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SCons: an introduction

Dean Giberson <> Dec 17, 2008

If you've tried putting a build system together for a modern game you know that you are facing a monumental, never ending task. Once you do get a basic pipeline working, modern games require source assets that are in the range of 100 Gb of raw data. Tracking this amount of data takes time and resources. SCons ( is a Python based make replacement; with it you can tame your dependencies and data sizes. What follows is quick art centric introduction.

1 The Canonical Example
The SCons documentation1 would give an example like this:
env = Environment() env.Program( 'HelloWorld', ['HelloWorld.cpp'])

follow this and provide a compilable HelloWorld.cpp and you would have a program ready to go. But how would you extend this to use your own pipeline tools?

2 Adding Compressed Textures
Lets assume that you want to compress textures for use in a game. NVidia Textures2 Tools can be used on your TGA/PNG/JPG/DDS images. For example you want to convert this image3 into a DXT5 compressed image for use on target:
nvcompress -color -bc3 gunmap.png
1 2 3 Images provide by G3D Engine Data Collection


Util. import SCons env = Environment(ENV = os.CLVar('-bc3') env['NVCOMPRESSCOM'] = '$NVCOMPRESS $NVCOMPRESSFLAGS $SOURCE $TARGET' NvCompressAction = Action( '$NVCOMPRESSCOM') NvCompressBuilder = Builder( action=NvCompressAction.CLVar('-color') env['NVCOMPRESSFLAGS'] = SCons. suffix='. 'image.Util.png') 2 .NvCompress( 'image'.dds') env['BUILDERS']['NvCompress'] = NvCompressBuilder env.Once we understand how to do this from the command line adding it to SCons is quite easy.environ) env['NVCOMPRESS'] = 'nvcompress' env['NVCOMPRESSTYPE'] = SCons.

but I'm using the 'SCons. I'll come back to what this means in practical terms in a moment.Util. env = Environment(ENV = os.Util. but please note that this is bad practice. For now I'll just copy the system environment.Util. • the default type ag ('NVCOMPRESSTYPE'). and query the contents using normal Python dictionary functions. Environment objects are class instances that behave like dictionaries. • a template command line ('NVCOMPRESSCOM'). SCons does not copy the system environment by default. but for now accept that our default command line evaluates to: . env['NVCOMPRESS'] = 'nvcompress' env['NVCOMPRESSTYPE'] = SCons.environ) Construct a SCons Environment object. any sub-string that starts with a '$' character is interpreted at the calling site for the current value within the current environment. • the default compression ag('NVCOMPRESSFLAGS'). In our case I'm lling four slots with: • the name of the executable ('NVCOMPRESS'). This acts like a controlled dynamic scoping system. Normally you don't have to do this.CLVar('-color') env['NVCOMPRESSFLAGS'] = SCons.CLVar('-bc3') env['NVCOMPRESSCOM'] = '$NVCOMPRESS $NVCOMPRESSFLAGS $SOURCE $TARGET' Now begin populating the Environment with data. We can add to them through assignment. this is by design as a build environment should be as explicit as possible.CLVar' class provided by SCons so I import the module to gain access to it. -color -bc3 $SOURCE $TARGET' 3 'nvcompress . SCons uses late binding of variables found within environment strings.3 A Quick walk-through to understand what is happening import SCons We import the SCons python module into our script.

The dependencies are scanned. After control returns to the SCons system the Step 3 begins and the dependency tree is scanned and the actions are triggered. It's for this reason that I say that a dependency node is constructed from the last line of the SConstruct. 2. Step 2 happens within the SConstruct script and continues until the end of the script. Create a tree of dependencies with sources and targets. Only an object. env['BUILDERS']['NvCompress'] = NvCompressBuilder The Environment is then extended with this builder. an Action object is created. then for any out of date data. and a name is given for calls to it. is constructed and added to the system. representing the potential to run 'nvcompress'. and must be occur in this order. suffix='. 'Taskmaster. Create or gather a collection of tools and set the') These three lines are the core of our SCons extension. Step 1 happens during the setup phase of SCons (default tools are scanned for and basic environments are constructed) and to a lesser extent within the running SConstruct script itself (as I've just shown). Always in this order. 4 . SCons is a three stage process: 1. Work is done later by an internal SCons class.png') The only thing left is to construct a Node in the dependency tree for the target le. We also set the default extension for all targets. env. the action is called. It doesn't actually run 'nvcompress' at this point. Then a Builder is constructed using the Action object just created. 'image. and the command line string is set.NvCompressAction = Action( '$NVCOMPRESSCOM') NvCompressBuilder = Builder( action=NvCompressAction. The evaluation of this command follows the same rules as for environment variables set earlier.NvCompress( 'image'. 3. Each of these steps is discrete.

more controls One of the great things about SCons is that it's embedded with Python.png'. env. Which will result in this command: 'nvcompress -color -bc2 image. the tool writer. have access to all of Pythons functions.python. you're going to want access to many textures and that means several targets. to the rescue.html 5 . SQL. 5 Other compression types The previous method of adding dependencies will add each texture into the pipeline with the same compression options./*/*. and add them to the dependency graph. I've shown you how to add one Builder and access that Builder for a single target texture. # Global texture compression options 4 http://docs. The same strategy can be applied to other types of data as well. Glob from glob import glob for tex in glob( r'. A consequence of this choice is that'. I mentioned earlier that the evaluation of strings set for Builders and Actions acts like dynamic scoping for variables.replace('. Any textures that are added are found automatically. I want to focus on the clearest method. tex) This will nd all of the source textures in subdirectories. 'image.png'): target = tex. Python has great libraries for XML.png Adding a method to match lename patterns in a database (or text le) gives us a simple way to control the compression of individual textures.4 More les.png'. Check the module documentation4 for details.'.NvCompress( 'image2'.dds') env. changing the values in the Environment. even direct in memory structure access or peeking in compressed les. This feature allows us to change the functionality of a call by changing values when the dependency node is built. You will not have to drop out of Python for very many reasons. Normally you will want a range of compression methods for textures.NvCompress( target. NVCOMPRESSFLAGS='-bc2') Games are not made from one texture.

