The worlds of video games are fantastical landscapes that break the rules of nature and physics. But is there anything more incredible than the natural world that’s all around us?
Surf is a new app for iOS that’s actually built upon a very real and rich data set collected from our oceans. Designed by data visualization specialist Andy Bergmann, who is currently the director of design and data at Consumer Reports, Surf places you as a dog on a surfboard who rides waves while hopping over sharks. Both the graphics and controls are minimal. The twist is that those waves, rendered on the screen, actually happened.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates motion-sensitive buoys that track ocean waves around the world, and Bergmann sourced 37 years of Hawaiian data for his game, coding the information into Surf. Each of the 300 levels that you play actually represent a condensed month of time, starting all the way back in 1984.
To squeeze all this ocean data into the game, Bergmann tweaked his own algorithm hundreds of times in order to edit down tremendous amounts of real wave data into the shorter, surfable waves in the app. The notable nuance about these video game waves, however, is that they’re actually a wave chart . . . and wave charts correspond with how waves actually look.
“Oceanic movement is one of the most clear visualizations of math in the natural world,” says Bergmann. “In cross-section, waves are essentially a moving line graph.”
So that means in Surf, you’re experiencing a data visualization as it actually happened. It imbues every moment of this simplistic game with a certain significance. And sometimes, real-life waves influence incredible moments of gameplay.
“You’ll encounter [a] surf in February 2016 so large it will actually carry you off the screen,” says Bergmann. “Search the web, and you’ll find photos of those waves in real life, and read about ‘The Eddie,’ a surfing competition that occurs spontaneously only when the waves become gargantuan.”