An OK Use for Tuples in C#

Tuples get a bad rap in C#, mostly because until recently they were a pain to work with. As of C# 7, they are much nicer, but I am still missing the instinct to use them. Last night a friend was streaming work on a side-project using the Unity game engine. It’s been too long for me to provide any help with geometry, but we started talking about readability when I saw a nice opportuplety.

Specifically, my friend was working on a Perlin Noise generator, used to make sets of random-but-smoothed-and-normalized numbers. Pop those numbers onto a 3-D grid and add some conditional lighting or color effects and you can have an attractive, real-ish-looking mountain landscape with little effort. Unity makes generating Perlin Noise very easy so the work is distributing the noise over the space, or map.

Expanding Signatures Elicit Confusion

We won’t worry about the algorithm itself, just the method signature for generating the map of values:

public float[,] CreateNoiseMap(int length, int width, float scale)

After finishing the core generation, he added origin values that shift the center of the noise. To make the arguments clearer he also renamed the map dimension params:

public float[,] CreateNoiseMap(int mapLength, int mapWidth, float scale, int originX, int originZ)

This signature has more potential to be confusing, especially if we give into temptation and shorten the names to save space and keystrokes:

public float[,] CreateNoiseMap(int mapL, int mapW, float scale, int oX, int oZ)

At least we’ve got scale to break up the two pairs on ints, but it’s all numbers, and if you’re not using an IDE that lists every argument name, or are like me and turned that off because it’s annoying, you’re likely to get them messed up:

mapGenerator.CreateNoiseMap(1000, 1000, 100f, 10, 10); // What are these values?!

Refactoring to Tuples

That Clean Code book or a object orienteer might tell us to make a new class to hold these params like NoiseMapOptions or maybe a couple more potentially reusable ones like MapDimensions2d and OriginPoint.

Having a dedicated “parameter container class” has its place, but is best when something outside of code does the populating (like a web request or messaging framework). Here, we are only using them in CreateNoiseMap, and calling it ourselves. Writing out parameter classes and then newing them up just to pass them in is too much work.

Instead, we can tuple:

public float[,] CreateNoiseMap((int width, int length) dimensions, float scale, (int x, int z) origin)

This signature isn’t any smaller, but our number pairs are now logically grouped. Those extra parentheses make it less likely to jumble values when calling the method. Even better, this might encourage using well-named tuples outside the method, instead of passing in variables or values.


var originX = 10;
var originY = 10;

mapGenerator.CreateNoiseMap(1000, 1000, 100f, originX, originY);


var dimensions = (1000,1000);
var noiseOrigin = (10, 10);

mapGenerator.CreateNoiseMap(dimensions, 100f, noiseOrigin);

A solution like this may be a six egg omelet to half a dozen donuts -style preference, but refactoring away from many same-typed args is the important part. And we can always come back and refactor our tuples into types / classes if the need presents; for example if the caller of mapGenerator.CreateNoiseMap() is also passing around the map dimensions.

So next time you’re about to create a parameter container for a method, or have two or three related variables, maybe consider a Tuple instead!