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MY friend and I are programming a game and I decided to give the physics engine a try. I was able to get a class working where it would calculate out the total force on a model and apply the correct acceleration, velocity, and position during each time step.

My question is how do I implement this over many objects when the game starts to get big. Is there just one class managing all the physics calculations for each object or do you attach the physics engine class to each object in the game so that they update and manage their own physics?

I've looked through some code and I usually see people putting the velocity, acceleration, and position calculations right on the object itself. But somehow I think I'm getting the wrong interpretation of this and I think on a large scale, this would be very inefficient.

We don't want to use a pre-built physics engine because we want to learn about how this all works.

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marked as duplicate by Byte56, bummzack, Tetrad Apr 3 '13 at 17:17

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You typically do this with some kind of spatial partitioning. You only check objects against other nearby objects, and you don't need to update any objects that are far away from or behind the camera in many cases.

A relatively easy spatial partitioning scheme to get you started is an octree. Make a box around the world. All objects in it. When the box gets too full based on some pre-determined threshold, break the box into 8 sub-boxes and move each object into the appropriate sub-box (each box is a node in a tree, and only leafs contain objects). Do this recursively down to some reasonable minimum size. Objects can only collide with other objects in the same box or objects in adjacent boxes. When there are enough objects in your world, there will also be a number of divisions in your octree, keeping far-apart objects in separate, non-adjacent boxes.

You can also relatively easily check if any box collides with your view frustrum, and recurse through the tree, marking which boxes are visible, near visible, and completley invisible. You can use this to stop physics processing for areas far away from the camera. You can also use this same information to despawn enemies and items or disable AI updates. Instead of stopping physics/AI, you can reduce them so that they still udpate but take less time.

This information is also very useful to graphics to help you avoid rendering scenery and objects that can't be seen.

There are other, more efficient spatial structures, but which one is best depends on lot on your game. A very different set of techniques is useful for an indoor FPS vs a top-down RTS vs a wide-open terrain FPS, which is why many engines today support more than one, and evne allow mixing them together (e.g. for smooth transitions from the outdoors to indoors, where the algorithms of choice differ). For learning, stick to something simple like an octree. You have far, far more complicated problems to solve in getting 3D physics to work well.

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I usually store a 'physicsState' object (mass, momentums, force accum, torque accum) in each movable object and use one physics engine object to crunch everyone's numbers. If the object had zero linear or angular momentum I put it to sleep and stop processing it's numbers until it starts motion again.

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