Beneath all those cool character animations, smart enemies, and fun game mechanics in your favorite games is one thing: math.
Mathematics are the foundation of every game and necessary for everything to work as the designers intend.
This doesn’t just include huge games like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and its enemy-generating Nemesis system.
Even Pac-man employs math to decide how the enemy ghosts move, how long they take to regenerate after being eaten, etc.
Even Pong, arguably one of the simplest games ever made, uses math to dictate the speed of the paddles and movement of the ball.
Math = The Foundation of Game Design
In the same way that math doesn’t work unless you learn and apply the rules, a video game can’t have rules without math. When you think about it, video games are essentially virtual worlds with lots of rules that keep everything working as intended.
No math means Mario keeps floating up after jumping, bullets in Call of Duty shoot in random directions, and even your favorite character in Angry Birds moves in inconsistent ways, if it moves at all.
Most of the time the math you learned in high school and college is no different than what was used to design a game.
To name a few, some of the common branches of math utilized in game development include:
- Linear Algebra
- Discrete Mathematics
- Applied Mathematics
- And more …
More specific elements of math almost always used in games include:
Math In Programming
While math is useful even in the art side of game development, it’s the programmers who make use of it to create the characters, mechanics, and more.
Without math, programmers wouldn’t be able to make objects in the game do even the simplest of things, including movement.
Game code combined with variables, vectors, and more are what tell Sonic to run slowly when the player barely presses the D-pad, run faster when at full dash, stop completely when he runs into a solid object, and run move differently when underwater.
It’s not hard to see why a game without programming and math would just be a bunch of pretty, useless art.
Together they allow games to simulate our world, such as moving water and physics, as well as to deliver something outside real world possibilities.
Only in Portal can we know what it feels like to step through portals, while only in Halo can we dash at ridiculous speeds to impale a foe with an Energy Sword.
Lifelike water, pathfinding, procedurally generated levels, critical hits, AI that reacts to player input, and even the game engine architecture itself– all of these are not possible for a programmer to do without math.
If you’re considering a career as a game programmer and even designer, expect math to be your greatest tool for creating worlds that players will enjoy thanks to addicting gameplay that not only works as intended but is fun as well.