Timing that jump perfectly, avoiding the hazards, not getting hit by an enemy. These are all things that every players faces when playing games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, or Pokemon. Of course, it's all in good fun but it can be frustratingly difficult. It's an interesting dynamic. If you really think about it, your brain is running a million calculations while you're playing through those platforming levels.
So the great scienstists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did what they do best - turn something into a bunch of 0's and 1's and analyze the hell out of it. When they looked at the game franchises mentioned above, they found out the construction of most of the games fit into a category of mathematical problems called NP-hard.
NP-hard refers to the most difficult type of solvable mathematical theory. The scientists discovered that getting through a level is like the logical problem poster child known as the "traveling salesman problem" - if a salesman has to travel to 100 cities, what's the most efficient route? Sure, you could figure it out, but it would take time, right?
Basically, the researchers mapped out every hazard, every bottomless pit, every flying enemy, every bullet bill, as a 'city' and discovered that, while there is a mathematical way to solve the most efficient route, it is pretty darn difficult. For the math-philes out there, the study is chock full of technical jargon. But for the layman, just know that there's a lot more math to the way Mario levels are designed than you might think. Think about that next time you're doing a speed run of Super Mario World.
[via New Scientist]