Power-up review

“Unlocking the hidden mathematics in video games”


Last year, Power-up: unlocking the hidden mathematics in video games by Matthew Lane (Amazon: UK, US) was released. I’ve done some writing and talking about maths and video games myself, so I was keen to read it.

What a great place to sit and read a book! Image: David Iliff, CC BY-SA 3.0

I took a copy of it with me on holiday to the Lake District, where I had plenty of time to sit in a garden and enjoy it.

And enjoy it I did! Power-up is a really well written and enjoyable book that takes you on a tour through many different areas of maths and their relation to many different games. I was surprised by just how many different games the book finds maths hidden in.

My favourite chapter of the book was The thrill of the chase. This chapter looked at the green and red shells in the Mario Kart games. As hopefully everyone knows, the shells in Mario Kart are weapons used to attach to the other racers: green shells travel in straight lines and bounce off objects; red shells travel straight towards an opponent, but they break if they hit other objects. You may be thinking to yourself: “What is the best angle to fire a green at?” or “What path will a red shell follow?” or “When will the shells hit the opponent?”. If you are, then you should read Power-up. If not, you should probably read Power-up anyway…

It’s worth noting how nice the book looks inside. Sometimes the maths in maths books can be badly typeset, which is at best distracting and at worst simply wrong. This book has no such problems; the equations are beautifully typeset:

Nice typesetting!

The only problem I can find with Power-up is that at times it talks about games that I’m less familiar with. These were less easy to follow, and less interesting to me, as I was unfamiliar with the problem the book was discussing. The majority of the games discussed, however, are very well known, so this problem is small. And perhaps the best solution to it would be for me to play more video games.

In case you’re wondering, other highlights of the holiday included meeting this famous cow, and climbing Place Fell. I highly recommend both the holiday and the book, although it may be possible to enjoy them both separately….

Matthew is a postdoctoral researcher at University College London. He hasn’t had time to play Klax since the noughties, but he’s pretty sure that Coke is it!

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