Asset Runtime Asset System

The runtime asset system is responsible for loading and managing assets in the editor/launcher of O3DE. An asset corresponds to a single file that has been proccessed by the Asset Processor into a Product Asset. Each asset is given a unique ID called an AssetId which is composed of the UUID of the Source Asset along with the SubId of the Product Asset.

Asset References

The AZ::Data::Asset class is used to reference an AssetData object (an asset) and is essentially a smart pointer. When all references to a given asset are released, the asset is unloaded. When an Asset<T> type is saved to disk, it is saved as an AssetId that can be used to load the asset again later.

Loading Assets at Runtime

The AZ::Data::AssetManager system is responsible for loading and managing assets at runtime.

GetAsset is the primary API used to load an existing asset. It returns an Asset<T> reference. Only one copy of an asset is loaded in memory at a time, so if an asset is already loaded or currently loading, no new load requests will be made; the Asset<T> returned will point to the same AssetData and will be ready when the load is finished (if it hasn’t already finished). GetAsset is a non-blocking asychronous API, meaning the asset data may not be available immediately after the call completes.

There are two ways to handle waiting for an asset load to complete: the blocking way is to call BlockUntilLoadComplete on the Asset<T> reference. This will block the current thread until loading of the asset is completed. The other (and recommended) option is to connect to the AssetBus and handle the OnAssetReady/OnAssetReloaded events for your asset.

Note that the engine does not currently support load cancelling (cancelling a load request before completion), making it possible to call GetAsset and then discard the result while waiting for OnAssetReady to be called. It is best to avoid relying on this as it is not an intended feature. Asset references should always be stored for as long as the asset is expected to be loaded (generally when the asset is in use).

Dependency Loading

By default, the AssetManager will load all the dependencies of an asset before signalling an asset has completed loading. Asset dependencies are recorded in the AssetCatalog and are determined by the Product Dependencies emitted by each builder. There are 3 different load settings possible for dependencies (AssetLoadBehavior):

  1. Preload - The dependency will complete loading before the parent asset is signalled ready.
  2. QueueLoad - The dependency will start loading when the parent asset starts but will not be required to complete before the parent asset has been signalled ready.
  3. NoLoad - The dependency will not be requested to load. If the dependency is already loaded anyway, any references will still point to the already-loaded asset.

Keep in mind that regardless of the settings, AssetManager makes no guarantees on the order assets complete loading.


The Asset System provides support for hot-reloading, which is the updating of loaded, in-memory assets when the on-disk asset changes. Hot-reloading allows content creators to quickly iterate on assets and see the changes update live without needing to restart the engine. When the Asset Processor finishes processing an asset, a notification is sent out to the engine; if the asset in question is already loaded or loading, a reload request is queued and the Asset Manager starts loading the newly updated asset. Each system utilizing the Asset System must implement support for this individually by handling the OnAssetReloaded event.

Often, projects copy data out of loaded assets to perform additional processing. A common error around asset reloading is to not refresh any copied data. For example, if your project is a game that uses an XML file to define the player’s movement speed, and when this XML file is loaded, the information is copied to a component on the player entity, then when a reload event occurs, it’s important to also re-copy the information over to the player entity. Otherwise, the player will continue to move at the old movement speed, even if the XML file is updated to change it.

Asset Processing Prioritization

The following are generally only relevant during project development, when assets aren’t always processed ahead of time before running the engine. In a release project where all assets have been compiled and bundled, these concepts do not apply.

Critical Assets

Critical assets are assets which are required to start the engine and must be processed by the Asset Processor before start-up can complete. Critical assets are prioritized by Asset Processor before any other type of asset. They are declared by Asset Builders as part of the Job Descriptor . The exception to this is if a critical asset has a Job Dependency on a non-critical asset, the critical asset will wait until the non-critical asset has been processed before proceeding. This can result in the critical asset waiting until all the other critical assets have finished first before its dependencies can even start processing. It is recommended to keep these type of assets to a minimum as they can considerably impact the time taken to start the engine.

Asset Job Escalation

As an alternative to critical assets, the Asset Processor supports Job Escalation, which can be used to make Asset Processor prioritize the processing of a given asset before other assets. The AssetSystemBus offers a set of CompileAssetSync APIs which can be used to request the Asset Processor escalate the compiling of an asset and blocks until compilation is complete.

For a non-blocking escalation request, see the EscalateAsset APIs.