Bot which plays "atc" from the "bsdgames" package
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.gitignore
AGPLv3
INSTALL
LICENSE
MANIFEST
Makefile
README
TODO
atc-ai.h
board.c
main.c
orders.c
pathfind.c
pathfind.h
pty.c
testpath.c
vt100seqs
vty.c

README

atc-ai:
This is a bot which plays the old "atc" game (which is often found in the
"bsdgames" package).  Run it as "atc-ai -h" to get a list of command-line
options.  Press '+' to increase the delay interval between bot moves by a
fixed amount, and '-' to decrease the delay.  '*' doubles the delay, and
'/' halves it.  ^C ends the run, and ^L redraws the board.

atc-ai only parses vt100 escape sequences, so it sets the "TERM" environment
variable to "vt100".  It passes the output of "atc" directly to stdout, so
if you're going to run it inside a non-vt100-compatible terminal, you should
run it from something like "screen" which will translate the vt100 escape
sequences.


As for motivation, this is a hobby project I did to sharpen my skills
in some areas I'd grown a little unfamiliar with, what with my job
over the last three years having been network-related programming in
Java and Scala.  An atc bot is pretty much completely unrelated, on
the system end involving setting up a pseudoterminal for atc to run
inside, parsing terminal escape codes, and working with the terminal
I/O settings of the bot's own terminal.  Also pathfinding is needed to
figure out how to get the planes from source to destination, and it has
to interpret the contents of the display to know when planes arrive.
And it's a passably complex project in C.  Scala is a great language,
and much as I enjoy it, C is still my favorite language, and it's been
too long since I did significant work with it.

I use the GNU language extension for nested functions in a few places,
and use __attribute__ noreturn and format(printf) for bugcatching.
I also use the getopt_long() GNU library extension for parsing the flags.
Otherwise I try to stick with C99 and POSIX.  (Though I haven't tested
it on other than gcc and Linux yet.)

I learned about Linux's signalfd() call after I'd written the event loop
with the well known self-pipe trick.  How did I miss this?  It's been
supported by Linux for years, and having handles for everything you could
want to wait on is a great idea.  Unix's mishmash of interfaces here is a
big unnecessary mess.  POSIX should adopt signalfd(), and provide ways to
get handles for all the conditions you could want to wait on.  (Such as the
pthread functions pthread_cond_wait(), pthread_join(), pthread_mutex_lock().)
This really should have been recognized long ago -- consider waiting on a
child process.  If fork() had given us a wait handle, we could stick it in
the event loop's select() call and have a very clean interface.  Instead,
Unix hacks around it by giving us a SIGCLD signal to pop us out of the
select(), and in the SIGCLD handler we'll probably have to set a flag or
write to a self-pipe because we want to handle it in the event loop, not
asynchronously in the signal handler.  I haven't switched to signalfd()
because I had the self-pipe already working and I haven't put in any
deliberate Linux-isms yet.

The pathfinding core is very simple:  Try the move which brings you closest
to the target, repeat until you're there.  If you get stuck, backtrack and
try the next-best move.  Landing at an airport takes some extra work, because
you have to match direction in addition to lat/lon/alt.  So, for them I have
the target be the space you have to land from on the final move instead of
the airport's location, and "manually" land from there (this is handled by
land_at_airport(); getting the plane to the target is repeated calls to
calc_next_move()).  This doesn't work if the plane has to turn by more than
90 degrees, so I prohibit planes from getting within one space of the target
if they'd have to turn by >90 to land.  This sets up a "wall" for planes
approaching the airport from the wrong direction.  To get planes over the
wall I discourage them from low-altitude flight on the wrong side of the
airport, and to help them get around the wall I have the pathfinding target
the spaces laterally adjacent to the primary target as "secondary targets"
(whichever one is closer).  Planes are also discouraged from flight levels
6, 7, 8 within two spaces of an exit to avoid problems when a plane spawns
from it.

This technique has some failure modes which I've added heuristics to avoid.
First, a plane can push you off course to avoid colliding with it.  If you
match courses with it, you'll be in the same situation next turn, and so go
further and further off course until you hit another obstacle or the other
plane changes course.  This can often lead you with insufficient fuel.  So,
I give a large penalty for matching orientation and altitude, and a
small penalty for matching orientation but not altitude.  Jets can
effectively match courses with prop planes by doing a zig-zag route which
has them do in two moves what the props do in one, even though they never
match orientations, so I give a jet aligning itself with a prop an
intermediate penalty.  These penalties do good jobs of keeping planes
from being pushed far off course by a single other plane, but sometimes a
pair conspire to cause trouble.  These situations can usually be resolved
by changing altitude to go over or under them, so if a plane is pushed
away from its target, a bonus is applied to moves which change altitude.
These heuristics are entirely ad-hoc, but with these three I've never
had a failure to generate a route within the game's 50 move limit and
I've had games run for millions of moves.