Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spacial Education

I've been a big fan of artillery games since playing Super Atomic Cannons on an Apple II in Junior High.  These are the games where you enter two values, one for cannon elevation or bearing and the other for force or speed.  This would determine the trajectory of your shot, and you would subsequently adjust one or both of the values to account for intervening hills and the effects of wind, and try to destroy your opponent's tank, cannon or emplacement before he did the same to yours.

Later iterations, like Scorch and Worms, added a variety of upgraded weapons and terrain that could be destroyed, but a simpler, space-based version has been my favourite for years.

In Gravity Wars, you view the action from a top-down perspective, as two spaceships alternate firing missiles at each other.  As you can surmise from the name, the gravitational pull of nearby planets can have a pronounced effect on the path of your shots, which varies depending on their density.  It all sounds very intense and slide rule-ish, but in reality, the game is surprisingly intuitive, and both of my girls enjoy playing it quite a bit.

I've played it on my Amiga and a variety of PCs, but I'm currently enjoying it as an app on the iPad (although it's made for the iPhone).  They've dispensed with the numerical entry in favour of a simple but effective graphical interface that makes the gameplay quick and easy.  I love playing it with Fenya and Glory as we can pick it up and put it down easily, and playing multiple rounds takes a long time to become tiresome, as every new engagement is like a puzzle to be solved as you work out your firing solution while the enemy shots draw closer and closer.  When they start studying parabolas and the like in math, I hope they recognize them from this game.

Maybe there is a lesson to be learned as well about the fickle nature of ballistic projectiles, as illustrated by the near miss I did to myself in the picture above.  Or even more spectacularly in the picture below; my second shot of this particular game, and the shot took 3-4 minutes to resolve.

I haven't yet witnessed a non-terminating shot, but I have to think it is possible for a shot to enter into a stable pattern and orbit the area in perpetuity, which I think you would have to treat as a complete do-over.

1 comment:

  1. I love physic-y games like this. After reading this I went and found one that was OK but frankly had too much extra stuff going on.

    I remember having a lot of fun with a simple orbit simulator at Telus World of Science (back when it had one of its previous names) or possibly the Ontario Science Centre. Just trying to get a satellite into a stable orbit with forward and back thrust. Fascinating stuff.

    And then, coincidentally, I tried Angry Birds Space and it has a lot of this mechanic in it too. And better than the Gravity Wars game I found above.

    The search continues.