The Angry Birdsfranchise owes a lot to Isaac Newton. The legendary 17th-century scientist defined the classical laws of gravity, after all, and without them, the game’s designers would have had nothing to go on in crafting how things move in its virtual world.
Consequently, the game’s heroic-yet-furious birds wouldn’t be able to exact their high-impact revenge on those smug, green pigs. Without the laws of gravity to guide them, the pigs’ Rube Goldberg-esque structures simply wouldn’t come crashing down.
The thing is, the game doesn’t use real physics to model how things move. That’s according to Rhett Allain, an associate professor of physics at Southeastern Louisiana University. The latest version, Angry Birds Space, which escalates the avian-porcine conflict to the final frontier, uses science that’s even further from reality, he says.
Allain says he took on figuring out the game’s physics because it was a challenge. Without ever contacting the game publisher, Rovio, he wrote an extensive analysis of the physics of Angry Birds Space for Wired. The question remains: Why spend so much time analyzing a silly game?
“My goal is to use this as an educational tool,” Allain told Mashable. “I love doing analysis for Angry Birds because it’s a lot like real physics but it doesn’t have the same answers. Obviously in this case the gravitational force is not the same as what you could look up in a textbook. I want to to try to find the answer, just like we do in science.”
It’s clear Angry Birds Space doesn’t use real physics (for starters, the gravity of each “planet” is limited to an arbitrarily-sized bubble). It instead uses some kind of rule structure that determines the motion of the birds and their targets. In his analysis, Allain had to make a lot of assumptions, such as the typical mass of a bird, the bird’s velocity when it hits a gravity well, and the size of the planets.
After working out the math and plotting how he thought the birds probably move, he compared his work with some video captures of the game (he quickly got good at launching birds so they would “orbit” the little planets). The results were pretty close (see the excerpted chart below). He also found a few surprises.
As for how the accuracy of the game’s physics compares with the “terrestrial” version of Angry Birds, Allain says it’s not even close. Although the regular game takes some liberties with science (momentum isn’t conserved when the white birds drop their eggs, for example), the outer-space version is off-the-charts ludicrous.
“In space,” he explains, “if this were actual gravity, the mass of the planets would have to be so large in order to get these kinds of orbits — bordering black hole density. At least neutron stars.”
Of course, those departures from reality are what makes the game fun to play. Allain says every game that has things happening in real time has its own laws of physics.
“When you make a game, there’s two things you could do: You could say this object is constrained to move in this way, or I could make up some rules. In Fruit Ninja, do i say that the fruit moves up or moves down and I tell the game how the fruit should move. Games that deal with things that can change in unpredictable ways all have some type of model.
“Some are more interesting to look at than others.”
What are some of your favorite games with with either real or imagined physics? Share your experiences in the comments.
BONUS: A Tour of Angry Birds Space
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