My new game does more rendering-to-a-texture stuff than the others have done. I’m very pleased with it so far.
What am I talking about?
Say you have a sprite, and that sprite is a ninja hamster wearing a bullet proof vest and wearing a crash helmet. This is a character in your game, and an icon used in various places. To allow customisation, the player has chosen the helmet and the vest, and maybe tweaked their colors. This gives them a slightly customised hamster.
When you draw this onscreen, you need to draw 3 layers (hamster, vest, helmet). That means drawing 3 sprites on top of each other, and 3 times as many pixels as normal. That can mount up quick, and is called overdraw. It also means changing texture 3 times, and changing textures is sloooowwww.
The solution, before the game starts, is to create a new blank texture in memory, and ‘offscreen’ (while the player isn’t looking) you draw the hamster, with all 3 layers and colors. You then save that texture to disk, with a unique name, Later, in the game, you just blap that single sprite, already composed, in a single draw call. If you are really obsessed, you could, at run-time, stitch together all the units textures into a single sprite-sheet to make it even simpler, and faster.
I have no idea if people tend to do this any more. Most people make 3D games with little or no alpha-blending, where you don’t worry much about texture swaps because you sort by Z and use a Z Buffer. My games can’t be done like that because it’s all soft-edged alpha-blended 2D, so these things start to matter. The code to do all this is a bit fiddly, but I’m already massively glad I’ve got it working. It will let me do all kinds of cool stuff in the next game, and means it will run fast as a race horse wearing rocket-skates.