class for "quantity of water," and then dynamically create a new instance of this class each time the user fills a new container.

Creating an Object

To create a new object dynamically, you use the "new" operator with the name of the class:

local x = new QuantityOfWater;

This creates a new object of the given class, returning a reference to the new object. You can now use the new object just like any other.

Dynamic objects don't have names, so you must refer to them through variables or properties. In the example above, we stored the new object reference in a local variable. If we wanted to call the "sdesc" method to display the object's description, we'd call the method on the local variable:



When you create a new object with the "new" operator, the system automatically calls the method "construct" in the new object immediately after creating it. You can define this method just like any other.

class QuantityOfWater: Item
    volume_ = 5;

The construct method can optionally take arguments. If you define a construct method with arguments, you must pass the arguments to the "new" operator. For example:

class QuantityOfWater: Item
    volume_ = vol;

  local x = new QuantityOfWater(3);

If you're familiar with C++ or Java, you should take note of some important features of TADS constructors that differ from those of C++ and Java:

Implicit Constructors

If you define an object or class with more than one superclass, and the object does not define a construct method, the compiler automatically generates an "implicit" constructor for the object. The implicit constructor simply inherits each of the superclass constructors, in the same order in which the superclasses are listed in the object definition. The arguments passed to each base class constructor are the same as the arguments passed to the object's constructor.

For example, suppose you define a class like this:

class MultiClass: Class1, Class2

This class does not define an explicit constructor - in other words, it has no construct method defined in the class. Because of this, the compiler automatically generates an implicit constructor for the object; the implicit constructor is equivalent to this:

  inherited Class1.construct(args...);
  inherited Class2.construct(args...);

The compiler only generates an implicit constructor for objects and classes with multiple superclasses and no explicit construct method.

Object Deletion

The T3 VM peforms "automatic garbage collection." This means that the VM periodically scans memory to determine which objects are still in use, and which aren't, and automatically deletes the ones that aren't. An object is deleted only when it's no longer possible for anything in the program - any local variable, any object property, etc - to refer to the object. In the absence of any way for the program to refer to the object, the object can never be used again, so there's no reason to keep it in memory.

The garbage collector is essentially invisible to the program. The VM automatically runs the garbage collector from time to time; the program doesn't have to do anything to cause this to happen.

In some cases you might wish to be notified when a particular object is about to be deleted. To satisfy this need, TADS 3 includes a "finalization" mechanism that calls a method, called a "finalizer," when an object is about to be deleted. Refer to the garbage collection section for details on finalization.

Notes for TADS 2 users

TADS 2's delete operator doesn't exist in TADS 3. There's no equivalent - you simply don't ever have to delete objects manually in TADS 3.

In TADS 2, it was necessary to notify the system that an object was no longer needed by explicitly "deleting" the object, which released the memory that the object was using, allowing the system to re-use the memory for other objects. This type of manual memory management seems straightforward - if you allocate an object, you must eventually delete it - but in practice proves to be very prone to errors. In particular, two types of errors frequently occur with manual memory management: leaks and dangling references. A "leak" occurs when you simply never get around to deleting an object that you created; a program that leaks memory will eventually consume all available system memory with objects that should have been deleted, and is unable to continue running due to the artificial memory shortage. A "dangling reference" is the opposite problem: this occurs when you delete an object before you were actually done using it, which can happen when one piece of code isn't aware that another piece of code is still using the same object. A dangling reference can cause all sorts of problems, especially if the system reallocates the supposedly free memory for another purpose. To get manual memory management right, you have to delete objects at exactly the right time - not too early and not too late. It is a surprisingly daunting task.

TADS 3's automatic garbage collection eliminates these potential problems by eliminating the need to delete objects manually. The automatic garbage collector will never create a dangling reference, because it will never delete an object which is referenced anywhere in your program. The garbage collector also ensures that there are no leaks due to unreachable objects, because it automatically deletes objects after they become unreachable (this is, in fact, the only time that the garbage collector deletes an object, because deleting a reachable object would create a dangling reference - indeed, this is the definition of a dangling reference).