A Language Tour

This document is a lightweight tour of the core features and ideas that make Adama a somewhat novel data-centric programming language. It is important to remember that Adama is not a general purpose language. It’s for board games (and maybe more... much more).

Defining State Layout#

We start by defining global fields with default values. Laying out and structuring data is arguably the most important activity in building software, so it must be simple and convenient for developers to define their data. Here, we will define a document with just a name and score field:

public string name = "You";
private int score = 100;

This fairly minimal Adama code defines a document. The backend data for this script is a document represented via the following JSON:

{"name":"You", "score":100}

However, a human viewer (such as yourself or myself) of the document will only see:


This is because the score field is defined with the private modifier. By modifying a field with private, only the code within the document can operate on the score field. This is useful, for example, to define secrects in a game. A key function in board games is the need for secrets (i.e. the contents of your hand) or an unrevealed state of objects such as the ordering of cards within a deck.

The following diagram visualizes the Adama environment and architecture:

Architecture diagram showing you, the data you see, how it connects to a store which runs the Adama code

Here is a brief overview of the Adama working environment:

  • Connect (via a client) Adama Document Store with a persisent connection.
  • The store will then send to you a private version of the document.
  • This private version is tailored for you based on directives from the Adama code provided to the store (e.g., the private modifier sets the sore variable as private in the above example).

Adama is not only a data-centric programming language, but a privacy-focused language such that secrets between players (i.e. individual hands) and the universe (i.e. decks) are not disclosed. This environment is essential for games requiring secrets so that other gamers do not gain an unfair advantage from "hacking" environment variables.

Organizing the Chaos Induced by Globals#

Having a giant pool of global fields will lead to chaos and copypasta, so we introduce records as a way combining fields around an entity.

record Card {
public int suit;
public int rank;
public Card a;
public Card b;

A record is a structure that defines one or more named typed fields under a single type name. In the above example, the structure Card is the combination of suit and rank integer fields. These structures can then be used to create instances within the document of that type. The above code backend would have the following JSON:

"a":{"suit":0, "rank":0},
"b":{"suit":0, "rank":0}

The above example is great for cleaning up patterns within the global document, but this is insufficient for non-trivial games. The next step is to introduce a collection of records. Adama provides the notion of a table, and the above record can be used to create a table named deck.

table<Card> deck;

But this begs the question: how do records flow into the deck? Adama uses events that can be associated with developer code which is evaluated when event trigger. This code can then manipulate the document.

One example of an event is the creation of the document. The event is created via a constructor (using the @construct identifier). This constructor can be used with an "ingestion" operator (<-) and some C style for loops. The following Adama code builds a table of Card records based on the JSON document structure:

@construct {
for (int s = 0; s < 4; s++) {
for (int r = 0; r < 13; r++) {
deck <- {suit:s, rank:r};

The above code will construct the state of the document representing a typical deck of cards containing 52 cards, 4 suits and 13 cards per suit. Tables are always private in Adama, so viewers of the document will not see table structures. However, the dta contained within the table will be viewable. Queries against the table expose selected data to people such as players. As an example, the following code will let everyone know the size of the deck.

public formula deck_size = deck.size();

The above formula variable represents Adama's reactive programming language. As the deck undergoes changes during gameplay, the formula variables depending on that deck will be recomputed and updates are sent to viewers such as players in the game.

Because Adama continually updates the state of document, the connection from your device to the Adama Document Store uses a socket. The socket provides a way for the server to know the state of the client, and then minimize the compute overhead on the server. This enables small data changes to manifest in small compute changes that translate to less network usage. Less network usages translates to less client device compute overhead, and this manifests into less battery consumption for the end-user. Board games can last for hours when they leverage Adama's reduction in battery power consumption.

A table is an exceptionally powerful tool, and Adama uses language integrated query (LINQ) to query data. Using the Card structure, the following example adds a client type to the Card record to indicate possession of the card:

record Card {
public int suit;
public int rank;
public client owner;

The above Card record allows us to share how many cards are unassigned in the deck via a formula. The code to do this is below:

public formula deck_remaining = (iterate deck where owner == @no_one).size()

Here @no_one is a special default value for the client type which indicates that cards are unassigned. We can leverage a bubble to share a viewer's hand (if they are a player and not a random observer).

bubble<who> hand = iterate deck where owner == who;

The bubble is special type of formula which allows data to be computed based on who is viewing the document. This allows people to have a personalized view of the document such as being able to see their hand. As the deck and rows within the deck experience change, the formulas update automatically based on precise static analysis. These changes propagate to all viewers in a predictable way.

Messages from Devices to the Document#

Change events on documents trigger using messages.

Adama acts as a message receiver of messages sent by the client. We can model a message similar to a record. For instance, we can design a message that says "I wish to draw $count cards" demonstrated below:

message Draw {
int count;

This message encodes the product intent, and we can associate code to that message via a channel.

channel draw_cards(client who, Draw d) {
(iterate deck where owner == @no_one shuffle limit d.count).owner = who;

This channel will allow messages of type Draw to flow from the client to the code outlined above. In this case, the code uses a LINQ query to find at most $d.count available random cards to associate to the Draw message sender.

Messages alone create a nice theoretical framework, but they may not be practical for games. This messaging works great for things like chat, but it offloads a great deal of burden to both the message handler and the client. For instance, in a game, when can someone draw cards? Can they draw cards at any time? Or during a specific game phase?

Let the Server Take Control!#

To control message flow, Adama uses an incomplete channel identfier. An incomplete channel is like a promise that indicates clients may provide a message of a specific type, but only when the document asks for it.

Adama uses a third party to broker the communicate between players. That is, it determines who is asking players for messages? This is where the document's finite state machine comes into play. The document can be in exactly one state at any time, and states are represented via hashtags. For instance, #mylabel is a state machine label used to denote a potential state of the document.

We can associate code to a state machine label directly and set the document to that state via the transition keyword.

@construct { // this could also be a message sent after all players are ready
transition #round;
#round {
// code to run

In this example, the associated code attached to #round will run after the constructor has run and the document has been persisted. An important property of the state machine is that it defines an atomic boundary for both persisting to a durable store and when to share changes to the document.

Only the transition keyword can set the document's next state label to run. For instance, the following is an infinite state machine:

public int turn;
#round {
transition #round;

The reason we took this detour is to have a third party be able to use the incomplete channel. For instance, the document somehow learns of two players within a game; these player's associated clients are stored within the document via:

private client player1;
private client player2;

Now, we can define an incomplete for the document to ask players for cards.

channel<Draw> how_many_cards;

This incomplete channel will accept message only from code via a fetch method on the channel. We can leverage the state machine code to ask players for the number of cards they wish to draw using the following Adama code:

#round {
future<Draw> f1 = how_many_cards.fetch(player1);
Draw d1 = f1.await();
future<Draw> f2 = how_many_cards.fetch(player2);
Draw d2 = f2.await();

This is a productivity win with respect to board games because it inverts the control model away from the client towards the server as synchronous code. This is the key to enforce rules in a coherent way and keep control of the implicit state machine formed as rules compound in complexity.

Time to Reflect#

This document took you on a tour of a few of the core ideas found within the Adama programming, and while this is not a comprehensive review it does address some of the novel aspects. The key is that you focus on the data at hand for a single game, and then outline all the ways the game state may change. The rules of the game can be written in a synchronous manner which mirrors how they are executed live with people.