Plasma Pong is a mesmerizing freeware title by Steve Taylor, a student at George Mason University. It combines a cutting-edge realtime fluid dynamics simulation with the game structure of pong. Steve’s describes the game as follows:
Players have several new abilities that add fun twists to the classic game. In the game you can inject plasma fluid into the environment, create a vacuum from your paddle, and blast shockwaves into the playing area. All these abilities have fluid-based kinetic effects on the ball, making Plasma Pong a fast-paced and exciting game.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about the gameplay in Plasma Pong, really. The game structure mirrors that of the original Pong: You score if the ball makes it past your opponent’s paddle and vice versa.
The right-mouse button creates a vacuum and sucks the ball towards you. This is a great way to safely catch the ball, as the fluid dynamics tend to create sudden unpredictable movements as the ball gets caught in eddies and currents.
Left-mouse button fires plasma which shoots into the playfield. It can be used to push the ball for some extra speed, but also modify the currents. If you can succesfully create an eddy near the opponent’s side you can usually score when the ball makes sudden last-second movements.
Despite its advanced physics simulation, I found myself playing Plasma Pong as I would nearly any pong game. It’s hard to use the fluid dynamics in a deliberate way to your advantage. This is kind of a shame, because if the game were more easily able to manifest my intentions as a player I think it would be much more addictive. As it stands now, though, the player experience flattens out to mere repetition after a few minutes.
I would have loved to see obstacles like walls, wave machines, powerups, or other changes to the mundane back-and-forth mechanic. To be fair, the game is a pong clone, but so much more could be done with the simulation engine. Maybe a fluid dynamics-based shooter?
The game is a visual treat, at least. It’s almost as fun to play the game itself as it is to simply watch the physics simulation. In fact, you can press F1 to toggle over to an interactive fluid simulation that does away with the pong ball and paddles completely. I played with this almost as long as I played with the game itself.
Plasma Pong is free; why aren’t you playing it already? It’s a neat example of using real-time fluid dynamics to replace the physics of an existing game. The result is half physics game, half graphics demo. It’s an interesting study—what would you change as a designer to add more depth to the experience?