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Could a new Physics Engine Mean a New Era of Driving Games?


Video games take vastly different approaches to driving gameplay. There are games that set out to create the most realistic driving simulation as possible, i.e. Forza and Grand Turismo; others present driving as nothing more than a form of chaotic entertainment, i.e. Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. However, with all the driving within games, there is yet to be a game that really nails the realistic behaviors and reactions of a vehicle. BeamNG’s soft-body physics system could be the first to implement a truly realistic driving simulation within a game environment.

In an interview with IGN, BeamNG spoke about developing their soft-body simulator and why it has not been utilized in the past. There are basically two types of in-game systems when it comes to driving, rigid-body and soft-body simulators. Rigid-body systems simulate objects as a whole, requiring each aspect to be coded in explicitly. BeamNG explains that although soft-body systems are much more CPU intensive they simulate objects as the sum of their parts and do not like anything that deviates an object from its true physical behavior.

In our opinion, the way physics is being done in today’s games is too simplistic and artificially touched up. In most games, it has nothing to do with reality anymore and more with ‘appearing’ physically correct. The underlying physics are tuned until the artists are pleased with the results.

I completely agree with the BeamNG team, with some delineating details. I believe that for true driving simulations it will be necessary to implement a soft-body system in the future. For Forza or Grand Turismo to truly be realistic they must have a real physics engine behind them. Grand Turismo 5 was met with critical scrutiny because their cars did not take any damage at all when the game was introduced. Most games focus more on the physical aesthetic of running into a wall, but a soft-body system could change the way people play racing games. Players could no longer slam into other cars to aid in sharp turns, or recklessly try to pass someone. For the hardcore race fans, a soft-body physics engine needs to be the vision of the future.

There is a flip side to my thought process as well though. For games where a realistic driving simulation is not the primary goal, I believe they should continue to work with a rigid-body simulator. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be driving around in Grand Theft Auto with a realistically functioning car? It would be beyond frustrating. Games where driving serves as entertainment, or a means to an end, the soft-body simulator would hurt the experience. Need for Speed would fall on the rigid-body side for me as well. Need for Speed is not a realistic driving simulation, and the requirement to not contact other riders would make those games unbearable. It is important to delineate what games could benefit from this physics system and which would not.

In my opinion only a few games should seriously look at employing this soft-body system, but for the ones that are adamant about it, it could revolutionize the racing genre. BeamNG spoke about how games are always seeking to emulate real life more realistically – this new soft-body simulator is a way to achieve that for driving simulations.

Lucas has evolved in his video game preferences. With a foundation in predominantly sports game, action adventure games are now his favorite to play. He is a competitive swimmer and likes to play volleyball, basketball, and golf.
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