-bc1 .opts' .split('. Comments start with a hash character ('#') and continue to the end of the line.\nmaps\*.png'): hasCustomPattern = False target = tex.png. Using hash values allows for stronger connections between assets. tex) Once we have the patterns into an array it's simple to check if any les found by the glob matches a given pattern.replace('.options)) finally: f. a comma ('.'rt') try: for line in f: line = line. 6 Exploring dependencies A core strength of SCons is it's dependency system.options) = line.opt in gCompressionOptions: if fnmatch(tex. set the compression options for that texture.\envmaps\*.png'.') for pat.NvCompress( target.pat): opt = opt. If not the default is used.append( (pattern. A parser for this format is easy to write.png.txt'.# format 'glob. from glob import glob from fnmatch import fnmatch gCompressionOptions = [] f = open('texture_options.-bc3n # Does not include cubemaps This simple text le has a line for each le pattern.\*\*. If there is a match.strip() env. 6 .'.NvCompress( target. This system is not normally based on time stamps but on a one way hash of the le contents (MD5). NVCOMPRESSFLAGS=opt) hasCustomPattern = True if not hasCustomPattern: env.close() for tex in glob( r'.split('#')[0] if line != '': (pattern.') and the compression option for the command line.') gCompressionOptions.

\envmaps\ +-tex +-tex\gunmap. +-envmaps | +-envmaps\gunmap.In order to follow what SCons is doing with dependency checking you can use the command line option. Then when you go to build. scons: `. If everyone calculates the hash the same way.5 seconds. you team will spend 190 seconds for each texture change.png -bc3n normal . 'debug=explain' touch tree=derived scons: Reading SConscript files . if you have 20 other people on your team. On the ip side of . +-.. if any sources have changed that targets action is . if an artist makes a change then once submitted every person on the team needs to build that same asset. SCons combines all of these values into a string that represents the derived target asset.\tex\gunmap.' is up to scons: done building targets. special .\tex\gunmap. The odd part of this result is that every person is trying to get the same result from the same source.\nmaps\gunmap. then it's possible to store copies of the result in a shared location under that name.\envmaps\gunmap. 7 Sharing the results Strong dependency systems are great for personal development. you can be sure that you only need to build the minimum following a .dds +-nmaps | +-nmaps\gunmap. you get control of the derived le from both the contents of the source les and the contents of the command line used to build the derived le. This option will print out information about dependency checks and commands being run. do 7 . This doesn't help on a large team. In my case building a compressed texture takes 9. To get a view of the dependency tree use the option..png -bc1 special . scons: Building targets . The interesting thing about using hash values for dependency check is that you can't use to force a recompile of an asset.png scons: done reading SConscript files.. you must change the contents of the le or force SCons to rebuild an asset. SCons took the strong hash key info and took it to the next logical level.\nmaps\gunmap.

Next place this line into you SConstruct le.CLVar('-bc3') env['NVCOMPRESSCOM'] = '$NVCOMPRESS $NVCOMPRESSFLAGS $SOURCE $TARGET' NvCompressAction = Action( '$NVCOMPRESSCOM') NvCompressBuilder = Builder(') env['BUILDERS']['NvCompress'] = NvCompressBuilder from glob import glob from fnmatch import fnmatch gCompressionOptions = [] f = open('texture_options. normally the originator of the source art. Create a location with a lot of available disk space. and only one person.txt'. if not then build the asset and place it into the cache under it's hash name. this saves hours of cumulative time for a large team of people. available for everyone on your team.Util.a quick check rst.Util.CacheDir(r'x:\Location\of\cache\dir') Now your derived les are shared.'rt') try: 8 . needs to build the nal result. The result is a distributed build cache. suffix='. In most cases. import SCons env = Environment(ENV = os.CLVar('-color') env['NVCOMPRESSFLAGS'] = SCons. some server. env.CacheDir(r'x:\Location\of\cache\dir') env['NVCOMPRESS'] = 'nvcompress' env['NVCOMPRESSTYPE'] = SCons. If the asset exists under that name in this cache then just copy it. You results will be better if you have a continuous integration server for art.environ) env. 8 The script we have Taking all of these changes into account we get the following script. And you can take advantage of it out of the box.

opt in gCompressionOptions: if fnmatch(tex. tex) This will build all of your textures found in sub directories. but can be used for art builds as well. I hope you see how easy it is to build a strong build system for art given the right tools. having a quick.replace('. Coupled with a continuous integration server.txt 9 . tex.pat): opt = opt.split('.options) = line.append( (pattern.close() for tex in glob( r'. using the compression options found in the le.png'): hasCustomPattern = False target = tex. robust pipeline is within your') for pat.') gCompressionOptions.\*\*. texture_options.NvCompress( target. SCons is not just for code.png'.for line in f: line = line.options)) finally: f.'.strip() env.split('#')[0] if line != '': (pattern.NvCompress( target. NVCOMPRESSFLAGS=opt) hasCustomPattern = True if not hasCustomPattern: env. and share the results with colleagues using a shared drive.