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Educational Feature: Physics in Mass Market Games

In the latest feature for GameCareerGuide.com, students from McMaster University examine a brief history of physics in video games, from its earliest uses in classic arc
Students of game development need to know a little history, lest they be doomed to repeat it. GameCareerGuide.com has just posted a new article with a brief history of physics in video games, from classic arcade games to Grand Theft Auto IV, which uses a new technology. Two students, Jacob Karsemeyer and Calen Henry from McMaster University, take a trip down memory lane to look at how video game physics have changed over the years, and peer into the future by examining some new technologies, too. They contend that physics is an integral part of creating an immersive experience, and they look at how different games did this or failed at it over the years, with various levels of technology at work. For example, they consider the different physics that were used in Donkey Kong versus Super Mario Bros.: “Physics were still very primitive when [Donkey Kong] was released. Jumpman climbed ladders and hopped over barrels, but these actions were applied in an effective and inviting way that kept players coming back. To this day, Donkey Kong has one of the most competitive player communities, as noted in the film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Nintendo capitalized on the popularity of the jumping technique, releasing a series of subsequent games that used the same mechanic. Donkey Kong was a huge success. Nintendo’s next step was to invest the money it had earned from its successful arcade machines to create a video game console intended the home -- the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America and the Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan. Super Mario Bros., which shipped with the system, featured another jumping character, only now he was named Mario and was a plumber instead of a carpenter. Friction and momentum were added to the physics in Super Mario Bros., which gave the game a more realistic feel. If Mario is running quickly before he jumps, he travels farther than if he was walking before the jump. And he slowly slides to a halt depending on how fast he was running. Using software to emulate real world physics made the game more intuitive. These basic additions to the jump and dodge mechanic brought platforming to a new level and was used in countless subsequent games. Soon all of Mario’s competitors -- Sonic the Hedgehog, the Ninja Turtles -- were slipping and sliding around with realistic momentum. Super Mario Bros. went on to be far more successful than any of the previous Nintendo games and has sold more copies than any other Mario game (gamecubicle.com).” You can read the complete article, which looks at more modern games and physics engines too, on GameCareerGuide.com.

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