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Slingshot: an interplanetary physics game

Over the weekend, Recurse Center held a game jam. Over 72 hours, I built a phyics game named Slingshot. In the game, you play the pilot of a spaceship with little fuel. To survive, you must navigate around planets and neutron stars to reach a series of checkpoints. You can play Slingshot here, and view the source code here.

This post describes how the game is implemented.

Drawing

All drawing was done using the P5.js library. P5 offers a clean API for drawing on HTML canvasses. A basic P5 sketch can be created with the following code:

const start = (p) => {
    p.setup = () => {
        // Code that is run once, at sketch initialisation
        p.createCanvas(700, 700);
    };
    p.draw = () => {
        // Code that is run at every frame of the sketch
        // Render upcoming elements in black
        p.fill('#000000');
        // Draw a 5x5 square at coordinate (10, 10)
        p.rect(10, 10, 5, 5);
    };
};
new p5(start);

This simple setup makes it easy to start drawing and animating with P5. p.draw() is called every frame, so it’s possible to animate things by changing the coordinate that they’re rendered at:

let xCoord = 10;
p.draw = () => {
    p.rect(xCoord, 10, 5, 5);
    xCoord += 1;
}

Physics

To animate the spaceship, we must calculate its position at each frame. Slingshot uses a custom physics engine to do this. The physics is all Newtonian (i.e. doesn’t take relativity into account), and is relatively simple to calculate. As the spaceship is the only moving thing1, all we need to calculate is its position

At each frame perform the following calculations2:

We then draw the spaceship at this new position. With a high enough frame rate (>= 30), the spaceship appears to move.

Game engine

Slingshot consists of multiple views:

Each of these views are independent, and I wanted them to be implemented independently. P5 doesn’t natively support switching between sketches, so I built a rough game engine handle the switching. Although the code works, it is quite hacky. I’m also unhappy with how sketches are switched. Currently, a sketch implements the code which switches to the next sketch. I feel this breaks the principal of separation of concerns. Each sketch should implement the code which displays that sketch, not the code which switches between game states. At some point, I’d like to pull the game state switching code out.

Deployment

As the game is implemented entirely in client-side javascript, the game is deployed as a static website to AWS S3.


  1. Some planets also move, but this doesn’t change the force calculation for the spaceship at a particular point in time. 

  2. As Slingshot is a 2D game, force, acceleration, velocity and position are represented as 2D vectors.