Think Like a Videogame Physicist

Over at Dot Physics (which might be the best physics blog in the world at the moment), Rhett Allain has a pair of posts exploring the physics of Fantastic Contraption.

The posts don’t really lend themselves to excerpting, so you need to go over there and read them, but I think they’re brilliant, and deserve better than just a spot in a links dump. These may be the best example of the scientific mindset that you’ll find on a blog.

What he does is to set out to determine whether the world of Fantastic Contraption obeys a consistent set of physical laws, by coming up with ingenious experiments to determine the relative masses of objects in the game, and their behavior under controlled circumstances. He works out the relative masses, shows that the acceleration of gravity is constant, and works out the torque generated by the rotating balls in the game.

It’s really an outstanding example of the scientific approach to the world, and a little like watching Galileo putter around at the dawn of classical mechanics. It also makes me wonder whether it would be possible to put this to educational uses– giving introductory physics students a version of this game, for example, and asking them to experimentally determine the parameters.

Something to think about, in my copious spare time.

Comments

  1. #1 Ray Ingles
    October 28, 2008

    Okay, it’s not totally apropos, but whenever I see anything about game physics, I can’t help but remember this Stephen Turner quote: “Realistic physics in games will never catch on. Lara Croft would keep falling over forwards.” :->

  2. #2 IBY
    October 28, 2008

    He also liked the cool post with linerider.

  3. #3 IBY
    October 28, 2008

    Oops! Typo, I meant “I”, not “he.”

  4. #4 Jonathan Vos Post
    October 28, 2008

    Re: “Lara Croft would keep falling over forwards” — sorry, But I was teaching teenagers all day, and they were all, like, arguing about Halloween costumes. They seem to think like this.

    Nobody whom you personally know and love has died. In historical movies and TV shows, people actually used to have parents, grandparents, siblings, children, spouses, and lovers die, and it was very emo and weepy. Romeo and Juliet. Stupid. Death is quaint. I’m immortal. All my friends are immortal. So far, right? Always been that way. You can’t kill Superman except with Kryptonite. They keep trying to kill James Bond, but he kills them first, and has lots of sex and smokes cigarettes and drinks booze and drives fast cars and is really cool for an old fart. Sean Connery Who? Oh, the Dad in Indiana Jones. Anyway, like in that ancient classic Lara Croft Tomb Raider, “she died four times and the fifth time around she got out alive” and, you know, that really really old Reboot cartoon. And some breeder geezer told me something about a novel called Rogue Moon by a friend of Shakespeare named Algis Budrys, but I googled and couldn’t find the text, and there’s no movie, so screw it. There’s no such thing as Death. Except as a character in Death Metal and other entertainment, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and other Grim Reapers, like a black-robed skeleton carrying a scythe. Goth. And a reason for cloning. And a way to get zombies. Except that we have to save the planet. No save point for that, just a tipping point. I think.