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## Mathsteroids

This is a post I wrote for round 1 of The Aperiodical's Big Internet Math-Off 2018, where Mathsteroids lost to MENACE.

A map projection is a way of representing the surface of a sphere, such as the Earth, on a flat surface. There is no way to represent all the features of a sphere on a flat surface, so if you want a map that shows a certain feature of the world, then you map will have to lose some other feature of the world in return.

To show you what different map projections do to a sphere, I have created a version of the game

*Asteroids*on a sphere. I call it*Mathsteroids*. You can play it here, or follow the links below to play on specific projections.### Mercator projection

The most commonly used map projection is the Mercator projection, invented by Gerardus Mercator in 1569. The Mercator projection preserves angles: if two straight lines meet at an angle \(\theta\) on a sphere, then they will also meet at an angle \(\theta\) on the map. Keeping the angles the same, however, will cause the straight lines to no longer appear straight on the map, and the size of the same object in two different place to be very different.

The angle preserving property means that lines on a constant bearing (eg 030° from North) will appear straight on the map. These constant bearing lines are not actually straight lines on the sphere, but when your ship is already being buffeted about by the wind, the waves, and the whims of drunken sailors, a reasonably straight line is the best you can expect.

The picture below shows what three ships travelling in straight lines on the sphere look like on a Mercator projection.

To fully experience the Mercator projection, you can play

*Mathsteroids*in Mercator projection mode here. Try flying North to see your spaceship become huge and distorted.### Gall–Peters projection

The Gall–Peters projection (named after James Gall and Arno Peters) is an area-preserving projection: objects on the map will have the same area as objects on the sphere, although the shape of the object on the projection can be very different to its shape on the sphere.

The picture below shows what three spaceships travelling in straight lines on a sphere look like on the Gall–Peters projection.

You can play

*Mathsteroids*in Gall–Peters projection mode here. I find this one much harder to play than the Mercator projection, as the direction you're travelling changes in a strange way as you move.### Azimuthal projection

An azimuthal projection makes a map on which the directions from the centre point to other points on the map are the same as the directions on the sphere. A map like this could be useful if, for example, you're a radio operator and need to quickly see which direction you should point your aerial to communicate with other points on the map.

The azimuthal projection I've used in

*Mathsteroids*also preserves distances: the distance from the centre to the another points on the map is proportional to the actual distance on the sphere. This projection is used as the emblem of the UN.The picture below shows three straight lines on this projection. You can play

*Mathsteroids*in azimuthal mode here.A retroazimuthal projection makes a map on which the directions to the centre point from other points on the map are the same as the directions on the sphere. If you're thinking that this is the same as the azimuthal projection, then you're too used to doing geometry on flat surfaces: on a sphere, the sum of the angles in a triangle depends on the size of the triangle, so the directions from A to B and from B to A aren't as closely related as you would expect.

The Craig retroazimuthal projection was invented by James Ireland Craig in 1909. He used Mecca as his centre point to make a map that shows muslims across the world which direction they should face to pray.

The picture below shows what three spaceships travelling in a straight lines on a sphere looks like on this projection.

You can play

*Mathsteroids*in Craig retroazimuthal mode here to explore the projection yourself. This is perhaps the hardest of all to play, as (a) two different parts of the sphere overlap on the map, and (b) the map is actually infinitely tall, so quite a bit of it is off the edge of the visible game area.### Stereographic projection

The final projection I'd like to show you is the stereographic projection.

Imagine that a sphere is sitting on a 2D plane. Take a point on the sphere. Imagine a straight line through this point and the point at the top of the sphere. The point where this line meets the 2D plane is stereographic projection of the point on the sphere.

This projection (backwards) can be used to represent the every complex number as a point on a sphere: this is called the Riemann sphere.

To make

*Mathseteroids*playable after this projection, I split the sphere into 2 hemisphere and projected each seperately to give two circles. You can play*Mathsteroids*in stereographic projection mode here. Three spaceships travelling in straight lines on this projection are shown below.... and if you still don't like map projections, you can still enjoy playing ~~head over to The Aperiodical and vote~~ (voting now closed).

*Mathsteroids*on an old fashioned torus. Or on a Klein bottle or the real projective plane. Don't forget to take a short break from playing to### Similar posts

Video game surfaces | Optimal Pac-Man | MENACE in fiction | Runge's Phenomenon |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

**2016-12-23**

## 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!

### Similar posts

Mathsteroids | Optimal Pac-Man | MENACE in fiction | World Cup stickers 2018, pt. 3 |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

**2016-12-25**

Zeno Rogue

**2016-12-24**

See: http://zenorogue.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/hyperbolic-geometry-in-hyperbolic-rogue.html

maetl

**2016-12-24**

zaratustra

**2016-12-24**

F-Zero X had a more trivial track that was just the outward side of a regular ring, but it was rather weird too, because it meant that this was a looping track that had no turns.

Olaf

**2016-12-24**

gaurish

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**2015-03-25**

## Optimal Pac-Man

This is an article which I wrote for the
first issue of

*Chalkdust*. I highly recommend reading the rest of the magazine (and trying to solve the crossnumber I wrote for the issue).In the classic arcade game Pac-Man, the player moves the title character through a maze. The aim of
the game is to eat all of the pac-dots that are spread throughout the maze while avoiding the ghosts
that prowl it.

While playing Pac-Man recently, my concentration drifted from the pac-dots and I began to think
about the best route I could take to complete the level.

