Thursday, March 27, 2014

First Virtual Reality Game for Physics Fanatics

A video game where you immerse yourself into the game's world is where the next generation of virtual reality video gaming is headed. Now that Facebook has purchased the company Oculus VR, the prospect of widely-available, next-gen virtual reality gaming is one step closer.

Oculus VR includes the developers and creators of the virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. Oculus Rift has come a long way since its Kickstarter campaign in 2012. The Rift headset takes virtual gaming to an entirely new level with a large field of view that makes users feel like they're part of the world of the game. With the help of Facebook’s deep pockets, Oculus designers could usher in the next generation of affordable, in-home virtual reality gaming.

In light of this news, it’s only natural to start thinking about the gaming possibilities. What are some video games currently out that cater to physics fanatics and would also make for great gameplay with a device like Oculus Rift? A few come immediately to mind.


Particulars is a game of subatomic proportions. You will learn a good deal of particle physics while playing as a down quark particle that you move through a world filled with other subatomic particles like up quarks and neutrons. One of the game’s goals is to create as many subatomic explosions as possible by smashing bosons with their anti-matter counterparts.

The two-dimensional game might not be the best format for Rift. One of the perks of virtual gaming with headsets like Rift is that they immerse you into the world of the game. So, three-dimensional games can be incredibly realistic and lead to a more intense gaming experience.

Imagine if the gamers could build a three-dimensional world for Particulars. That would be one way of learning how a building block of matter interacts with its surroundings to create the universe that we see around us.

Read more about Particulars on Physics Buzz.

Kerbal Space Program

This looks like it would be a fantastic virtual video game. The premise is that you design your own space ship that you can then fly to different planets throughout the solar system. And the best part is you can explore those planets once you get there, which would be an out-of-this-world experience with a device like Rift.

The game utilizes problem-solving skills as you test the design of your space ship. It’s harder to build a successful spacecraft in this game than you might think. And unless you’re a bonafide aerospace engineer, the first few ships you build will end in a glorious spectacle of smoke and flames.

There’s a great opportunity to learn about gravity and engineering and even some planetary science in this game. What better way to play than immersed in the world as if you were an astronaut?

Portal and Portal 2

Portal and Portal 2 are games that will make you see the world in a completely different way. It’s similar to a first-person shooter game, except instead of shooting bullets, you’re shooting portals. These portals are magical transport tunnels that enable you to travel through walls and achieve other impossible feats.

The Portal games do not teach concepts of physics explicitly, but you’ll quickly learn that even though you can walk through walls, the game’s physics, like acceleration due to gravity, are relatively realistic and will help you win. Moreover, the two games are a clever take on a sophisticated puzzle and therefore appeal to many who enjoy attacking complex problems in new and creative ways. Know anyone like that?

Playing this game with a virtual reality gaming device, like Rift, would certainly take the game to a new level. Whether it would make it easier or harder to solve the puzzles is hard to say. One thing’s for sure: You’re going to need to build up some extra courage when you’re about to step off of a 100-foot ledge to dive into a tiny portal at the bottom.

Read more about how Portal can help teach physics on Physics Buzz.

Angry Birds

I admit that I am a bit of an Angry Birds addict. Like the Portal games, Angry Birds does not teach you physics as you play, but the premise of the game is based on ballistics – the science of projectiles. And that makes for a great platform from which to teach projectile physics.

The game is set in a two-dimensional world where you fling bird projectiles with a slingshot to knock down objects and ultimately kill green, snorting pig heads. Like I said before, a two-dimensional world would not make for ideal virtual reality gameplay, what if Angry Birds designers made a three-dimensional world you could play with Rift?

What if you could play first-person as the bird and slingshot yourself through the air? You could watch the wind ruffle your feathers as you went soaring toward a fortress of glass, stone and wood. A three-dimensional world would enable more complex constructions for you to tackle and more possibilities for how to bring them down. Just make sure you’re not sensitive to motion sickness or have a fear of crashing head first into virtual objects.

Read more about Angry Birds on Physics Buzz.

The Solar System: Explore Your Backyard

This is more of a tool than game that you can use to explore the Earth and surrounding solar system. However, the graphics are pretty fantastic and would look incredible with a headset like Rift.

The Solar System: Explore Your Backyard is available for the i-Pad and gives its users freedom to observe gravitational potential wells of planets of different masses, planetary orbits and even a deconstruction of the interior of planets – at least as much as we know about them.

You could float in space as you witness Pluto traversing Neptune’s orbital path or follow Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as the planet rotates on its axis while revolving around the Sun. Or you could virtually climb the solar system’s tallest mountain by visiting Mars. You can’t do this last task with the current app, but the possibilities seem endless if designers could cater such an educational tool for a virtual reality gaming device like Rift.

These are just a few suggestions. What kind of game would you want to play with Rift?

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