At some point in your K-12 education, you probably encountered the equations of linear motion, which describe motion in terms of time, i.e.:

$$v = at + v_0 \tag{1}$$ $$p = p_0 + v_ot + \frac{1}{2}at^2 \tag{2}$$ $$p = p_0 + \frac{1}{2}(v+v_0)t \tag{3}$$ $$v^2 = v_0^2 2a(r - r_0) \tag{4}$$ $$p = p_0 + vt - \frac{1}{2}at^2 \tag{5}$$

These equations can be used to calculate motion in a video game setting as well, i.e. to calculate an updated position vector2 position given velocity vector2 velocity and acceleration vector2 acceleration, we can take equation (5):

position += velocity * gameTime.ElapsedGameTime.TotalSeconds + 1/2 * acceleration * Math.Pow(gameTime.ElapsedGameTime.TotalSeconds);


This seems like a lot of calculations, and it is. If you’ve also taken calculus, you probably encountered the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration.

position is where the object is located in the world velocity is the rate of change of the position acceleration is the rate of change of the velocity

If we represent the position as a function (6), then velocity is the derivative of that function (7), and the acceleration is the second derivative (8):

$$s(t) \tag{6}$$ $$v(t) = s'(t) \tag{7}$$ $$a(t) = v'(t) \tag{8}$$

So, do we need to do calculus to perform game physics? Well, yes and no.

Calculus is based around the idea of looking at small sections of a function (it literally comes from the latin term for “small stone”). Differential calculus cuts a function curve into small pieces to see how it changes, and Integral calculus joins small pieces to see how much there is.

Now consider our timestep - 1/30th or 1/60th of a second. That’s already a pretty small piece. So if we want to know the current velocity, given our acceleration, we could just look at that small piece, i.e.:

velocity += acceleration * gameTime.elapsedGameTime.TotalSeconds;


Similarly, our position is:

position += velocity * gameTime.elapsedGameTime.TotalSeconds


That’s it. We can consider our acceleration as an instantaneous change (i.e. we apply a force). Remeber the definition of force?

$$\overline{F} = m\overline{a} \tag{9}$$

So to find our acceleration, we rearrange equation 9 to read:

$$\overline{a} = \overline{F}/m$$

Thus, our acceleration would be the force acting on the body, divided by the mass of the body. We could calculate this from real values, or try different numbers until we found ones that “felt right”.

If we have multiple forces acting on an object, we simply sum the individual accelerations to find the net acceleration at that instant, which is then applied to the velocity.

### Lunar Lander

Let’s look at a simple example, a lunar-lander style game. We have a lunar lander that has a downward-facing thruster that the player can fire with the spacebar, causing an acceleration of 10 pixels/second2. The lander is also moving laterally at a velocity of 100 pixels/second, and gravity is pulling downward at 5 pixels/second2. We could write an update function like:


// Initial velocity
Vector2 velocity = new Vector2(10, 0);

public void Update(GameTime gameTime)
{
float t = (float)gameTime.ElapsedGameTime.TotalSeconds;
if(keyboardState.IsKeyDown(Keys.Space))
{
// apply thruster acceleration upward
velocity += new Vector2(0, -40) * t;
}
// apply gravity downward
velocity += new Vector2(0,30) * t
// update position
position += velocity * t;
}


Note that we can avoid all those complicated calculations, because we are only looking at a small slice of time. If we wanted to look at a bigger span of time, i.e. where a bomb might fall, we have to take more into account.

Also, notice that for this game, we ignore any friction effects (after all, we’re in the vacuum of space). Game programmers often take advantage of any simplifications to these calculations we can.