Combining Pixi-React and HTML with Tunnels

Recently I started using Pixi React to make little games. If you're not familiar, Pixi React is a React.js renderer for Pixi, which means you can use JSX to build components which compose Pixi objects and have them update reactively.

This is great because I love React and the many tools in the React ecosystem. However there is an annoying problem I encountered when building my first game, which I solved using a neat pattern in my second game.

Before I describe the pattern, let me explain the problem it solves.

The Problem

Normally, Pixi React components can only be children of <Stage> or other Pixi components (in other words, they must all be decendents of a <Stage>). This is because Pixi components need to be rendered to a canvas and <Stage> marks the entry point where Pixi React's reconciler takes over.

And normally Pixi components can't contain children like div, span, etc. because those are DOM elements. Pixi doesn't know what to do with them.

So we can't mix Pixi components with DOM elements or react-dom components. This is really inconvenient. I like to organize components around a single concern, and I kept finding that an intuitive component in my game would ideally include both Pixi and DOM elements.

Let's imagine such a component. Imagine our game has Enemys which have sprites that we render in Pixi. An Enemy also has some HP, which we display in an HP bar.

I'd like to render that HP bar using a div, text, and CSS. Why?

  1. It's quicker, easier, and more readable. Compare <div className="hp-bar">{hp}</div> to what you'd have to do in Pixi with <Graphics>, <Text>, and a bunch of props you need to pass to those components.

  2. CSS is much more powerful and convenient than Pixi's styling. Especially when it comes to things like flex and grid for more flexible UIs.

The Solution

So how can we combine both Pixi components and DOM elements? By using tunnels. I first saw this library being used in react-three-fiber, which is a React renderer for Three.js.

A tunnel lets you define elements/sub-components in one component, but then when the component is mounted, those elements get teleported to somewhere else in the React tree.

The tunnel has 1 or more Ins where React children go in, and they come out where ever the Out is rendered.

So our Enemy component could look something like:

export function Enemy({ entityId }) {
const hp = useGameStore((state) =>[entityId].hp)
const position = useGameStore((state) =>[entityId].position)

return (
<Sprite image="badguy" position={position} />
<div className="hp-bar">{hp}</div>

<Html.In> is the tunnel where we can put DOM elements or react-dom components in, and have them come out where we render a <Html.Out> (which will be outside of the <Stage>).

We can do the opposite, too. If we have a react-dom component that wants to render something to the canvas, we can put it inside of another tunnel, <Pixi.In>. No matter where the component is in the React tree. It doesn't need to be the component that renders <Stage>.

A real-life sample

Here is a complete example from my game Melancia Game. Melancia Game is a game where you drop fruit into a container and try to get fruits of the same type to merge together. You play against 1-3 Rivals to score the most points in 5 minutes.

Here's the component that renders a player's Rival:

function Rival({ playerId, position }: { playerId: string; position: { x: number; y: number } }) {
const details = useGameStore((state) => state.playerDetails[playerId])
const [x, y] = useGlobalPosition(position)
const transform = `translate(${x}px, ${y}px)`

return (
<Container scale={0.4} position={position}>
<FruitContainer playerId={playerId} />
<Fruits playerId={playerId} />
<div className="fixed -left-10 -top-8" style={{ transform }}>
<div className="flex max-w-[33vw] items-center">
<img src={details.avatarUrl} alt={details.displayName} className="h-8 w-8" />
<span className="w-full overflow-hidden overflow-ellipsis whitespace-nowrap text-center text-black">

This is a Pixi component which renders a <Container> and other Pixi components made up of Sprites and Graphics. But it also renders the rival's avatar and name, which are rendered with img and span. Those are positioned relative to the container using transform.

The nice thing about this is I can just map over the list of other players and render a <Rival> for each one. The fact that a rival is displayed using 2 different renderers becomes an implementation detail.

How would I do this without a tunnel? I would have to split this component up. I'd need to map over the players in a component under <Stage> to draw them to the canvas, and somewhere else in my React tree map over the players to render the HP bars.

That's duplicate code. And worse, I'd be structuring my components arbitrarily by display media (i.e. canvas vs DOM) instead of by concern (i.e. render a player).

Try it yourself

If you want to try this out yourself, and especially if you are interested in making games on Rune, then you might be interested in this starter project I created.

© Justin Allen. All rights reserved.