When I first played Metal Warriors for the SNES I was hooked. The unofficial sequel to Cybernator, I remember the box art at my local gaming store with the large imposing mech, I needed to play it. The game let you pilot numerous mechs, and if your mech was destroyed you could hop out, and scurry across the battle field to find a new one. It was also great to play with a friend, and see them get pissed off when you destroyed their mech, and stomped on their character. With the releases of Zone of Enders, and Armored Core, mech combat would never be the same. When Zone of Enders was released, my nostalgia goggles fell off, and I couldn’t stop playing the game. Comparatively, Metal Warriors doesn’t offer the same level of dynamics with physics as Zone of Enders. Metal Warriors lets you fly, but it is a side scroller; the same can’t be said of Zone of Enders, which lets you not only fly, but fly head on into enemies and barrage them with attacks. Physics have let games not only become more realistic, but allow gamers to have a broader experience, which lets developers be able to be more creative in making games.
Gaming first began with the release of the first home commercial console, the Magnavox Odyssey, which for the majority of gamers may have never even been heard of when it was released in the United States in 1972, and in the United Kingdom in 1973. The early system lacked any writable memory which didn’t allow for saving, and didn’t even have enough graphical capability to create text. Early gamers kept scores and tallies with pen and paper. But as gaming evolved so did physics and graphics.
I grew up with a NES, my very first game was the two in one Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt combination, where I was blown away as a kid by both hopping over goombas and that evil dog laughing at me in Duck Hunt. Games like Trine, Limbo, and many others make innovative steps in the use of physics, as they are no longer limited to having you run from side to side. Games like Trine utilized physics in order to solve puzzles and to progress to new puzzles.
Platformers are not the only games that evolved because of physics. All genres benefit from the advancement of physics with the use of pre-made physic engines, specifically high precision engines and real time engines. The calculations in these engines create what makes games feel so realistic, games like Crysis and The Witcher 2 pushing even the benchmarks of the best gaming pcs to the test, bringing water, facial animations, and even weather close to the realism of everyday life.
When consoles were still limited to two dimensional graphics, the only collision detection was with the environment, or enemies, and touching an enemy or even water in the early days of gaming usually meant you were dead. There were no ragdoll physics and deformable bodies, like in Max Payne 3 where you can shoot enemies and send them collapsing in a heap with close to real bullet wounds.
The growth of physics into actual physics engines gives birth to one of the most detailed parts of gaming, with the replication of water, geology, grass, hair, clothing within games (when put into use with particle physics), the modeling of both weather and explosions, makes gaming far more realistic than it once was.
Sometimes these physics engines use complicated algorithms which perform calculations that reproduce things in games we can’t even do in real life. Many games benefit with the use of physics, but some games don’t make proper use of the existing technology. For example, the puzzle-platformer LittleBigPlanet promised to excel with making physics a big part of its gameplay. “The loose physics and the fact that, by its very nature, levels are cobbled together as opposed to fully developed and polished, meant that even the best LittleBigPlanet level was rather poor compared to the average “real videogame level,” explained Destructoid.com’s Jim Sterling in his review of LittleBigPlanet 2. The problem with physics in LittleBigPlanet is that it is just a mess – sure the idea of the series is interesting, giving gamers a literal playground where they can engineer their own levels to play with friends and strangers, but the haphazard physics makes actual gameplay aggravating. If you can look past the fact that the series has a flawed use of physics though, the game can be amusing.
On the other hand, some developers make use of physics to create fear in players, e.g. Dead Space’s use of ragdoll physics with dismembering necromorphs, finding that the enemy you just sliced into pieces wasn’t actually dead in that pile of sinew, bone and blood. Dead Space also made use of physics by letting gamers explore parts of the story in Zero Gravity, with those horrid reanimated infant corpses surprising you while you jump around in Zero Gravity, unaware a dead baby was slowly lurking toward you with an intent to kill.
There is still a line between reality and gaming; some games get so close to being three dimensional presentations of reality, however a small glitch or programming error may destroy an amazing sense of realism – like BioShock for example. While playing BioShock, the game’s distinctive atmosphere created tense scenarios which were sometimes destroyed by the physics within the game. After getting in a heated fight against a group of splicers, you lose the sense of realism the game brings when you see some of the enemies dead corpses still twitching, caught on a piece of the environment.
Graphics and physics continues to improve regardless. We find many games which mimic realism, that can produce experiences that are far beyond our perceptions of reality. We have seen many games that blow us away with their duplication of reality, and laughed at ones that have tried and badly failed. It cannot be predicted what the future holds for gaming, but one thing is for certain, as technology advances, so will gaming.