National Organisation of Media Arts Database

Physics of Games

Provided by
Swinburne University of Technology

Run since 2008


An introduction to the practical application of physics concepts within computer and videogames through gameplay analysis and game and simulation design.

By completing this course students will be able to distinguish accurate modelling of in-game physics from inaccurate models. Students will also be able to perform basic calculations for modelling objects in motion.

This unit of study involves an introduction to the application of physics in computer and videogames focusing on the areas of:
(i) real-time physics modelling,
(ii) physics of sound, and
(iii) physics of 3D computer graphics.
By playing and analysing games and simulations, students develop an understanding of the physics they adopt.

(i) Real-Time Physics Modelling

* Newton's Laws of Motion (e.g., Asteroids, Spacewar, Lunar Lander)
* Coordinate systems and vectors (e.g., Missile Command, Pac Man, Civilization III)
* Forward and inverse kinematics (e.g., Doom III)
* Projectile Motion (e.g., Sydney 2000, Raster Blaster, 3D Pinball)
* Centre of Mass and Moment of Inertia (e.g., Transformers Armada)
* Momentum (e.g, Marble Madness, Real Pool, Pong)
* Rotational Motion (e.g. Prop Cycle, camera movement in Tomb Raider III, Jak & Daxter, Tee Off Golf)
* Force and Gravitation (e.g., Grand Prix Challenge, Lunar Lander, Doom II, Gravitar)
* Oscillatory Motion (e.g., Colin McCrae Rally, [plus cameras within games use damping])
* Collisions (e.g., Marble Madness, Havok Physics Engine games such as Max Payne 2 and Unreal Tournament 2003)
* Particle Systems (e.g. Fantavision for PS2)
* Biomechanics of Character Animation (e.g., Quake 2, Sydney 2000)

(ii) Physics of Sound

* Wave motion and Waveforms (e.g. Vib Ribbon, [plus water within games])
* Wave frequency, velocity, amplitude, period (e.g. Rez, Music 2000)
* Wave Superposition and Interference (e.g., Vib Ribbon, Music 2000)
* Wave Reflection and Transmission (e.g, Quake, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life)
* Doppler Effect and Attenuation (e.g, Quake, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life)

(iii) Physics of 3D Computer Graphics

* Viewing in 3D, view frustum, clipping planes, focal length, depth of field (e.g., Colin McCrae Rally)
* Lighting in 3D, source types, colour, decay and fall-off (e.g., Doom III, Rayman 2)
* Shading, types of shading (faceted, smooth, specular), image mapping (e.g., Starblade [flat], Ridge Racer [gouraud], Metal Gear Solid 2 [specular])
* Surface reflection and refraction (e.g., fire and water within games like Doom and Prince of Persia)

Reading Materials:

Kerlow, IV, The Art of 3-D Computer Animation and Imaging, 3rd edn, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 2004.
LaMothe, A, Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus, 2nd edn, Sams Publishing, 2002.
Serway, RA, Principles of Physics, 3rd edn, Saunders College Publishing, 2002.
Eberly, DH, Game Physics, Morgan Kaufmann, 2003.
Bourg, DM, Physics for Game Developers, O'Reilly & Associates, 2001.