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Havok-ood time with the Force
Posted on Sunday, February 17 2008 @ 16:39:07 PST

Physics is the elusive foundation that our reality is built upon.  Every interaction in nature whether it be a sub-atomic collision, wind blowing leaves of trees, or something as large as a star exploding, physics is everywhere.  It's a very structured science, very mathematical, and it's one that I have spent the last four years getting to know better.  Being a gamer as well (which can be at odds with school) I have often pondered the nature of physics in video games.

When it comes down to it, isn't a video game simply a simulation of our own existence?  An often stretched and fictional simulation but a simulation all the same.  Even from the early days of arcade side scrollers, these games had to be based on certain physical rules.  When Mario jumped into the air, he must come down.  When you would play Doom and point your BFG at a demon Imp, the blast would follow a straight trajectory and blow that mother up right?  Grand Turismo needs to know the basics of Newtons laws when your car speeds through a corner.  It's not a hidden secret to know that our games rely on physical parameters to operate, we simply ignore those facts and enjoy our entertainment.

What I am interested in is seeing the evolution of physics in games.  As computer capabilities become more and more sophisticated, our simulations get better and better.  I mean, take Portal for example.  Here is a game that takes Newton's laws to the extreme.  Impassible obstacles?  No problem!  The programming involved in keeping the physics straight would have been heavy.  I wrote a program for an N-body problem in normal gravity and I thought that was challenging!  I suppose that is why I am a physicist and not a computer scientist. 

As Star Wars: The Force Unleashed draws near, I am constantly reminded and amazed at what we can do to make our games, our entertainment simulations very close to the real deal.  LucasArts in combining three robust software engines to make it feel like you are a master force user.  I was overly impressed with the Havok when it was introduced in Half-Life 2 but it combined with Digital Molecular Matter and Euphoria AI is going to be, in my opinion, a treat.  It does not come without flaws but that's okay with me.  This game and games like it that demonstrate what the capabilities of our games can be only shows that we are no where near the upper limit of our imaginations.  How can game producers produce a better experience when what have now is so good? 

Are the possibilities endless?  Perhaps not but what has been developed thus far is something to be proud of.  The never-satisfied taste for bigger and better will always push the limits of the industry to bring a better "simulation" of our reality.  Those who look at the current best, unimpressed are the ones who, hopefully, will push our limits, however;  they should also look back to gaming's early and humble beginnings to appreciate what we have now so they can diligently push forward and bring better games.
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