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Wednesday, September 2, 2009
 

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The Role Of Physics In Horror Adventure Games
6:00 AM | Cord Kruse | 1 comment

A recent post to the Frictional Games developer blog focused on the use of physics in adventure games like the company's Penumbra horror series. The third in a series of articles focusing on puzzle design in games, this post analyzes the uses of physics models and why physics introduce a variety of unique problems for game developers.

The Chaos effect
Even though physics are controlled by a very limited set of rules, because of its complexity, even the smallest varition can cause major differences in outcome. The most striking example of this is the mining cart puzzle in Penumbra Overture. Here the player is supposed to push a cart down a slope to hit a wall, but for some reason, every now and then it would derail and miss the intended target. To fix this, extra forces where added keeping the cart in place and numerous hours was spent at getting it stable. After all this work, the cart can still derail though! In hindsight it would have been a lot easier to just use an animation. This shows how such a simple event can cause tons of problem when physics is involved.

Physics breakdown
Not only does a physical simulation suffer from undeterministic behaviour (chaos) , it can also fail. As hinted in the word "simulation", game physics is not a perfect replica of the real world and can break down at certain points. In the Penumbra games, the best example is that the player can bang objects through the floor if using enough force. Some objects are easier to bang through (because of shape, size, etc) and in Requiem we had make an important object magically appear if it went through.

Sequence breaking
In adventure games, the designer can usually set exactly the kinds of interactions possible with an object and have full control of all possible outcomes. For physics, it is impossible to anticipate all that can happen and one can only test as much as possible, hoping all gaps have been closed. For example: a pit that should not be possible to cross at certain point in the game, might be possible to cross with some ingenius use of objects. In order make sure certain things does not happen we had to add alot of extra checks and hacks in the Penumbra games, sometimes even excluding the player from doing certain actions. This can easily break the sense of immersion, but might be a must in order to have a stable game.

Another type of sequence breaking is doing something "stupid". An example from Penumbra Black Plauge is in a machine room where the player needs a steel pipe as leverage to break open a door. However, there is also a hole in this level and it is possible for the player to throw the pipe down in it. To remedy this, we added several pipes in the level and if the player where to throw them all down the hole, a pipe would magically appear inserted into the door that needed to be opened. It is not very immersive, but at least the game did not break. Luckily, most player seem to not trow imporant objects down in holes..
Check out the full article, and the previous entries in the series, at the links below.

Frictional Blog: Puzzles In Horror Games 3
Frictional Blog: Puzzles In Horror Games 1
Frictional Blog: Puzzles In Horror Games 2
Frictional Games


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