Kevin Griffith

Physics in Games


When I first decided to come to Full Sail I debated whether or not to go into the programming side of computer animation or the art side. Had I taken this class prior and know more about physics I wouldn’t have been so hesitant in my consideration. That and programmers, an average, get paid about twenty thousand more a year.


I chose the art side of the industry because I’m more visual than technical. As a web designer currently, I know what it’s like to start at code all day and it can be draining. But the allure of creating, what would be nature laws and phenomena’s in real life, in a digital realm is still there. Imagine having to write the coded properties of the physics of fire. How it burns, propagates, migrates and dies out. Being the person that writes the code for gravity, weight and run speeds that players are going to be bound by as they take control of a world you created. With the inclusion of artificial intelligence for non-playable characters this is as close as playing God as one can get.


According to Arnason, Pong started physics in videogames back in 1972.  There’s still a debate on whether this was the first video game ever made but it’s a basic example of potential and kinetic energy in motion. I remember when I was younger playing games and shooting the enemy and knowing that my bullets rarely ever missed. I found out later that it wasn’t my skill it was that there were, at that time, no actual projectiles being launched from weapons. It was a simple algorithm that calculated a hit or miss. Now coders actually have to write in projectiles with varying weights, velocity, speed, and gravitational factors so my bullets now act as closely as they would in real life.


It would be impossible in this day and age to sell a video game that didn’t utilize physics in some way. It’s an unspoken, unseen law of how we interact and view things in an interactive space. Even something as simple as Pac-Man with random and predetermined paths for the ghost had to add in acceleration and potential energies every time Pac-Man ate an “energizer” then ran around eating ghosts and their eyes ran back to the safe area.


My favorite example of physics in a game is a mode in Saint’s Row called Insurance Fraud. Basically the game allows you to be a ragdoll and throw yourself in front of cars with the gravity settings turned down a bit for hilarious results (and money). Havok is a company that most videogame companies use to create these types of physics on people. They have been around for over a decade and are quietly responsible for what happens to a body once it’s been shot and killed, exploded or even thrown out a window. If you need a physics engine Havok is the most trusted.


Collision and ragdoll physics are the main two I have been talking about here but thee are so many other factors that go into delivering a working world in a video game. Things like particle effects that emulate water, gases and fire, deformation physics that allow objects to break and bend realistically and soft body physics along with that that allow for the transfer of kinetic energies to move and move through an object. It is safe to say and very obvious if you know what to look for that physics plays a major role in the video game scene and isn’t going anywhere.


References:, Average 2012 US Dev Salary, Eddie Makuch


Evolution of Physics in Video Games, Bjarni Por Arnason, Understanding Pac-Man Ghost Behavior, Chad Birch