View Full Version : BA in video games, an infinite source

2002-Jun-22, 08:06 AM
Great show on models on the History channel last night. They noted that potatos were used as models for some of the asteroids in the Star Wars asteroid belts. So my son was playing Starfox 64 (Nintendo 64) and sure enough, the asteroids in the incorrectly crowded asteroid field looked just like computer generated potatos. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_lol.gif

David Hall
2002-Jul-05, 02:11 PM
So do they look something like this? /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif


<font size="-1">http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/0206/idadactyl_galileo_big.gif

I seem to remember waaaaay back a video game having something to do with asteroids. You had to shoot down hoardes of them, even though they weren't doing anything, just drifting around minding their business. There was a lot of BA in that one. First, the asteroids themselves were very jagged and pointed, not potato-like at all. Second, there were far too many of them and they drifted every which way. Third, your little ship must have had some incredible firepower, because one shot could shatter them or even disinegrate them if they were small enough. There was also some kind of teleportation involved. That game was bad science galore.

Now, if I could only remember what it was called.... /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_confused.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_lol.gif

2002-Jul-05, 04:48 PM
i hope you are kidding? If that is sarcasm, is is very faint. But the game is (insert big booimg voice) "Asteroids!"
If you think that game is bad, play games like Freespace 1 and 2 where you have to protect your capital ship when it goes throught an asteroid belt, and for some reason all of the asteroids seem to want to collide with the ship even tought the ship is miving very slowly.

2002-Jul-09, 12:40 PM
Somehow, I get the feeling that David was kidding... =)

One of the best depictions of space and associated physical and astronomical events is in Square's "Final Fantasy 8", more specifically in several of the short movie sequences that accompany the latter stages of the story you play through. The game's a personal favourite of mine, and when I say 'best depictions', I'm sure that there are still many deviations from reality =) Some of these come from the fantasy-based nature of the game universe, although others, I'm sure, don't.

Some examples follow - I also located a site that holds the relevant movie sequences (http://members.fortunecity.com/butterflysedge/movies3.html), they're well recommended both as illustrations to the examples and for visual appeal. They're in RealPlayer format, so the files are pretty small.

First up, a few of the main characters are required to visit a space station that orbits the planet. A 'spaceport' is introduced, which 'shoots' single-person pods along and up curved ramps to climb through the atmosphere. The pods leave a firey trail as they ascend and display a heated nose, as you'd expect to see during re-entry; presumably due to high speed, is this accurate? Clips 70 and 71 illustrate this (3rd and 4th clips on the second row of five)

Pods reaching the space station do not decellerate themselves. Instead a 'corridor' of some manner of energy field is erected to slow the pods. It's a high tech extrapolation of the arresting cables used by aircraft on a carrier, or the nets that slow a damaged plane on an airstrip. Clip 72 shows this.

As events play out, the heroine finds herself stranded outside the station in an EVA suit with dwindling air supplies. Her breath can be seen to mist the visor before quickly clearing, and her necklace and a few tear droplets float in front of her face. When she realises how to activate the suit's reserve air supply, the inrush of air disturbs her fringe and the droplets. See clips 83 and 84.

An abandoned spaceship is discovered in orbit around the planet's moon, lazily spinning on its axis. Clip 87 is very nicely done; the camera shows the spin of the ship before getting drawn along with it, seeming to cause the surrounding starscape to spin. Yes, stars are visible in these clips - naughty! To Square's credit though, there aren't that many, with a particular lack shown around the two main bodies.

