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A Guide to SpriteKit Actions by@jjacobson

A Guide to SpriteKit Actions

Jeremy Jacobson HackerNoon profile picture

Jeremy Jacobson

In continuing with my recent posts about SpriteKit, I thought I’d go through another useful aspect of the framework: SpriteKit actions. A SpriteKit action, represented by the SKAction class, allows you to animate certain properties on an SKNode object, such as position and velocity.

Since there are numerous types of SpriteKit actions (see the SKAction reference), let’s take a more practical route to using actions on nodes, rather than going through different types of actions.

Creating an action

Unlike a lot of different SpriteKit objects, you don’t create an SKAction using an initializer. Instead, you call one of the class methods corresponding to the action you want to perform.

In this example, the moveBy method creates an action that moves a node 10 pixels to the right and 15 pixels down over the course of 800 milliseconds. Other action methods include rotate, scale, fadeOut, and applyForce.

Running an action

To run this action on a node, call the run(SKAction) method on the node you want the action to apply to.

Based on the previous example, this will update the player’s position over 800 ms by adding the values passed to the moveBy call. A variant of the run method takes a completion callback that is called after the action has been completed.

One useful thing about SKActions is they are “copy-on-write”, which means that whenever the action is changed, the value is copied, therefore the same SKAction can be used on multiple nodes.

Groups and Sequences

Sometimes, multiple actions need to be run at the same time or in sequence. To accomplish this, the methods[SKAction]) and SKAction.sequence([SKAction]) create groups and sequences, respectively, of actions. For example, we need to both move and rotate our player node at the same time.

In the above example, we could change the group call to sequence, which would run the moveAction first, wait until it completes, and then run the rotateAction.


Running an action multiple times is just as easy: call SKAction.repeat(SKAction, count: Int) passing in the action to be repeated and the number of times it should be run. This is used just like any other action.

Now our player node moves right and down five times. To repeat an action forever, you can call SKAction.repeatForever(SKAction) with the action which is to be repeated infinitely.


Almost every type of action has a duration parameter that is a TimeInterval (a typealias for Double) in seconds. This tells the engine to run the action for a certain number of seconds (or fraction of a second). There is also another type of action, wait(forDuration: TimeInterval), which will wait for the duration of the action. This is useful in action sequences to have time in between actions.

Blocks and Custom Actions

There is also another class method run(_: () -> Void) that executes a block of code. The parameter to run is a function that does not take any arguments and returns Void. This allows you to do things that are out of the scope of the regular SKAction, such as update UI or change scores, for example.

A custom action is a little bit trickier. The method customAction(withDuration: TimeInterval, actionBlock: @escaping (SKNode, CGFloat) -> Void) creates an action that runs over a specified duration, while continually calling the actionBlock with the node (SKNode) the action is running on and the elapsed time (CGFloat) until the duration time.

This code snippet creates an action that changes a label node’s text counting up from 0s to 5s.

Stopping Actions

There are two basic ways to stop actions while they are running: calling removeAllActions() or removeAction(forKey: String) on a node. The former will stop all actions currently running on the node, while the latter will remove an action based on a unique key given to the action when the run(SKAction, withKey: String) is called.

In my recent SpriteKit game, Blueshift, I used SKActions heavily to make tiles move around. Check it out in the App Store! Also, check out my other SpriteKit posts, the basics and physics. If you have any questions, comment here or tweet or PM me on Twitter. Happy SpriteKit-ing!