Physics and motion

Earlier we created a rectangle that bounces around the game scene. In this article we'll explore moving objects in more depth and how we can get them to consistently follow the rules of physics.

In game development, physics refers to all methods that are used to move objects in the game world. Physics can be as simple as only including velocity and acceleration, all the way to realistic simulations that take into account wind, friction, deformation, rotation, and many other phenomena. For the moment we'll be focusing on the most basic physical objects that are affected only by velocity, acceleration, and maintain their shape at all times (no deformation). These physics objects are also called rigid bodies, or just bodies for short.

Bodies are represented by simple shapes such as rectangles and circles, and sometimes with simple polygons. Bodies also usually have a "main" or "anchor" point that defines its position. All other points of a body are in reference to the anchor point.

Two rectangles, a circle, and their anchor points (in red). In rectangles it's very common to choose the top-left point as the anchor, and the other points and boundaries are then calculated by adding the width and height to the anchor point. Another less common scheme uses the center point of a rectangle as the anchor. In circles, the center point will almost always be chosen as the anchor, and together with the value of the radius we can calculate the position of the perimeter of the circle.

If we want to move a rigid body, we need to change its position. The rate of change of a body's position is called velocity. Just like the position, the velocity of a body is also represented by a vector. A velocity of (20, 50) ( 20 , 50 ) means the rigid body is moving by 20 units a second in the xx direction and 50 units a second in the yy direction.

"Units" here is a generalized measure of distance, since in an abstract game it does not make sense to measure distances in real-life units, such as kilometers, meters, or miles. However, some games in realistic settings do indeed use real-life units, such as first-person shooters, flight simulators, city planning games, etc. Still other games use fictional units, for example in League of Legends the unit of distance is the "Teemo", named after a popular in-game hero, and therefore you can say things like "that enemy is 8 Teemos away".

Similarly to velocity, acceleration is the change of velocity over time. To apply acceleration to a body, we first need to add the acceleration to the velocity, then add the newly-changed velocity to the position. The most common form of acceleration that one might encounter is gravity, which is a constant acceleration in the yy axis only.

In mathetmatics, the practice of summing small bits of data to find a total is called integration. In our case, we're integrating a body's position by continuously summing small slices of the body's velocity and acceleration. In calculus, the slices are infinitely small and the integration is done using analytical methods, but in our case where the game simulation advances in discrete steps, the integration is done numerically. This means that every frame, a body is moved a small amount based on its velocity, and the velocity is also updated by a small amount based on its acceleration. In the next frame the body's position is again changed based on the new updated velocity, and the velocity is again updated based on the acceleration. Over the course of many frames, the body will have moved exactly by how much we expect.

The order in which we apply the updates to the position, velocity, and acceleration matters a lot to the accuracy of the final result. There are many techiques for numerical integration, but one of the most popular and simple methods is called the Semi-implicit Euler. With this method, we first update the acceleration (if necessary), then apply the updated acceleration to the velocity, and finally apply the updated velocity to the position.

Let's put these concepts together and explan how they work:

import * as PIXI from 'pixi.js'
import * as MainLoop from 'mainloop.js';
import Vec2 from './vec2';

let gravity = new Vec2(0, 500);
let velocity = new Vec2(200, 0);
let position = new Vec2(150, 50);

const gameWidth = 640;
const gameHeight = 360;

const radius = 50;

let rectColor = randomColor();
const app = new PIXI.Application({ width: gameWidth, height: gameHeight });
const obj = new PIXI.Graphics();

MainLoop.setUpdate((deltaInMs) => {
    const delta = deltaInMs / 1000;
    velocity = velocity.add(gravity.scale(delta));
    position = position.add(velocity.scale(delta));
    if(position.x + radius >= gameWidth) {
            If the right side of the body moves past the right side of the game area,
            move it back and reverse its horizontal direction of movement
        let diff = position.x + radius - gameWidth;
        position = new Vec2(position.x - 2 * diff, position.y);
        velocity = new Vec2(-velocity.x, velocity.y);
        rectColor = randomColor();
    if(position.x - radius <= 0) {
            If the left side of the body moves past the left side of the game area,
            move it back and reverse its horizontal direction of movement
        let diff = position.x - radius;
        position = new Vec2(position.x - 2 * diff, position.y);
        velocity = new Vec2(-velocity.x, velocity.y);
        rectColor = randomColor();
    if(position.y + radius > gameHeight) {
            If the bottom side of the body moves below the bottom of the game area,
            move it back and change its vertical direction of movement
        let diff = position.y + radius - gameHeight;
        position = new Vec2(position.x, position.y - 2 * diff);
        velocity = new Vec2(velocity.x, -velocity.y);
        rectColor = randomColor();
    obj.drawCircle(position.x, position.y, radius);


function randomColor() {
    let red = Math.floor(Math.random()*256);
    let green = Math.floor(Math.random()*256);
    let blue = Math.floor(Math.random()*256);
    return (red << 16) + (green << 8) + blue;

Let's note some of the changes from last time. The position and velocity of the body are instances of the Vec2 class. The position of the body is updated every frame with the velocity, but a very important observation is the fact that we're scaling the velocity by a variable called delta. The deltaInMs variable is the one that we actually get from the game loop, and it represents the time between frames (in milliseconds), and for a game that runs at 60 frames per second, its value is roughly equal to 16.666. We get delta we need by dividing deltaInMs by 1000 to change its unit from milliseconds to seconds, and we get a value of 0.016666. Scaling the velocity with the delta is necessary here since the game loop runs at 60 frames per second, and if we want to move an object by (30, 50) ( 30 , 50 ) units every second, we actually need to move it by (30 * 0.016666, 50 * 0.016666) ( 30 × 0.016666 , 50 × 0.016666 ) , or (0.50, 0.83333) ( 0.50 , 0.83333 ) units every frame.

The acceleration (gravity in this case) remains constant throughout the game loop. We achieve the bouncing effect by reversing the direction of the velocity when it touches the bottom of the screen. When the velocity is negative and the body is moving upwards (recall that the yy axis points downward), the gravity will constantly increase the velocity until the body stops moving upward and starts falling again.

When the body touches the left, right, or bottom side of the screen, we have to move it so that it back inside the game area. We do this by calculating how deep has the body gone outside the bounds of the game, and pushing the object back by the same amount. Finally, we also reverse the direction of movement.

With this implementation of basic physics, we're starting to reach the organizational limits of our code. In the next chapter, we'll explore and implement the ECS pattern (Entity-Component-System), which will allow us to organize our game code in a performant and extensible manner.

Next: ECS: the Entity-Component-System pattern