Carmack vs Physics - First Round

Originally posted,

Talking some more on the subject of physics and games - I wanted to shoot out some things based on the Quakecon 2005 keynote by John Carmack.

But I do think it’s a mistake for people to try and go overboard and try and do a real simulation of the world because it’s a really hard problem, and you’re not going to give that much real benefit to the actual game play. You’l tend to make a game which may be fragile, may be slow, and you’d better have done some really, really neat things with your physics to make it worth all of that pain and suffering.

The above is one of the things that Mr. Carmack said in reference to physics during his keynote. When I read this I was amused by the fact, that taken out of context, this is the same type of thing someone could have said a couple decades ago about computer graphics. It has been a common error recently to confuse graphic fidelity with game play. At its core, graphics has the same job as physics for a game - audience immersion. Game play has nothing to do with graphics - one of the things that Nintendo has been trying to show the industry recently. Game play is about game design, about the actual process of playing the game, the rules and strictures by which the environment has been established.& Graphics has been about immersing the player in the environment, in creating the suspension of disbelief necessary for the audience to feel a part of the game rather than a spectator of the game. In much the same way physics helps and reinforces these same precepts. As an industry we’ve stagnated over this issue of graphics as game play, and we need to get past it. Neither graphics, nor physics supply game play. However, game play can use either or both!

Doom and Doom III is nearly the same game - they have the same style, mechanics and only minor tactical changes (principally discussing the single player game). There have been no principal changes in game play from one to the other. However, Mr. Carmack would like us to believe that this change in graphics is a game play improvement while increasing the use of physics would not provide the same thing. This attitude is what I’ve never really understood. Real fluid simulations, deformable and destructible environments, the use of the environment in combat and physically reactive characters are just a few of the things that would both add game play and immersion. When your character in Doom can be, for all intents and purposes, Jackie Chan, then we can discuss the decreasing uses for physics in improving game play.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the major change that the use of physics in a game presents is the environment changing from a controlled, state-machine to being fully dynamic. This change has rattled and scared many developers, who have restricted the use of physics to purely cosmetic uses or to very controlled situations. However, I feel there is a great amount of potential in opening the gaming mechanic - allowing for more non-linear and process-orientated gaming systems. Designers would be able to setup situations that could be activated through environmental analysis, or even be changed on the fly based on situational modifiers presented by the environment