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Games Entertainment

The State of Video Game Physics 170

The Guardian's games blog convened a panel of engineers and other experts to talk about the current state of video game physics. A great deal of research is currently going on to make better use of multiple cores so that advanced physics tools and engines can take advantage of all the processing power available in modern computers. Many of those tools are being put to work these days to find more realistic ways of breaking things, and game developers are trying to wrap their heads around destructible environments. Mike Enoch, lead coder at Ruffian Games, said, "This idea of simulating interactions and constructing the game world similar to how you would construct the real world generates more emergent gameplay, where the game plays out in a unique way for each player, and the player can come up with solutions to problems that the designer might not have thought of." Another area that still sees a lot of attention is making game characters more human, in terms of moving and looking as realistic as possible, as well as how a game's AI perceives what's happening. "The problem is not necessarily in having the most advanced path-finding technique with large-scale awareness; we need to have more micro behaviors, with a proper physics awareness of the environment," said software engineer George Torres.
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The State of Video Game Physics

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  • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:26AM (#28492241) Homepage
    One of the toughest aspects of calculus-based physics is teaching how to intuit it. Space-based games (i. e., ones involving the behavior of light, planets, and other celestial entities) written to conform to actual physics laws would be a fun way to teach students how to intuit physics.

    This generation of students is just damned lucky to have access to such computing power. In the old days, the most readily accessible computing power was an 8080 hobbyist board. Simulating the universe on that is impossible. The students of that era were stuck with just manipulating integrals and derivatives.

    Life is unfair. I hate it.

  • by WCguru42 ( 1268530 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:33AM (#28492279)

    You know, some of us youngsters were brought up on the idea that calculators should only be used to multiply large numbers together and nothing else. I know that I've benefited greatly by having restricted calculators / computer use on exams that require a more fundamental understanding of physics than simply plugging numbers into equations.

    And if you can't intuit physics then you probably shouldn't mess with it. I remember when my first physics teacher told me that calculus was nothing more than mathematics for the purpose of physics and all of a sudden calculus made so much more sense, taking mathematics and equating it to physics and the real world just seemed to simplify the whole thing.

  • Garry's Mod (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SnakeEater251 ( 872793 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:33AM (#28492281) Homepage
    This is why games like Garry's Mod have become so popular. You can run (basic) physics simulations on your home computers without needing to shell out too much cash to do so.
  • No more (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elashish14 ( 1302231 ) <profcalc4&gmail,com> on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:48AM (#28492365)

    Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I preferred the simpler games, the ones that didn't have as rigid physics and things of the nature. Compare modern first-person/third-person shooters and compare them to the classics like Perfect Dark, The Legend of Zelda or Goldeneye. They were so much fun because handling was so easy, you could move, you could strafe, etc. It was so much better! And yet, as games become more realistic, all that happens is that your character becomes more sluggish and less powerful, harder to manipulate. All for the sake of reality, and graphics which will always get old. But the gameplay never gets old. That's why classics are what they are - they're acceptable graphically and a hell of a lot of fun to play.

    Want proof? They still have Street Fighter tournaments, Melee tournaments, etc. if you look around in the right places. On the other hand, who cares anymore about Metal Gear Solid 4? Man, even playing Super Mario World is much more fun than the New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, simply by virtue of the fact that the older one is simpler, freer, gives you more control, more imagination, more room to enjoy it.

    Seriously? It's gameplay that makes you come back, not reality. I wish we'd drop the reality of things and just make games fun. But I guess now I'm old enough to just make my own games. Sigh. It had to come down to this, didn't it?

  • Re:No more (Score:2, Interesting)

    by StackedCrooked ( 1204878 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @02:59AM (#28492435)
    I would agree with you that the 3D obsession in the past 10 years was kind of silly. It all had to be 3d all of a sudden, and it ruined many games. For example the old Worms was fun, the 3D version sucks so bad.

    However, the introduction of physics is actually something that I am not complaining about. I love too see how debris tumbles down and stuff. And I like the current trend of 2D gravity games as well.
  • by mad_minstrel ( 943049 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @03:18AM (#28492527)
    While I believe that's true in most cases, there are some games where realistic physics actually do make them more fun. Just play Red Faction: Guerilla.
  • Re:No more (Score:3, Interesting)

    by banffbug ( 1323109 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @03:55AM (#28492691)

    ...the classics like Perfect Dark, The Legend of Zelda or Goldeneye.

    I was hoping you'd mention games from the commodore 64, not the other 64!

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @03:05PM (#28496551) Homepage

    A dozen years ago I developed and demoed the first ragdoll physics system that worked. [] Among other things, I'm responsible for the "ragdoll falling downstairs" cliche; that started with a demo I did in 1997. I looked at ragdolls as a first step. I was expecting game development to go in the direction of physically-based characters driven by active control of character muscles. That hasn't happened.

    The problem is partly technical and partly dramatic. The dramatic part I encountered in dealing with Hollywood types. What directors want is to specify the start and end conditions; the job of the system is to realistically get the character to the desired ending mark. In real-world stunt work, there are wires, guides, and rails that make things go the way the director wants, even when that's not physically realistic. When that's not enough, cuts are used to conceal the lack of realism.

    Physics systems are inherently unidirectional - you keep working forward from the current state. This is fundamentally incompatible with directorial control. As a result, the trend in character animation has been to get enough motion capture data to cover the things you want the character to do, and use a motion splicing engine to patch the pieces together. (This, incidentally, was first used in Godzilla, the movie, for the baby 'zillas). That's become more or less the standard approach for games.

    Using a character control AI to drive the character's muscles realistically has been attempted, but with modest success. Motion Factory tried this in the 1990s; their system was only kinematic, and not too successful. Havok is trying it now. For this to work, you need computerized muscle control good enough to drive a real-world robot, like Big Dog. And then it has to look good from an aesthetic perspective. It's really a hard robotics problem, which is why I was interested in it in the first place.

    From a gameplay perspective, if you take the physics seriously, you lose the "superhero" capabilities of game characters. Jump off a balcony, and don't expect to land on your feet. Jumping up to a balcony? Forget it. Hand-to-hand combat works about as well as it does at the dojo. ("Your left foot was too far forward for that throw. Again!" "Yes, sensi.") Trying to control a physically realistic character via a joystick is nearly hopeless. You can't even drive a real car very well through a remote joystick, let alone a game pad. (I've actually done that; using a remote steering wheel is a huge improvement over a joystick.) In driving games for consoles, the physics is tweaked to make the car incredibly stable. (Lowering the center of gravity to below ground is a common trick.)

    So what do we have? Ragdolls. "Infinitely destructible environments." Some skin deformation. Cloth. Plus rain, snow, water, and explosions that don't feed into the game play at all. (That's mostly what the "physics cards" do.)

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.