The computer science major at my university requires that I take a sequence in either biology, chemistry, and physics, plus an additional natural science course (which I might fill with meteorology). Since I'm into game development, physics is the obvious choice. That, and I go to a big pre-med school; why damage my GPA being weeded out from a path I never wanted to take?

There are two main versions of the physics sequence, both covering the same material; one in three semesters, one in two, which I'm interested in. The course descriptions (the best info I can get right now) follow;

PHY 131: Classical Physics I

First part of a two-semester physics sequence for physical-sciences or engineering majors who have a strong mathematics background and are ready for a fast learning pace. It covers mechanics, wave motion, kinetic theory, and thermodynamics. Calculus is used concurrently with its development in MAT 131. Three lecture hours and one recitation hour per week. The Laboratory component, PHY 133 (Lab 1), could be taken concurrently.

Since that's motion, waves, etc. it's obviously extremely useful, and therefore worthy of my attention. No question there. I'm going to take this in Spring of '13.

PHY 132: Classical Physics II

Second part of a two-semester physics sequence for physical-sciences or engineering majors who have a strong mathematics background and are ready for a fast learning pace. It covers electromagnetism, electric circuit theory, and optics. Calculus is used concurrently with its development in MAT 132. Three lecture hours and one recitation hour per week. The Laboratory component, PHY 134, may be taken concurrently.

(For reference, the descriptions for the three-semester versions are at this link, because they're a bit more descriptive.)

What I want to know is this; besides the obvious things like possible game design elements, does the material in PHY 132 play any significant role in game physics or similar? If so, what are some examples?

I ask because if I can skimp on the material, I might take a PHY 132 equivalent online next summer at some community college. That way I can ease the pressure on myself and free up a slot for something interesting.

At the very least, I might take a PHY 126 (part 2/3) equivalent online so I can take the more relaxed PHY 127 (part 3/3) that fall. But I'd prefer the former option.

Any tips?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I think this question is either too localized or not constructive. But I'll say that I took the full physics series (the harder one with calculus) and I think that's been pretty helpful. I say take as many as you can. Not so sure about taking it online, as physics is a complicated course and it's nice to have things explained to you. \$\endgroup\$
    – House
    Jul 23, 2012 at 20:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ They might be relevant if you were going to make a game that had those specific things as core features. Otherwise neither of them probably are. Most games fake that kind of stuff, ignore it entirely, or use an off-the-shelf physics engine of some kind (that either fakes it or ignores it). \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetrad
    Jul 23, 2012 at 21:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Physics is the study of how our universe works. Whether "how something works" is important is kind of up to you. Optics = "study of how light works." Pretty important, for example, if you want to write a renderer/raytracer or if you just want to have a deeper appreciation of how renderers work (mostly by faking as much as possible), but it's not necessarily required to write a game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jimmy
    Jul 23, 2012 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Take the most interesting class. When I interview candidates, I'd rather see they know a lot about something they're really passionate about, than a little about everything they thought was going to be a useful job skill. The former indicates a curious and inquisitve mindset, which in the long run is more useful than knowing the inane details of particular hardware. \$\endgroup\$
    – Crashworks
    Jul 23, 2012 at 23:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ The thing is that Physics II is required for me, because I need a science sequence (and there's no way in hell I'm getting caught in the pre-med crossfire). There are things I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into, don't get me wrong. It's just an issue of whether I need to have most of this particular class down pat or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – JesseTG
    Jul 23, 2012 at 23:09

1 Answer 1


If you're specifically interested in graphics/rendering, having some E&M and optics wouldn't be a bad thing. You won't use it directly, but just having that background knowledge could be helpful for a rendering programmer to understand and contextualize rendering theory and algorithms. After all, graphics is the simulation of light, which is an EM wave - even though we don't simulate it down to that level of detail.

More generally, I think that some physics background is helpful for programming / game development in general because of skills it teaches that are applicable beyond physics: dimensional analysis, making quick order-of-magnitude estimates of quantities, analyzing extreme cases (e.g. what happens when some quantity is very small or very large), guessing which effects in a complicated system are worth modeling and which are subtle enough to be ignored. And of course it'll give you a lot of math practice, including vector math (E&M particularly uses vectors a lot), which you'll use all over the place in game development.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not questioning Physics I. At all. I know DAMN well how useful that will be. Like I said above, it's more than anything about how well I should have E&M down, about how much energy I should devote to it. To analogize, I should be very familiar with Computer Science I; and I am, because I've been coding for a year. If all I need is the gist of E&M, then I obviously don't need to stress out over it, right? \$\endgroup\$
    – JesseTG
    Jul 23, 2012 at 23:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Optics governs how light bends and otherwise behaves when presented with things like mirrors and lenses. A detailed understanding is quite useful for graphics engine development and pops up in relatively surprising places such as coding Portal-style portals. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2012 at 15:17

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