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Chapter 16  GridWorld: Part 3

If you haven’t done the exercises in Chapters 5 and 10, you should do them before reading this chapter. As a reminder, you can find the documentation for the GridWorld classes at

Part 3 of the GridWorld Student Manual presents the classes that make up GridWorld and the interactions among them. It is an example of object-oriented design and an opportunity to discuss OO design issues.

But before you read the Student Manual, there are a few more things you need to know.

16.1  ArrayList

GridWorld uses java.util.ArrayList, which is an object similar to an array. It is a collection, which means that it’s an object that contains other objects. Java provides other collections with different capabilities, but to use GridWorld we only need ArrayLists.

To see an example, download and A BlueBug is a bug that moves at random and looks for rocks. If it finds a rock, it makes it blue.

Here’s how it works. When act is invoked, BlueBug gets its location and a reference to the grid:

Location loc = getLocation(); Grid<Actor> grid = getGrid();

The type in angle-brackets (<>) is a type parameter that specifies the contents of grid. In other words, grid is not just a Grid, it’s a Grid that contains Actors.

The next step is to get the neighbors of the current location. Grid provides a method that does just that:

ArrayList<Actor> neighbors = grid.getNeighbors(loc);

The return value from getNeighbors is an ArrayList of Actors. The size method returns the length of the ArrayList, and get selects an element. So we can print the neighbors like this.

for (int i = 0; i < neighbors.size(); i++) { Actor actor = neighbors.get(i); System.out.println(actor); }

Traversing an ArrayList is such a common operation there’s a special syntax for it: the for-each loop. So we could write:

for (Actor actor : neighbors) { System.out.println(actor); }

We know that the neighbors are Actors, but we don’t know what kind: they could be Bugs, Rocks, etc. To find the Rocks, we use the instanceof operator, which checks whether an object is an instance of a class.

for (Actor actor : neighbors) { if (actor instanceof Rock) { actor.setColor(; } }

To make all this work, we need to import the classes we use:

import; import; import; import info.gridworld.grid.Grid; import info.gridworld.grid.Location; import java.awt.Color; import java.util.ArrayList;

16.2  Interfaces

GridWorld also uses Java interfaces, so I want to explain what they are. “Interface” means different things in different contexts, but in Java it refers to a specific language feature: an interface is a class definition where the methods have no bodies.

In a normal class definition, each method has a prototype and a body (see Section 8.5). A prototype is also called a specification because it specifies the name, parameters, and return type of the method. The body is called the implementation because it implements the specification.

In a Java interface the methods have no bodies, so it specifies the methods without implementing them.

For example, java.awt.Shape is an interface with prototypes for contains, intersects, and several other methods. java.awt.Rectangle provides implementations for those methods, so we say that “Rectangle implements Shape.” In fact, the first line of the Rectangle class definition is:

public class Rectangle extends Rectangle2D implements Shape, Serializable

Rectangle inherits methods from Rectangle2D and provides implementations for the methods in Shape and Serializable.

In GridWorld the Location class implements the java.lang.Comparable interface by providing compareTo, which is similar to compareCards in Section 13.5. GridWorld also defines a new interface, Grid, that specifies the methods a Grid should provide. And it includes two implementations, BoundedGrid and UnboundedGrid.

The Student Manual uses the abbreviation API, which stands for “application programming interface.” The API is the set of methods that are available for you, the application programmer, to use. See

16.3  public and private

Remember in Chapter 1 I said I would explain why the main method has the keyword public? Finally, the time has come.

public means that the method can be invoked from other classes. The alternative is private, which means the method can only be invoked inside the class where it is defined.

Instance variables can also be public or private, with the same result: a private instance variable can be accessed only inside the class where it is defined.

The primary reason to make methods and instance variables private is to limit interactions between classes in order to manage complexity.

For example, the Location class keeps its instance variables private. It has accessor methods getRow and getCol, but it provides no methods that modify the instance variables. In effect, Location objects are immutable, which means that they can be shared without worrying about unexpected behavior due to aliasing.

Making methods private helps keep the API simple. Classes often include helper methods that are used to implement other methods, but making those methods part of the public API might be unnecessary and error-prone.

Private methods and instance variables are language features that help programmers ensure data encapsulation, which means that objects in one class are isolated from other classes.

16.4  Game of Life

The mathematician John Conway invented the “Game of Life,” which he called a “zero-player game” because no players are needed to choose strategies or make decisions. After you set up the initial conditions, you watch the game play itself. But that turns out to be more interesting than it sounds; you can read about it at

The goal of this exercises is to implement the Game of Life in GridWorld. The game board is the grid, and the pieces are Rocks.

