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Science Check: Alone in the Dark October 9, 2011

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
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Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be.  Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN?  Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

The first game I want to talk about is 2008’s Alone in the Dark, which released for the PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, Wii and Playstation 3.  This game has universally been considered a major disappointment by critics and gamers alike.  It has a fantastic graphic, fire and physics engine, and I happened to like its story and atmosphere quite a bit.  The gameplay, however, was totally garbage, ranging from the bad controls, tedious gameplay mechanics, and frustrating puzzles.  Even the Playstation 3 port, dubbed Alone in the Dark: Inferno, which released six months after the other versions were released and was considered the superior version with its tweaks could not save what was just a badly designed game.

Eden Games was going for something interesting with this game during development.  They designed a real-time inventory system that could make use of anything you found along the way, including plastic or glass bottles, tape, or glow sticks.

For those of you who would like a better idea of how this system worked, here’s the official videos Eden released showing just how the inventory system worked.

Anyone else calling bullshit on all this?

Well, first off, that sticky tape is probably some stuff that 3M would be pretty envious to have.  That stuff can stick to ANYTHING, even in the final version of the game.  However, adhesive, even the almighty duct tape, almost completely loses its stick when wet.  Most of the creatures you encounter in the game have what appears to be a wet or slimy sheen to them.  The idea that tape would stick to their skin is pretty implausible, but this kind of logic is required to get through some of the game’s many puzzles.

Over the course of the game you can find discarded bottles in the trash.  Some of these bottles will contain anything from leftover alcohol (like wine) to lighter fluid.  You can use various flammable fluids, either left over in the bottles you found, or if you absolutely needed to, you could punch a hole in a car’s gas tank and fill up empty bottles with gasoline and use that.  Plausibility of finding those items in Central Park’s trash cans aside (I don’t think you can even bring alcohol in Central Park unless there’s some kind of event going on you can buy it) this game treats all flammable liquids the same, and in reality none of these flammable liquids would be all that useful as the game pegs them out to be.

First off, alcohol and gasoline are not explosive.  If you threw a container of alcohol or gasoline and fired upon it, nothing would happen except it would disperse everywhere.  If you threw a container with a lit wick attached to it (to say nothing of the fact that you’d have to be an expert marksman to make a shot like that), the liquid might have a chance to ignite in air, but it would not send out a shockwave.  In the game, if you fire upon an improvised bottle filled with flammable liquid at close range, you risk the chance of severely injuring yourself from the blast wave.  I’ve talked to several people knowledgable about chemicals and they agreed a shockwave could not occur from such an event, and the fluid would only have a chance of ignition if a flame had been already attached to it.

That having been said, a molotov cocktail has been a widely used improvised device for a reason, it does actually work as a flammable weapon.  Alcohol is a low temperature burn fluid and very good at sustaining fire as long as there’s plenty of oxygen.  Since many of the enemies of Alone in the Dark can only be destroyed by fire, simply throwing a molotov cocktail at them would indeed be harmful if not fatal if they were in the range of the flame.

Another slight plausibility can go to the ability to leave flammable trails of liquids.  The Mythbusters proved that various flammable liquids like gasoline can have trails ignited, and as long as there were no gaps in the liquid trail.  This is unlikely to happen if you threw the leaking container, but likely if it slowly emptied out while being carried at a steady pace.  While testing this, the Mythbusters discovered that once ignited, a flame trail would take a while to hit its destination, but even with a time delay it would be good enough for its use in the game’s puzzles.  It would get a pass, but I don’t recommend anyone try it in the heat of a battle with the undead.

Oh and the Unknown Camerman would like to point out what the logic would be of demons from Hell being harmed by fire in the first place?  You’d think things born of the stuff would just shrug it off.  I do however comprehend that the game’s logic is the body needs to be destroyed or else something that’s not alive in the first place would not be able to be killed and would just continue to get back up unless completely destroyed, and that makes…some sense…until you start to think about the next gameplay mechanic.

I want to mention something that is not shown in the demos and that is another important gameplay mechanic that is required to beat some of the larger enemies quickly, and that is fire bullets.  In the game, the fire bullets can only harm the vulnerable points (depicted as body scars that can show through clothing) of the enemies, and you must target and destroy each scar to completely destroy your enemy, even though the rest of the body does not need to be set on fire.  To make fire bullets, you can pour flammable liquid on your gun’s barrel while its loaded, and when the bullets fire, they will leave a fire trail in the air, setting whatever the bullet impacts with on fire.  Well, I asked a gun expert about the likelihood of this working, and he said a resounding, “no.”  He said any flammable liquid on the bullet would be all surface related, and would burn off instantly when the gun was first fired.  It sounded to me like doing this would have a better chance of harming whoever fired the weapon opposed to whoever it was aimed at.  In short, DON’T try that.

Clearly, Alone in the Dark is a broken game which used broken leaps of logic to design its broken gameplay around.  If, based upon this article, you find yourself really interested in trying this game out, I must plead with you to choose the PS3 version, which trust me, while it isn’t much of an improvement, is an improvement never the less.

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