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Enrich Game Content With Physics-Based Realism: Latest O'Reilly Book Provides Starting Point for Game Developers

December 11, 2001

Sebastopol, CA--When David Bourg became professionally involved in game development, he discovered that colleagues from his "other" profession as a naval architect and marine engineer thought that making video games was less intellectually challenging than designing ships. "The funny thing," says Bourg, "is that classical engineers, such as mechanical and marine engineers, and game developers are often solving similar problems using similar techniques, but they just don't know it."

Bourg, who is author of the just-released Physics for Game Developers (O'Reilly, US $39.95), adds, "While engineers focus on physical accuracy when solving problems, often at the expense of visual development, game developers have often focused on visual realism at the expense of physical accuracy. This dividing line is becoming blurred now as game developers strive to add physical realism and engineers strive to add advanced visualization to their respective products or processes."

Physics-based realism is not new to gaming; in fact, many games on the shelves these days advertise their physics engines. By applying the laws of physics--specifically mechanics--game developers can realistically model nearly anything that moves to create compelling, believable content for computer games. Bourg uses the example of designing a hunting game, complete with first-person 3D, beautiful textures, and an awesome soundtrack to set the mood. "But as a developer, you still have a sense that something is missing. This something," Bourg says, "is realism. You want the game to feel more 'real' by challenging the gamer's marksmanship by adding considerations such as distance to target, wind speed and direction, and muzzle velocity. Moreover, you don't want to fake these elements; rather, you would like to model them realistically based on the principles of physics."

Physics for Game Developers serves as the starting point for game developers who want to enrich their games with physics-based realism. The first part of the book is a mechanics primer that reviews the basic concepts and addresses aspects of rigid body dynamics. The second part applies the concepts to specific real-world problems from existing computer games. And finally, the author introduces real-time simulations and shows how they apply to computer games. While the reader does not need to be a physics expert, Bourg assumes a basic, college-level understanding of classical physics, typical of non-physics and non-engineering majors.

According to Bourg, knowledge of physics-based realism will be crucially important for programmers who want to compete in developing ever more sophisticated games. "It's important for game developers to realize that there is an awful lot of information available that will help them add physics to their games," Bourg explains, "but this information won't necessarily be found in 'traditional' game development sources. Sure, you can scour the Internet, trade journals and magazines for how-to's or fish out an old physics text and start from scratch, but you'll likely find that the information is too general to be applied directly or too advanced." In Physics for Game Developers, Bourg pulls together the information game developers need to enrich their games' content with physics-based realism, but don't know where to start.

Online Resources:

Physics for Game Developers
By David M. Bourg
ISBN 0-596-00006-5, 326 pages, $39.95 (US)

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