The game proceeds in turns, or time steps. At the beginning of the time step, each Rock is either “alive” or “dead”. On the screen, the color of the Rock indicates its status. The status of each Rock depends on the status of its neighbors. Each Rock has 8 neighbors, except the Rocks along the edge of the Grid. Here are the rules:

  • If a dead Rock has exactly three neighbors, it comes to life! Otherwise it stays dead.
  • If a live Rock has 2 or 3 neighbors, it survives. Otherwise it dies.

Some consequences of these rules: If all Rocks are dead, no Rocks come to life. If you start with a single live Rock, it dies. But if you have 4 Rocks in a square, they keep each other alive, so that’s a stable configuration.

Most simple starting configurations either die out quickly or reach a stable configuration. But there are a few starting conditions that display remarkable complexity. One of those is the r-pentomino: it starts with only 5 Rocks, runs for 1103 timesteps and ends in a stable configuration with 116 live Rocks (see

The following sections are suggestions for implementing Game of Life in GridWorld. You can download my solution at and

16.5  LifeRunner

Make a copy of named and add methods with the following prototypes:

/** * Makes a Game of Life grid with an r-pentomino. */ public static void makeLifeWorld(int rows, int cols) /** * Fills the grid with LifeRocks. */ public static void makeRocks(ActorWorld world)

makeLifeWorld should create a Grid of Actors and an ActorWorld, then invoke makeRocks, which should put a LifeRock at every location in the Grid.

16.6  LifeRock

Make a copy of named LifeRock should extend Rock. Add an act method that does nothing. At this point you should be able to run the code and see a Grid full of Rocks.

To keep track of the status of the Rocks, you can add a new instance variable, or you can use the Color of the Rock to indicate status. Either way, write methods with these prototypes:

/** * Returns true if the Rock is alive. */ public boolean isAlive() /** * Makes the Rock alive. */ public void setAlive() /** * Makes the Rock dead. */ public void setDead()

Write a constructor that invokes setDead and confirm that all Rocks are dead.

16.7  Simultaneous updates

In the Game of Life, all Rocks are updated simultaneously; that is, each rock checks the status of its neighbors before any Rocks change their status. Otherwise the behavior of the system would depend on the order of the updates.

In order to implement simultaneous updates, I suggest that you write an act method that has two phases: during the first phase, all Rocks count their neighbors and record the results; during the second phase, all Rocks update their status.

Here’s what my act method looks like:

/** * Check what phase we're in and calls the appropriate method. * Moves to the next phase. */ public void act() { if (phase == 1) { numNeighbors = countLiveNeighbors(); phase = 2; } else { updateStatus(); phase = 1; } }

phase and numNeighbors are instance variables. And here are the prototypes for countLiveNeighbors and updateStatus:

/** * Counts the number of live neighbors. */ public int countLiveNeighbors() /** * Updates the status of the Rock (live or dead) based on * the number of neighbors. */ public void updateStatus()

Start with a simple version of updateStatus that changes live rocks to dead and vice versa. Now run the program and confirm that the Rocks change color. Every two steps in the World correspond to one timestep in the Game of Life.

Now fill in the bodies of countLiveNeighbors and updateStatus according to the rules and see if the system behaves as expected.

16.8  Initial conditions

To change the initial conditions, you can use the GridWorld pop-up menus to set the status of the Rocks by invoking setAlive. Or you can write methods to automate the process.

In LifeRunner, add a method called makeRow that creates an initial configuration with n live Rocks in a row in the middle of the grid. What happens for different values of n?

Add a method called makePentomino that creates an r-pentomino in the middle of the Grid. The initial configuration should look like this:

If you run this configuration for more than a few steps, it reaches the end of the Grid. The boundaries of the Grid change the behavior of the system; in order to see the full evolution of the r-pentomino, the Grid has to be big enough. You might have to experiment to find the right size, and depending on the speed of your computer, it might take a while.

The Game of Life web page describes other initial conditions that yield interesting results ( Choose one you like and implement it.

There are also variations of the Game of Life based on different rules. Try one out and see if you find anything interesting.

16.9  Exercises

Exercise 1   Starting with a copy of, write a class definition for a new kind of Bug that finds and eats flowers. You can “eat” a flower by invoking removeSelfFromGrid on it.
Exercise 2   Now you know what you need to know to read Part 3 of the GridWorld Student Manual and do the exercises.
Exercise 3   If you implemented the Game of Life, you are well prepared for Part 4 of the GridWorld Student Manual. Read it and do the exercises.

Congratulations, you’re done!

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