Storing and Retrieving Multiple Flags in an Integer

Many years ago, I taught myself game development from Andre LaMothe’s “Windows Game Programming For Dummies”. Back then, I was just learning about C/C++, Win32 and DirectX for making video games.

One of the interesting things I learned was about using bitwise operators to store multiple states in a single variable. This can still be useful in any C-derived language, such as C#. You can even use this technique in JavaScript!

Let’s say, your game character has a carry-on weapon bag with 8 available slots. Each slot can store 1 type of weapon.

You can then store a flag in each bit of an 8-bit integer to indicate whether that weapon is in the bag or not. In fact, you can use a 16-bit integer to store 16 states if necessary.

  1. Use a constant integer to store each weapon in powers of 2 (e.g. 1, 2, 4, etc)
  2. Use an integer variable to represent the storage bag.
  3. Use the binary OR operator | to set one or more bits.
  4. Use the binary AND operator & to test each bit.

For simplicity, Step 1 is shown as hard-coded assignments. However, you can use bit-shift operators to set each value.
e.g. 1 << 0 = 1; 1 << 1 = 2; 1 << 2 = 4, etc

To learn more about bitwise operators and how they work, check out these articles:

Bitwise operators in c# OR(|), XOR(^), AND(&amp;), NOT(~)

Imran Nazar: Bitwise Operators

Here’s the code for a Console Application in C#:

// define weapons
const int knife = 1;
const int pistol = 2;
const int sword = 4;
const int stick = 8;
const int shotgun = 16;
Console.WriteLine("Weapons defined: knife, pistol, sword, stick, shotgun");

// create weapon bag
int myWeaponBag;
Console.WriteLine("Initiating weapon bag...");

// store weapons in bag
Console.WriteLine("Storing a few weapons in bag (knife, pistol, stick)...");
myWeaponBag = knife | pistol | stick;

// check for weapons
Console.WriteLine("Looking for weapons...");
Console.WriteLine((myWeaponBag & knife) > 0 ? "--> Found knife" : "NO knife");
Console.WriteLine((myWeaponBag & pistol) > 0 ? "--> Found pistol" : "NO pistol");
Console.WriteLine((myWeaponBag & sword) > 0 ? "--> Found sword" : "NO sword");
Console.WriteLine((myWeaponBag & stick) > 0 ? "--> Found stick" : "NO stick");
Console.WriteLine((myWeaponBag & shotgun) > 0 ? "--> Found shotgun" : "NO shotgun");

The results are shown below:

Weapons defined: knife, pistol, sword, stick, shotgun
Initiating weapon bag...
Storing a few weapons in bag (knife, pistol, stick)...
Looking for weapons...
--> Found knife
--> Found pistol
NO sword
--> Found stick
NO shotgun

There are many different ways of getting the same results: you could define a class for the weapon bag itself, use enumerators for the constants, etc. These solutions are left up to you, the reader. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this alternative method of using bitwise operators to store multiple booleans in a single int.

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