### Seven bridges of Königsberg

In the 1700s, Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler studied a related problem. The city of
Königsberg had seven bridges, which the residents would try to cross while walking around the
town. However, they were unable to find a route crossing every bridge without repeating one of them.

In fact, the city dwellers could not find such a route because it is impossible to do so, as
Euler proved in 1735. He first simplified the map of the city, by making the islands into vertices (or nodes)
and the bridges into edges.

This type of diagram has (slightly confusingly) become known as a graph, the study of which is
called graph theory. Euler represented Königsberg in this way as he realised that the shape of the
islands is irrelevant to the problem: representing the problem as a graph gets rid of this useless information
while keeping the important details of how the islands are connected.

Euler next noticed that if a route crossing all the bridges exactly once was possible then whenever
the walker took a bridge onto an island, they must take another bridge off the island. In this way,
the ends of the bridges at each island can be paired off. The only bridge ends that do not need a
pair are those at the start and end of the circuit.

This means that all of the vertices of the graph except two (the first and last in the route) must have an even number of edges connected to them; otherwise there is no route around the graph
travelling along each edge exactly once. In Königsberg, each island is connected to an odd number of bridges. Therefore the route that
the residents were looking for did not exist (a route now exists due to two of the bridges being destroyed during World War II).

This same idea can be applied to Pac-Man. By ignoring the parts of the maze without pac-dots the pac-graph
can be created, with the paths and the junctions forming the edges and vertices respectively. Once this
is done there will be twenty-four vertices, twenty of which will be connected to an odd number of edges, and so it is impossible to eat
all of the pac-dots without repeating some edges or travelling along parts of the maze with no pac-dots.

This is a start, but it does not give us the shortest route we can take to eat all of the pac-dots: in
order to do this, we are going to have to look at the odd vertices in more detail.

### The Chinese postman problem

The task of finding the shortest route covering all the edges of a graph has become known as the
Chinese postman problem as it is faced by postmen—they need to walk along each street to post
letters and want to minimise the time spent walking along roads twice—and it was first studied by
Chinese mathematician Kwan Mei-Ko.

As the seven bridges of Königsberg problem demonstrated, when trying to find a route, Pac-Man
will get stuck at the odd vertices. To prevent this from happening, all the vertices can be made into even
vertices by adding edges to the graph. Adding an edge to the graph corresponds to choosing an edge, or sequence
of edges, for Pac-Man to repeat or including a part of the maze without pac-dots. In order to complete the level
with the shortest distance travelled, Pac-Man wants to add the shortest total length of edges to the graph.
Therefore, in order to find the best route, Pac-Man must look at different ways to pair off the odd vertices and choose
the pairing which will add the least total distance to the graph.

The Chinese postman problem and the Pac-Man problem are slightly different: it is usually assumed
that the postman wants to finish where he started so he can return home. Pac-Man however can finish
the level wherever he likes but his starting point is fixed. Pac-Man may therefore leave one odd
node unpaired but must add an edge to make the starting node odd.

One way to find the required route is to look at all possible ways to pair up the odd vertices. With a low
number of odd vertices this method works fine, but as the number of odd vertices increases, the
method quickly becomes slower.

With four odd vertices, there are three possible pairings. For the Pac-Man problem there will be
over 13 billion (\(1.37\times 10^{10}\)) pairings to check. These pairings can be checked by a
laptop running overnight, but for not too many more vertices this method quickly becomes unfeasible.

With 46 odd nodes there will be more than one pairing per atom in the human body (\(2.53\times 10^{28}\)).
By 110 odd vertices there will be more pairings (\(3.47\times 10^{88}\)) than there are estimated to be atoms in the
universe. Even the greatest supercomputer will be unable to work its way through
all these combinations.

Better algorithms are known for this problem that reduce the amount of work on larger graphs. The number of
pairings to check in the method above increases like the factorial of the number of vertices. Algorithms are
known for which the amount of work to be done increases like a polynomial in the number of vertices. These algorithms
will become unfeasible at a much slower rate but will still be unable to deal with very large graphs.

### Solution of the Pac-Man problem

For the Pac-Man problem, the shortest pairing of the odd vertices requires the edges marked in red to be
repeated. Any route which repeats these edges will be optimal. For example, the route in green will be
optimal.

One important element of the Pac-Man gameplay that I have neglected are the ghosts (Blinky, Pinky,
Inky and Clyde), which Pac-Man must avoid. There is a high chance that the ghosts will at some point
block the route shown above and ruin Pac-Man's optimality. However, any route repeating the red edges
will be optimal: at many junctions Pac-Man will have a choice of edges he could continue along. It may
be possible for a quick thinking player to utilise this freedom to avoid the ghosts and complete an optimal
game.

Additionally, the skilled player may choose when to take the edges that include the power pellets,
which allow Pac-Man to reverse the roles and eat the ghosts. Again cleverly timing these may allow
the player to complete an optimal route.

Unfortunately, as soon as the optimal route is completed, Pac-Man moves to the next level and the
player has to do it all over again ad infinitum.

### A video

Since writing this piece, I have been playing Pac-Man using
MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). Here is one game I played along
with the optimal edges to repeat for reference:

### Similar posts

Video game surfaces | Mathsteroids | MENACE at Manchester Science Festival | The Mathematical Games of Martin Gardner |

### Comments

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.

**2016-09-30**

There seems to be no world record for just one Pac-Man level (and I don't have time to get good enough to speed run all 255 levels before it crashes!)

Matthew

**2016-09-30**

William

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