A Simple Trick for Moving Objects in a Physics Simulation

(Original Image by Valerie Everett)

It is sometime necessary to move an object in a physics simulation to a specific point. On the one hand, it can be difficult to analyse the exact force you have to apply; on the other hand it might not look so good if you animate the object’s position directly.

A compromise that works well in many situations is to use a spring-damper system to move the object.

The trick is simple: we apply two forces—the one is proportional to the displacement; the other is proportional to the velocity. Tweaked correctly, they combine to give realistic movement to the desired point.

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Cellular Automata for Simulation in Games

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A cellular automata system is one of the best demonstrations of emergence. If you do not know what cellular automata (CA) is, then you should go download Conway’s Game of Life immediately:

Conway’s Game of Life

Essentially, CA is a collection of state machines, updated in discrete time intervals. The next state of one of these depends on the current state as well as the states of neighbours. Usually, the state machines correspond to cells in a grid, and the neighbours of a cell are the cells connected to that cell. For a more detailed explanation, see the Wikipedia article.

Even simple update rules can lead to interesting behaviour: patterns that cannot be predicted from the rules except by running them. With suitable rules, CA can simulate many systems:

  • Natural phenomena: weather, fire, plant growth, migration patterns, spread of disease.
  • Socio-economic phenomena: urbanisation, segregation, construction and property development, traffic, spread of news.

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5 Tips for Prototyping Slow Algorithms

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(Photo by  Darren Hester)

Some algorithms take a long time to return their results. Whether it is because the algorithm has to operate on a huge data set, or because it has combinatorial complexity; every time you run it you have to wait minutes or even hours for the thing to finish, making errors very expensive.

This post gives some advice on how to prototype slow algorithms with as little frustration as possible. We assume that this algorithm is being implemented experimentally – that is, you will tweak it and change it often before it is finished (it is not the kind of algorithm you type in straight from a text book). For example, I used the ideas outlined here while playing with the texture generating algorithm of the previous post.

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Force Field Editor v1.0

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Vector fields are used in certain AI and simulation techniques. The tool below allows you to paint a vector field. These files can be saved in XML format, that can easily be loaded into another application.

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Generating Random Numbers with Arbitrary Distributions

For many applications, detailed statistical models are overkill. Instead, we can get away with a rough description of the distribution – not in mathematical formula form, but just as a graph with a few sample points.

For example, when trying to model the traffic around a school, you might know that the graph looks something like this:

school

The input is the number of minutes before the first bell rings, and the output the number of children dropped off at that time. You know that most kids are brought before the bell rings, and that the closer to the bell, the more kids are being brought every minute. Only a few kids are late.

This tutorial describes how to generate random numbers that can generate a distribution described by an arbitrary (piece-wise linear) curve, as the one above.

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