Have you ever wanted to see what it would look like if you crashed your car into a telephone pole? Are you a student of physics, either professional or amateur? If you said yes to either of these questions, you may want to check out Rigs of Rods, a project that is part simulator, part game and part physics experiment.
While it doesn’t fit perfectly into any of these categories, blurring the lines between them, it does stand out as one of the most interesting free and open source programs I’ve seen in any of those genres.The physics engine that powers ‘Rigs of Rods’ is one of the best you’ll find anywhere. (Rigs of Rods is multiplatform: WIndows, Linux, MacOSX.)
Rigs of Rods is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, whether your interest is in physics, simulations or driving games (or if you’re a fan of Mythbusters and want to try this at home despite their warnings not to). The download comes in just under 140MB and therefore might take a little bit of time depending on your ISP and the time of day you attempt to get it, but the wait of five or ten minutes is worth it when you get started. Bear in mind that this is partially simulation software which means that the better your PC is, the better options you will be able to use in the program so it’s best for higher end systems.
First of all, I want to make it clear that this is not just another driving game. The whole reason I decided to post about this program is that it offers certain innovations and differences from the standard fare available in the genre of driving games and it’s really more like an exploratory simulation to see how the concept of “soft bodied physics” can be applied to things like games as well as training programs for more complex devices (like airplanes or even space craft, in the future) so it really doesn’t count as just a car game. The way the ‘engine’ of the game is set up (not to be confused with the simulated engines in the simulated vehicles within the simulation… confused yet?) is meant to explore, specifically, things like different ways of detecting and handling collisions between objects in a simulated environment. Older physics concepts in games and simulations were based on much simpler physics models (box A hits line B and a pre-rendered smash scene is displayed) and can actually give you a decent idea of what would happen in a real world environment (point A has this amount of mass, traveling this fast and hits point B from this angle which results in C moving this way and back round to A moving in another way). In other words, it’s far more complex and far more than just a game or a driving simulator. While the physics engine has been released (in 2009) and has been used in some ways by other companies and programs, none of them are full of this much complexity and detail so this program can give you a good idea of the kind of realism we can expect in games that are going to be coming out in, say, the next five or six years as the physics model and the programming itself becomes accepted and more ‘proven’ in the development arena.
What does all of this mean to you? Well, at its most basic, it means that the crashes and other physics interactions you will experience within the program are going to be far more realistic and based on real world physics than older programs like it, and they can be pretty darn spectacular. Additionally, considering that it’s an open-source project, you can even get involved with the development of it yourself if you’ve the skill and desire to do so. For instance, most (if not all) the cars in the program are designed by community members just like you who got involved out of interest, rather than desire for cash. The program does have recently added multiplayer capability, too, so you can share these concepts with your friends. There’s racing capability, but collisions between two players are not possible yet at the time of this posting (though they have promised them for the future). Again, I remind you, since this is not a completed ‘game’ you’ll need to spend more than average time getting the hang of using it and exploring what can be done with it.
Rigs of Rods is a work in progress and still rather experimental, which means that yes, there are plenty of bugs in it but the developers want you to find them and report them since it is a community project. Given that as its nature, I didn’t really find much in the way of ‘downsides’ per se, and I had a blast testing it out and seeing what could be done with it. The only thing I could really mention as a possible downside or annoyance is the installer wants to set up a toolbar and reset your home page but this is becoming a very common price for free software and, as with other programs that use it, can be easily avoided by simply unchecking the boxes before pressing the “next” button. I would suggest it for anyone who has a mid to high range system and likes games, cars, crashes and/or physics and I would also suggest you keep an eye on its development in the future as it promises to have some pretty astounding and impressive results and evolutions. So get out there and see what you can do with it! Until next time, my friends.