Simple projectile calculations in 2D with your own movement code

So last time we did a simple projectile calculation by using Unity’s rigid bodies by calculating velocity vector and applying a force to the projectile rigid body. Now we do the same without rigid body but doing a calculation based on updating the position manually.

Remember this was the sketch of what we have:


For updating the position we need to know the angle, distance, amount of gravity and time of flight. We also need to calculate the velocity which we need to do other calculations. The distance as you remember from the last time we get by: d = sqrt(pow((x2 – x1)) + pow(y2 – y1)), or Vector3.Distance(start, end) or (start,end).magnitude (where start and end are Vector3 objects).

So in our example: d = 15.0, a = 66.0, g = 9.81, replacing the variables in the equation give us v = 14.0716. Now we are interested how long the projectile will stay in the air. This is because we need to interpolate the position between the start and end positions. We could use some a fixed value for time but this will create unrealistic result since the actual time spent in the air depends on the angle and distance (and gravity).

So how we get the time? You can calculate the time the projectile is airborn in two ways. Either you can use the Y component (eventually gravity pulls the projectile back to ground) or X component. If you want to use Y, the formula is time t = (velocityY * 2) / gravity. So y velocity times 2 over gravity. If you remember from the last time we used the velocity and direction to get the horizontal velocity and sin(angle) * velocity to get Y vertical velocity? We use the same method like this:

var direction = (target.transform.position - start).normalized;
var horizontal = Mathf.Cos(angle * Mathf.Deg2Rad) * velocity;
var vertical = Mathf.Sin(angle * Mathf.Deg2Rad) * velocity;

Finally we can calculate time: t = (vertical * 2) / g. So in our example it is: 2.62s This means that the projectile will stay in the air 2.62 seconds without hitting the target. So bigger the angle more velocity we need to hit the target thus longer the projectile will stay in the air. You could also use t = distance / horizontal, which by the way also gives the same 2.62. (which is a good thing!)

Ok, we have now all the components needed for our calculation. We are using Update() function which Unity will call every frame. This makes the function frame rate dependent, e.g. with 30 fps Update will get called on average by every 33.33 ms. So we know that we should get from start to the end in 2.62s. I said we need to interpolate the position based on the time. This can be done in several ways.

Unity has a Vector3.Lerp -function what is very handy what we can use e.q. Vector3 currentPos = Vector3.Lerp(start, end, time / duration); If the use this helper inside Update() -function we need to increment time variable by the difference of the previous call and Time.deltaTime is exactly for this. This way you make sure your stuff is not frame rate dependent. So a small example:

private float time = 0.0f;

private void Update()
var currenPos = Vector3.Lerp(start, end, time/duration);

Duration you need to be calculate somewhere outside Update and start and end are positions as Vector3 type.

If you update your projectile currentPos, it will fly from start to end in given duration, but since it’s a linear interpolation between the values it do not have the projectile trajectory yet. We actually use only the x component to update the x position but we also use it to calculate y position. So how it’s calculated? We go back to the original Wikipedia page and see that height at arbitrary distance x has a formula:

height y = start.y + x * tan(angle) – (gravity * pow(x) / 2 * pow((velocity * cos(angle))))

so when in our Update() function we apply the x from current position to the formula, we have the height at distance x. The update function is going to need something more than that, for example you don’t want to update the position unless the projectile has been launched and you don’t want to update the position after time > duration. But that’s easy stuff after all this.

Neat, now you can hit the target by any angle and distance and you are doing it all by yourself! What do you think? Do you have any suggestions or improvements? Leave comments!


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