That's some of the main space-related events; there is much more on display in some of the over movies, though the events depicted are more fantastical in keeping with the game's theme, even if they would make awesome astronomical events. For example, in the game the planet's moon is home to a thriving population of creatures. Every now and again, a 'Lunar Cry' occurs, where the creature population explodes rapidly to such proportions that large numbers are ejected from the surface within some sort of matter stream that carries them down to the planet surface. The last clip shows a spectacular Lunar Cry in progress. I get the feeling the artists took inspiration from the conversion of Jupiter by the monoliths in "2001"... see if you agree =)

Okay, I've rambled more than enough. I'd be interested to hear if there's any shred of accuracy in any of this, though, beyond what's necessary to fool a layman like me, anyway =)


(edited to open the movie page in a new window)

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Raz on 2002-07-09 08:43 ]</font>

David Hall
2002-Jul-09, 02:20 PM
Yes, of course I was kidding. Why do you think I put all those smilies after my statement? How could anybody forget "Asteroids"? /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

The very best space-based video game I've ever seen or played was Frontier. It (and it's predecessorElite) had the most accurate space physics of any game I've ever seen. I used to play it for hours on my old Amiga computer. The idea was simple. You had your own spaceship which you used to travel from planet to planet trading goods and doing various missions for people. You often had to fight off pirates. You could also land on planets to mine their minerals or skim hydrogen from gas giants.

But you had to be careful, because gravity affects everything, and it was modelled on real Newtonian physics. The planets and systems were modelled with real distances and travel times in mind. You had warp engines, but whenever you entered a system, you still had to travel several AU to get to your destination, usually by thrusting up to a useful speed, coasting most of the way, then turning around to decelerate again. If you ran out of fuel, well, you'd just keep coasting forever, or until you ran into something.

For example, I remember trying to take missions to a base around Proxima Centauri. But you couldn't warp directly there. You had to warp to the Alpha Centauri system and then travel to PC from there in real time. But I could never get there on time because the distance was so huge that it took over a month at high acceleration to get there.

These two games can be considered the precursors to most of the newer games out there. And in many ways they are still superior. Here are some links I found:

Basic description

You can download a shareware version! Whoo! I know what I'm going to be doing for a while.

A comprehensive links page.

Game tips collected from newsgroups.

Get it if you can and have fun!

2002-Jul-09, 04:55 PM
David Hall: Sorry, I was being sarcastic too. I didn't mean anything by it.

One game that portrays space very well is Independece war 2. It takes a long time to get places even with LDS (Linear displacement System i think). When you shoot or are hit by something your ship reacts by moving. If your engines fail while moving, you will continue to move. Aslo it takes a while to slow down. During game you can warp to several systems and some have asteroid belts. Most of these belts are portrayed very well with the rocks very far away from eachother. Others have very small rocks all over the place, saying that they pummled themselves to death. Finally you have to let your computer take you to the other systems or most likely you will get lost. Also if you travel in normal speed it can take MONTHS (in real time) to get to another objective. Very cool game, i highly reccomend it.

2002-Jul-11, 11:16 AM
Thanks guys. I'm going to see if your posts will get my son interested in those games.

He told me today that he doesn't need to exercise because he won't need to do anything but sit around in front of a computer or TV screen. I need to ease him back into the real world but I don't want to put him into withdrawls. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

2002-Jul-11, 11:33 AM
Ah , frontier. I remember that from my amiga days. What a game. You may already know this but, elite 4 is in the works. It will feature the realistic physics of previous versions and more detailed planets and even multiplayer options. The only thing i will say about bad astronomy in frontier is that without any patches space was dark blue rather than black,which looked rather odd.

2002-Jul-17, 07:55 PM
Actually, video games are pretty bad with respect to science in general. Very few games use a realistic physics engine, simply because "video game physics" looks more "real" than real physics does! I'm a video game programmer by trade, and I fudge physics all the time just to make something "look right." A big enemy, for instance, will fall under the infuence of 10 "Gs" of gravitional force to make him look "weighty."

Likewise in sci-fi based games, reality is often ignored completely. In Starfleet Academy, for instance, you can fly between "planets" which are barely larger than the larger ships that you encounter! The reason that the planets are so small? Because otherwise, it'd be incredibly dull to chase a ship around a "to scale" solar system, and because you need to be able to see the enemy ships at distances of a few hundred kilometers. So the enemy ships are huge, and the planets are tiny.

