Playing With Gravity

Ellipsoid screen shot
Ellipsoid. Image: Marley Cook

Marley Cook is a senior in mechanical engineering. As an engineer, he’s seen (and sometimes struggled with) his share of physics courses. And while introductory physics can be fairly intuitive – we all know what air resistance or friction feels like from experiences like bike riding or going down a slide – higher level physics isn’t as simple.

Enter “Ellipsoid,” a computer game Cook developed that allows the player to see how physics works on galactic scales, by using gravitational forces to propel a ship through space. The Abstract sat down with Cook to talk about his project, which can be downloaded free – though it’s currently Windows only – here.

Full disclosure – this former English major managed to get through the game and had fun doing it, although those black holes are a pain.

TA: What was the inspiration behind the project? How long did it take to create?

Cook: During my sophomore year, I became fascinated by movement in space. The bizarre set of rules that the trajectory curves followed was interesting, and in a way beautiful. But I didn’t have an intuitive understanding of the topic. I could work out the math to find where the object would end up, but it didn’t always feel right. So I built a simulation. After messing around in it for a while, I felt more at home with these rules. I could guess how orbits would behave and why. Having experienced the benefits of play in my learning, I wanted to share it with a wider audience. Converting that base project into a game took around two years. Most of that time was spent making it as accessible as possible, and coming up with puzzles that would teach a specific concept.

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