writing about things, sometimes.

Finite State Machine in Godot

Written by Omar Polo on 29 April 2020.

Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to the wonderful world of game development with Godot.

During the initial (and still ongoing btw) enemy AI implementation, I searched a bit on how to implement a state machine in gdscript. Now, a state machine isn't something difficult to do, and neither error-prone, but I wanted to know if there was some idiomatic way of doing things. Oh boy, what I found is rather nice.

Let's start with a simple introduction: a state machine (for what matters to us in games) is a way to manage the state of an actor. It can be the player, or an enemy, or even some other entity (such as an object that can receive inputs). A state machine is a collection of states, only one of which can be enabled and receive inputs. We can, of course, change to another state whenever we want.

For instance, let's say that we have a player that can run and dash, if we model the player with a state machine we can define two state, Normal and Dash, with Normal being the default, and switch to Dash when a key is pressed, and then from the Dash state return to the Normal state when a certain amount of time has passed.

Another example can be the enemies: they're in a Wandering state by default but if they see a player they start following it, and thus they change their state to Chase. Then, if the player dies, or it's too far away, they can switch back to Wandering.

There may be other ways to manage states, but I do really like the state machine abstraction (not only in games), and the code is pretty clean and simple to maintain, so...

The simplest way to implement such machine in gdscript is something along the lines of:


var state = WANDERING

func _process(delta):
  if state == WANDERING:
  elif state == CHASING:

func do_wandering_process(delta):
  if can_see_player():
    state = CHASING

# ...

and this is fine. Rather verbose, if I you ask me, but it's fine, and it works.

It turns out we can do better, like this article on gdscript.com shows. Their proposed approach involves a node, called StateMachine, which manages the states, and some sub-nodes where you implement the logic for that state. There are some bits that I think can be done better, so here's a (in my opinion) slightly better state machine (using typed gdscript this time):

# StateMachine.gd
extends Node
class_name StateMachine

const DEBUG := false

var state
var state_name := "default state"

func _ready() -> void:
  state = get_child(0)

func change_to(s : String) -> void:
  state_name = s
  state = get_node(s)

func _enter_state() -> void:
  if DEBUG:
    print("entering state ", state_name)
  state.state_machine = self

# proxy game loop function to the current state

func _process(delta : float) -> void:

func _physics_process(delta : float) -> void:

func _input(event : InputEvent) -> void;

(if you're wondering why I've type-annotated everything but the var state, that is due a current limitation of the type annotations in Godot: if class A has annotation of class B, then class B cannot have annotations of A. This limitation is known and is worked on, future version of Godot won't have this problem.)

The state machine proposed is very simple: it holds a current state and provides a change_to function to change the state. That's it.

Where my implementation differs from the one linked before, is in the implementation of the states. All my states inherits from the State node, so all that machinery with has_method isn't needed. The implementation of the superclass State is as follow:

# State.gd
extends Node
class_name State

var state_machine : StateMachine

func enter() -> void:

func process(_delta : float) -> void:

func physics_process(_delta : float) -> void:

func input(_event : InputEvent) -> void:

One additional features this approach offers that the previous don't is the enter function. Sometimes you want to perform action upon entering a state (like changing the animation and stuff), and it's cleaner to have an explicit enter function that gets called.

Then, we can define states as:

# WanderingState.gd
extends State

# myself
onready var enemy : Actor = get_node("../..")

func process(delta : float) -> void:
  if can_see_player():

and as

# ChasingState
extends State

# myself
onready var enemy = get_node("../..")

func process(delta : float) -> void:
  if player_is_dead():
  elif enemy.life < FLEE_THRESHOLD:
    ememy.velocity = move_and_slide(...)

with a scene tree as follows:

Enemy (KinematicBody2D in my case)
 |- ...
 `- StateMachine
     |- WanderingState
     |- ChasingState
     `- FleeingState

(the get_node("../..") is used to get the Enemy from the states, so they can change parameters.)

This way, each state gets its own script with its own process/physics_process, as well as with their private variables and functions. I really like the approach.

A final note: I didn't take benchmarks on any of the proposed approaches, so I don't know what is the fastest.

Addendum: Pushdown Automata

One additional thing that sometimes you want your state machine is some sort of history. The state machine as defined in the previous example doesn't have a way to go back to a previous state. The linked article solves this by using a stack (really an array) where upon changing state the old state get pushed.

I honestly don't like the approach. Let's say that you have three states A, B and C, and that only C can, sometimes, go back in history, but A and B never do so. With a simple stack you can get a situation where you have

oldstates = [A, B, A, B, A, B, A, B, A, B, ...]

that is wasting memory for no good.

One way to have record history but save some memory can be along the lines of what follows:

# StateMachine
extends Node
class_name StateMachine

var state
var last_state
var history = []

func change_to(s : String) -> void:
  last_state = state
  state = get_node(s)

func prepare_backtrack() -> void:

func pop() -> void:

func backtrack() -> void:
  state = history.pop_front()
  if state.count() > 0:
    last_state = state[0]

# the rest is not changed

and then call state_machine.prepare_backtrack() on C enter function. Then, if C wants to backtrack it can simply call backtrack(), otherwise if it wants to change to another state, say B, it can do so with:


This approach isn't as idiot-proof as the one in the linked article, but if used with a little bit of care can provide a pushdown automata without memory wasting for states that don't backtrack.