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MENACE at Manchester Science Festival
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Dragon Curves II
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Video Game Surfaces
In many early arcade games, the size of the playable area was limited by the size of the screen. To make this area seem larger, or to make gameplay more interesting, many games used wraparound; allowing the player to leave one side of the screen and return on another. In Pac-Man, for example, the player could leave the left of the screen along the arrow shown and return on the right, or vice versa.
Pac-Man's apparent teleportation from one side of the screen to the other may seem like magic, but it is more easily explained by the shape of Pac-Man's world being a cylinder.
Rather than jumping or teleporting from one side to the other, Pac-Man simply travels round the cylinder.
Bubble Bobble was first released in 1986 and features two dragons, Bub and Bob, who are tasked with rescuing their girlfriends by trapping 100 levels worth of monsters inside bubbles. In these levels, the dragons and monsters may leave the bottom of the screen to return at the top. Just like in Pac-Man, Bub and Bob live on the surface of a cylinder, but this time it's horizontal not vertical.
A very large number of arcade games use left-right or top-bottom wrapping and have the same cylindrical shape as Pac-Man or Bubble Bobble. In Asteroids, both left-right and top-bottom wrapping are used.
The ships and asteroids in Asteroids live on the surface of a torus, or doughnut: a cylinder around to make its two ends meet up.
There is, however, a problem with the torus show here. In Asteroids, the ship will take amount of time to get from the left of the screen to the right however high or low on the screen it is. But the ship can get around the inside of the torus shown faster than it can around the outside, as the inside is shorter. This is because the screen of play is completely flat, while the inside and outside halves of the torus are curved.
It is impossible to make a flat torus in three-dimensional space, but it is possible to make one in four-dimensional space. Therefore, while Asteroids seems to be a simple two-dimensional game, it is actually taking place on a four-dimensional surface.
Wrapping doesn't only appear in arcade games. Many games in the excellent Final Fantasy series use wrapping on the world maps, as shown here on the Final Fantasy VIII map.
Just like in Asteroids, this wrapping means that Squall & co. carry out their adventure on the surface of a four-dimensional flat torus. The game designers, however, seem to not have realised this, as shown in this screenshot including a spherical (!) map.
Due to the curvature of a sphere, lines that start off parallel eventually meet. This makes it impossible to map nicely between a flat surface to a sphere (this is why so many different map projections exist), and heavily complicates the task of making a game with a truly spherical map. So I'll let the Final Fantasy VIII game designers off. Especially since the rest of the game is such incredible fun.
It is sad, however, that there are no games (at leat that I know of) that make use of the great variety of different wrapping rules available. By only slightly adjusting the wrapping rules used in the games in this post, it is possible to make games on a variety of other surfaces, such a Klein bottles or Möbius strips as shown below.
If you know of any games make use of these surfaces, let me know in the comments below!
MENACE at Manchester Science Festival
Proving Pythagoras' Theorem
The Mathematical Games of Martin Gardner
Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.