Sci-fi in video games definitely is more along the lines of Science Fantasy than even the most outrageous Star Trek TV show! But the goal isn't to make them realistic; the goal is to make them fun.

After all, if your video game character (who is 1.75 meters tall) gets punched by the 20 meter tall "boss" you're fighting, chances are you wouldn't just loose a hit point & keep fighting! There'd be a thin smear of organic matter where your character was just standing!

I think that's where most of the BA originates: in a desire to make something enjoyable that the end user can understand. So I can overlook things like "warp drive" or fighting enemies in an asteroid field that would in reality gravitationally collapse in on itself in a matter of days. It's when phrases like "intergalactic adventure" (in a game where the main character never leaves his galaxy) or "millions of miles" (when referring to distances travelled by aliens crossing light years) are used that I cringe. I can forgive BA that is there to make the story more interesting or move the plot along. I can't forgive BA that is there just because a writer or marketing executive got careless.

2002-Jul-17, 09:11 PM
On 2002-07-17 15:55, Azpod wrote:
I'm a video game programmer by trade, and I fudge physics all the time just to make something "look right." ...
It's when phrases like "intergalactic adventure" (in a game where the main character never leaves his galaxy) or "millions of miles" (when referring to distances travelled by aliens crossing light years) are used that I cringe. I can forgive BA that is there to make the story more interesting or move the plot along. I can't forgive BA that is there just because a writer or marketing executive got careless.

Sounds like you have a great job. My son would be envious. I'll start looking for those faux pas you mentioned. Sounds like a way to teach a little astronomy and physics to the kids. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

David Hall
2002-Jul-18, 03:53 AM
On 2002-07-17 15:55, Azpod wrote:

Because otherwise, it'd be incredibly dull to chase a ship around a "to scale" solar system, and because you need to be able to see the enemy ships at distances of a few hundred kilometers.

This is why I love Frontier so much. Because it actually does take real distances into account and makes them work in game form. Travelling from planet to planet and system to system is part of the challenge. (though you do have autopilots and time acceleration buttons to help you through the boring parts). Whenever you warp into a system you have to be careful to have enough fuel to travel several AU to reach a planet in a reasonable time, and you have to take acceleration and deceleration into account. You have to worry about gravity when you are near a planet or star. I've heard you can even do a gravity slingshot maneuver if you know what you're doing. Ship-to-ship fighting only happens when a ship get to within a few kilometers of you, so scale is not a problem. But you have to make sure you have matched velocities with your enemy or else you'll just blow right by him. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

The physics of this game are only fudged in areas that are invisible to the game play. I don't think they took any Einsteinian effects into account. Planetary orbits are probably approximated with circles, which isn't important to gameplay. The amount of fuel you carry would probably be inadequate in real life to get you anywhere. But overall it's about as accurate as you can get and still have a playable game. If there's any fault to Frontier, it's in the story play. It's sometimes awkward and would probably be considered very slow bu today's video game standards.

I guess my point is that, for RPG type space adventures at least, you don't have to fudge on the physics to have a good game. There are ways to work around the distance and size problems (warp technology is great for that). Sure you have to adjust things for fun and playability, but I don't think it has to be as egregious as many games make it to be. It all comes down to how you design the game.

2002-Jul-24, 09:32 AM
"Frontier"... I've heard nothing but rave reviews of that, and how you can play it *forever*.

"Solar Winds" is kind of BA. You go around this star's planetary system on errands. But the planets never move. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_frown.gif

2002-Aug-03, 06:11 PM
Ever hear of Orbiter. It's a space flight simulater that lets you cruise around the solar system. It includes a editor that alows you to add on your own ships, bases, even solar systems! The physics are, as far as I an tell, accurate. And best of all it's free. The main drawback is that there are no missions. The secondary draw back is that your staring locations are limited. You can download it at orbitersim.com. On a completely unrealted note at encarta.msn.com, there is an article entitled "The Truth About UFOs." It deals with a very probable source of the UFO movement. Not space, be Cold War paranoia. It many be worth a click.