Computer Physics
Time 2.3 hrs

Difficulty Intermediate
Prerequisites Game Engines
Departments Science
Authors Sandra Kuipers
Groupings Individual
Minimum Year Group None


Physics in computer games allow us to simulate 2D and 3D environments. The first steps in computer physics include gravity, friction and collisions.


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5 mins
Making things "Real"
  • Physics in computer games allow us to make really awesome effects!
  • Some of them are realistic, and some of them are "real enough" but also fun.
  • Games can have 2D physics, 3D physics, or a combination of both.
  • Luckily, using a game engine means we don't have to calculate all the physics by hand.
  • But, we do need to understand the basics of how objects interact with each other.

5 mins
Game Physics
Like reality, but not quite
  • Video games have a great history of pushing the envelop for what's possible in computing.
  • But, even with insanely powerful computers, we can't simulate the entire physical world.
  • The following video looks at how game physics relate to real world physics.
  • It gives a great overview of the types of things that are and are not possible in games:

    (this guy talks slow! try increasing the playback speed to 1.25 or 1.5)

10 mins
  • Computer physics come in many different forms.
  • Each type of physics simulates a type of real-world interaction.
  • Rigid Body Dynamics is a type of physics for "solid" objects, which means the shape of the object doesn't change when it collides with something. Most video game physics is rigid body, because it's faster for the GPU to calculate.

  • Soft Body Dynamics is a type of physics where the object squishes or changes shape when it collides with other objects. Soft body physics can apply to whole objects, like the blob below, or also flat objects like a piece of cloth. Calculating soft body physics is really intensive for the GPU, so it's often not used real-time in video games, but can be used in 3D modelling software like Blender.

  • Fluid Dynamics is when we use a computer to simulate the moment of water and other particles. These types of simulations are very intensive, because each particle of "water" is being calculated based on the other particles around them.

5 mins
  • Collisions occur anytime two objects in a game "collide" or pass through each other.
  • Collisions can be visible, such as a car crashing into another car.
  • They can also be invisible, such as triggering an event when you walk into an area.
  • Collision detection is the math a game engine uses to determine if a collision has happened.
  • Detecting collisions is the heart of a lot of gameplay mechanics.
  • What kinds of games can you think of that use collisions? 2D games? 3D games?

  • There's some pretty complex math that goes into collision detection.
  • Click the image above to see an example. Just scroll through and play with the clickable parts.
  • To simplify the math, many objects have an invisible collider around them called a bounding box (or bounding volume).
5 mins
More Physics

85 mins
Physics Game
Unity Tutorial
  • Learning about game physics is best when it's hands-on.
  • Visit the Roll-a-ball Tutorial and work through the steps to create a basic physics game.

25 mins
Your Roller Game
  • Your goal in this unit is to create a roll-a-ball game, then modify it in some unique way.
  • You could change it in a number of ways: different shapes, larger maps, obstacles to move around.
  • Take some time to tinker with the possible options after completing the Unity tutorial.
  • Once you're done, upload your entire project folder to Google drive and share the folder as evidence of your learning in this unit.
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