Video Game Physics Suspension of Disbelief Not Included
Video Game Physics Suspension So I’ve been playing a bit of Angry Birds on the smartphone recently. Very cute little game of course, but the physics engine is really what has me interested right now. I cleared a few levels last night and it got fascinating because so many of the levels are designed around this. I spent a week or two on and off trying to clear an earlier level where you have to knock down a pair of heavy “cages” the pigs are in and I finally discovered through trial and error that hitting them in just the right spot will set up enough vibration to rock the cage and make it tumble down on the pigs.
So it’s definitely a question of finesse – brute forcing it doesn’t work since the birds I had on that level are too small to break the cages easily otherwise and you don’t have enough of them. That level and some of the others really impressed me – there’s definitely a lot of thought put into the physics engine (I like how you can see the trajectory of the last bird you fired, too) that really makes the game tricky since you can sometimes rely on dumb luck and other times you just have to arc your shots just right to hit a sweet spot that sets off a chain reaction of things tumbling every which way. Surprising depth for a game you play on the smartphone.
At the same time, I’ve also been playing a bit of Just Cause 2 on XBox (basically Grand Theft Auto on a jungle island) and one of the entertaining aspects of the game is the movie-style stunt physics for vehicles. This gets amusing when you get chased by the police, lead them up a hill and end up flipping your car over the other side, roll it about 5 times then land upright and can still drive away. Absolutely ridiculous but at the same time, it’s cool to see how much thought they put into it – much like Angry Birds, there’s definitely a focus on making the physics work in that particular setting.
Of course, video game physics sometimes have unintended results – a famous example being “rocket jumping” in Quake. Quake was one of the first I remember really having a physics engine built-in (considering it came out in 1997) and players discovered that you could boost yourself in the air using the rocket launcher, allowing them to reach areas of the game that would either be inaccessible altogether like high ledges or not accessible until later. This was a completely unintentional effect of the physics engine and added another aspect to gameplay for the more skilled players who mastered it, especially in online play against other people where it allowed faster movement around a level.