August 29, 2015

Markov Chains with GameplayKit

GameplayKit hides many amazing features: a random number generators, components architecture, path finding, state machines and more. Markov chains is another ingenious gem that can be utilised by games or apps to simulate natural patterns. It has plenty of useful applications. Since Markov chains can be represented by a finite state machine, it seems logical to implement it using GKStateMachine from GampelayKit.

Basically, it is an autopilot combined with GKStateMachine. As a result, API for MarkovChainMachine is less hands on. All you need is to set its initial state and it will tell you which state should be next. Here is an example:

let m = MarkovChainMachine(initialStates: [a, b], mapping: [
    [a, b]: [
        [0.3: a],
        [0.7: b]
    [b, a]: [
        [0.7: a],
        [0.3: b]
    [a, a]: [
        [0.1: a],
        [0.9: b]
    [b, b]: [
        [0.9: a],
        [0.1: b]

for _ in 0...15 {
    if m.enterNextState() {
        print(m.currentState!, separator: "", terminator: " ")

Given, we have 2 states a and b, and following rules:

  • a b is likely to be followed by b
  • b a is likely to be followed by a
  • a a is almost definitely to be followed by b
  • b b is almost definitely to be followed by a

Running the code will yield results similar to A B B A B B A A B A A B A A B B A A

Several architectural notes:

  • I decided to opt out from custom structure representing a probable outcome to make it easier to compose mapping of current state to to possible outcomes.
  • MarkovChainMachine expects mapping keys to be of the same length as initialState array. It uses the initialState length to deduce the lookbehind size.
  • When working with free text, it is possible to come to the terminal state. Although it is not taken care of here, it is quite easy to workaround be adding a missing state transition to one of the registered states.
  • The downside of piggybacking on GameplayKit is that each state must be a separate class. This architectural decision felt strange when I was researching GameplayKit here it might pose certain challenges.

Last limitation is quite annoying when dealing with unknown data set. I worked around using dynamic class generation, a neat feature of Objective-C runtime. When processing free text, I create a dynamic subclass of GKState, e.g. State_J or State_i. Later I can use these classes to enter the appropriate state.

The project is quite an experiment: no tests and just 2 examples. It can be found at Github