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In particle simulations interactions can happen at a distance, so at every time step all particles need to be checked with all other nearby particles to get their distances and compute the force of their interaction. It looks like your simulation is a hard-sphere type interaction where you're only checking to see if two particles bump into each other and is considerably faster to compute.

No, it's not really different from a hard-sphere type interaction. It's the same thing. But that doesn't matter in this context, because in the system we built, our problem was harder/more-general because we were simulating 'guys', meaning you can program an arbitrary interaction into your guys (is guy type X near guy type Y, if so what happens?), and those 'guys' also interacted with a 2D height field terrain.

Keep in mind this was all on computers from the year 2002, which were pretty damn slow compared to computers today. Today you could do a lot of guys.

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